David Cameron's attempt at a humourous riposte to a Labour frontbencher's heckle plunged the banter at PMQs to new depths today.
As the Prime Minister used the remarks of former MP and current GP, Howard Stoate, in favour of the Coalition's NHS reforms, he could not help noting the erstwhile Parliamentarian's loss to a Tory at the 2010 General Election. Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle, excitedly attempted to point out that Dr Stoate had stood down before the election.
"Dave" decided that this was a great moment to prove how funny and in-touch with the masses "Dave" is, by employing a popular (?) advertising catchphrase to regain the debating initiative:
I think it gave us a more interesting peak behind the Wizard's curtain, though.
If he wanted to raise a laugh, he should have responded to Ms Eagle along the lines of "yes, you're quite right, he stood down - like the rest of the country, apart from the Leader of the Opposition, he knew that Gordon Brown was a lost cause." OK. Hardly Juvenalian satire. But more effective than not quite mimicking Michael Winner.
Which brings us to the question of exploiting popular culture to prove just how normal you are. The correct way to co-opt ESure's grating motto is via the formulation "calm down, dear, it's only a X". Hence, "Dave" should've gone for "calm down, dear, it's only a weekly Parliamentary procedure". Again, no Perrier Awards being handed out, to be sure. But a clearer indication that you are trying (even if failing) to be funny rather than condescending, and without leaving that patronising and sexist "dear" just hanging there.
Cameron and his advisors have invested a lot of time in fashioning his chummy, just-one-of-the-guys image to counter his true alleged nature: slightly aloof, a little bad-tempered, and desperately wrestling with his patrician instincts.
I offer no judgement on anyone's personality. And I think the fact that Cameron has faced very little scrutiny in this respect, compared to the near-continuous media psychoanalysis experienced by Brown and Blair, is a good thing. Nonetheless, whispers and asides do occasionally creep out about his high-handedness with colleagues.
Again, not a problem as far as I'm concerned. Different styles of leadership for different styles of leader. Fine. Except that Coalition requires a specific style of leadership. One that deals with conflict constructively whilst maintaining an inclusive and welcoming stance.
The Times reported yesterday of Lib Dem complaints about being excluded from the day-to-day business of government (£):
Concerns have been raised at ministerial level about deliberate tactics of exclusion, as one Tory in the Government even likened the Lib Dems to “yapping dogs”, suggesting they had to be tolerated but largely ignored.
I wonder how many on the Lib Dem benches listened to Dave's reaction to Eagle today and thought "yep, normal service from the guys we work for".While some of the recent “rows” have been carefully stage-managed as Lib Dems and Tories seek to underline their differences over the alternative voting system, there is a real breakdown of relations in several government departments between ministers.