Today was the first PMQs held after the Easter recess. Among the topics discussed were the NHS reforms and the economy. I assume that at some point MPs got close to discussing the issues, but to be honest I couldn’t tell what was being said because of all the shouting and jeering.
The most talked-about part of PMQs occurred when David Cameron told Angela Eagle to “calm down dear, just calm down”.
The wonderful Paul Waugh, as usual, has quickly gotten the inside take on what happened:
It seems that Angela Eagle was the Labour frontbencher who was targeted by Cameron because she was heckling him over his NHS answers.
In particular, Eagle was shouting that the PM had got his facts wrong over ex Labour MP and GP Howard Stoate, a rare left-of-centre supporter of the Coalition’s health reforms.
Cameron had claimed that Stoate had been defeated at the last election, but Eagle pointed out that in fact he had stood down at 2010 general election.
“He stood down! He stood down!” Eagle told the PM.
Clearly irritated, Cameron then issued his now infamous ‘calm down dear!’ edict. Cue uproar.
It was thought for a bit that it was Yvette Cooper, not Eagle, who was told to calm down. That’s demonstrably not the case, because otherwise Ed Balls would have leapt across the chamber, shouted “Don’t you talk to my missus like that”, and eviscerated the entire government front bench. You know that he could if he wanted to.
You can see a clip of the exchange here, on the BBC website. Keep an eye on Nick Clegg’s face after Cameron says “calm down dear” for the first time. Very stoney faced. He looks like he’s trying not to cry, bless him.
And while we’re on the subject of Nick Clegg, doesn’t he look so old now? It’s like his face has melted in a year. Also, all the colour has drained from his face and gone to David Cameron’s, who was looking very red in today’s session. He was redder than a red-breasted Communist robin reading from Das Kapital.
Inevitably, the storm in a teacup has begun. Labour have said that it was sexist, and that Cameron would not have said such a remark to Ed Balls. Too bloody right. Nobody patronises The Balls and gets away with it.
On the other hand, the Tories have been quick to say that it was just a humourous remark, nothing to see here, and that Labour left us with a massive budget deficit. So they have no right to complain about jokes:
I think you will find it is a popular advert. I think you are maybe over-analysing a humorous remark. Labour seem desperate to talk about anything other than the economy after the good news on growth figures and Miliband’s weak performance today.
To be honest, I don’t think this little exchange tells us anything we didn’t already know about Cameron. His default position at PMQs is always “cavalier and patronising”, he loses his temper far too easily and gets really irritated by Ed Balls. We’ll need a bit more than that to get an entry in the Bumper Book of Political Revelations.
What it does mean now is that Cameron will get associated with Michael Winner. That’s not a great feat of political posturing. Also, as David Aaronovitch pointed out, “The next time David Cameron looks flustered at PMQs the whole Opposition bench is going to chorus “calm down dear”. What an own goal.”
Meanwhile, there were no questions on Libya, and the debate on the economy and the health reforms will get ignored as we debate the really serious issues, such as “Who’s cleavage was that behind Ed Miliband?” And we wonder why the public aren’t interested in politics.
Yet all of this would still miss the main story behind Winnergate, which isn’t being covered anywhere. And that is the contracting out of political soundbites.
It seems that this government is so desperate to reduce the deficit that they are putting subliminal advertising messages in their speeches, just to raise a bit of money.
I wonder what will come next? Maybe George Osborne will say “We need these massive cuts to reduce the deficit. Simples.”
Or Michael Gove will say “My free schools programme will mean that Britain gets exceedingly good academies.”
Andrew Lansley’s next speech about NHS Reforms will go, “There are some who have said that my proposed reforms will lead to the privatisation of the NHS and mean that hospitals are subjected to EU Competition law. To them I say this: vorsprung durch technik”.
This is even more evidence that there is nowhere this government will stop the private sector from taking over. Not even in our language.
You heard it here first.