Cameron may not be a sexist but he is an embarrassment to the country

The press and blogosphere have been full of discussion over whether David Cameron made sexist remarks to a Labour frontbencher during prime minister’s questions last month. He made the gaffe shortly after he claimed that Dr Howard Stoate, a former Labour MP who supports his health reform proposals, had been defeated by the Tories in the general election last year. Upon being corrected by shadow chief secretary to the treasury Angela Eagle, who pointed out that Dr Stoate had stood down before the election, Cameron chanted “calm down, dear” a total of five times to the elation of the Tory front bench, including George Osbourne who laughed uncontrollably as he sat next to him.

Eagle responded by writing an opinion piece in The Guardian saying that the phrase was one that “no modern man would use towards a woman” and that it reminded her of “none other than Flashman, the appalling bully in Tom Brown’s Schooldays.” The Tories’ Lib-Dem coalition partners distanced themselves from the remarks with a spokesman making a public statement that “we would not have used that language.” But Cameron and his spin doctors were quick to jump to the defensive, claiming that he had directed the same phrase toward Gordon Brown and David Miliband when he was leader of the opposition.

Cameron’s intent may not have been sexist but what his response to Eagle’s correction represents is a further stroke in a picture of a man uneasy in public life, desperate to appeal hip and ultimately childish in his deliberations. Rather than rise to the occasion and, in his own words, put an end to Westminster’s “Punch and Judy” politics, he has shown himself to consistently behave in an irritating adolescent fashion.

As leader of the opposition there was a prescient example of what was to come when in an embarrassing 2009 radio appearance Cameron repeatedly used course language during the interview, saying that people were rightly “pissed off” with the country’s political class and that using twitter represented a problem since “too many twits might make a twat.” One pundit roundly condemned Cameron’s choice of words, describing it as a thinly veiled attempt to look cool and appeal to young people.

As opposition leader he was also never coy about making personal attacks. As early as 2006 he was making cruel and incendiary jibes at Gordon Brown. He said to him: “If you’re pushed around this much before you’ve even applied for the job what are you going to be like as Prime Minister? It just makes me laugh. People tend to think of Gordon Brown as strong but he’s just being pushed all over the place.” Even the Tory-friendly Daily Mail described the incident as “an embarrassing bid to make himself more attractive to the public.”

As prime minister, his promise to make politics more civil has been shown to be a false one. He has continued to make personal attacks against Labour figures including branding Ed Balls “the most annoying person in politics” and Ed Miliband little more than a “student politician.”

What these playground slurs make him out to be is not a sexist or a classist or anything that sinister. Rather his choice of words show him to be a childish opportunist and cynic for whom no level of condescension is off limits. Like the “pissed off” and “twat” comment, he wishes to appear as a funny everyman yet comes across as a snide and pathetic creep, with none of the traits that would be expected of a statesman.

In the wake of the “calm down, dear” gaffe he has even attempted to make this tendency of his into a political point by saying that socialists don’t have a sense of humour. He has presumably never read a thing about the lives of Anthony Crosland and other Labourites known for their love of life and fun. Nor does he seem to have a good sense of what actually constitutes humour. If we are to stoop to the level of charging political groups with humourlessness, it would seem that the hang ‘em flog, flog ‘em Daily Mail brigade should be noted as at least equally culpable.

For all of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s faults, they at least held some level of public decorum and didn’t embarrass the nation and demean its political discourse with Cameron’s schoolboy jeers and juvenile attitude.


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