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Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ Flashman moment was a flash of his vulnerability on the NHS

Posted on 28 April 2011 | 7:04am

I think enough has probably already been said and written about David Cameron’s latest Flashman moment, though I’m sure Michael Winner was dead chuffed to be trending on twitter alongside the Labour MP to whom the PM directed his ‘calm down dear’ jibe. Have to confess I didn’t realise this was a Winnerism.

It was a moment that revealed something of Cameron’s character under pressure (a theme developing), but before we all get carried away, it was not a moment to change the political landscape.

The real significance of yesterday lies in why he was in that mode. And the answer lies in the fact that once again Ed Miliband got under his skin, first on the economy and second – a real Cameron weak spot – in relation to the NHS. Ed asked a series of straight, fact-laden questions which reminded Cameron of two things he does not like to admit – on the economy, Plan A is not going according to plan; and on the NHS, the government’s reform plans are not thought through, not popular with those who run the NHS or those who use it, and politically toxic, not least because they have no mandate for them.

Though Cameron is unlikely to feel his ‘calm down dear’ moment was a success, in some ways the furore it launched was useful to him. If the nation’s news bulletin watchers last night had seen the exchanges on the NHS, they really would have been worried. It may be this, rather than his non-membership of the Bullingdon, that led Nick Clegg to look so uncomfortable as George Osborne laughed uproariously at Cameron’s ‘humorous’ (the Downing Street line) put-down. It is why Ed should keep coming back to the NHS again and again and again.

  • Stevo

    All true-meanwhile Alistaair on another matter-your take please on the AV debate?thanks.

  • Shinsei1967

    The focus on the calm down jibe just draws attention to the point Cameron was trying to make – namely that a former Labour MP who has returned to being a GP thinks the coalition NHS plans are brilliant.

    More importantly shouldn’t Labour MPs be talking about the economy and not trying to make personal attacks on the PM. It is fairly clear from even a brief perusal of the internet that opinions are evenly divided on whether Cameron was in Flashman mode or whether he was jovially responding to a disrespectful Labour front bench heckling his answers in PMQs.

  • Chris lancashire

    Milliband should come back to the NHS again and again. It will remind voters that only the Conservatives promised to increase real terms spending on the NHS and they are doing so. Not that spending more should ever be the sole test of how well a public service delivers.

  • Richard

    I am surprised that the Michael Winner ad has escaped you, Al. Try YouYube.

    The bear pit that PMQs has become, very poorly reffed by Mr Speaker, is a disgrace. M/S Eagle, by getting a front row ticket, and then behaving like she did, deserves all she gets.

    It is doing a great diservice to the cause of women in politics that at any opportunity to take offence, they do, bless their cotton socks.

    Cameron was in charge at PMQs, and made an amusing debating aside. Get over it. Constant reference to Bullingdon club is playground and ya boo.

    Adenoid Ed has so many targets to shoot at these days, he is spoilt for choice. But he still could not resist a special lip curl and cup of bile towards Clegg. His coaching is improving his overall performance though, Al.

  • D-steele

    Very well said. There are two points that you highlight that I think are worth mentioning. Cameron is very vulnerable right now, not just on NHS though. I have noticed that Clegg no longer looks as comfortable as he once did on that front bench. Could the Coalition’s days be numbered?

  • ambrosian

    To those who say Angela Eagle was just heckling, she was actually trying to correct Cameron’s inaccurate statement that the former Labour MP had been defeated at the election when he had in fact retired. Yet another example of how badly briefed Cameron is, or maybe he just has a cavalier attitude to the facts.
    Once again Miliband was very impressive, asking short, focused questions. He’s coming across well on the short clips that make the news programmes. As Alastair will know, that is what really matters for an opposition leader since only those of us who are political nerds with time on our hands watch the live PMQs.

  • http://twitter.com/smileoftdecade patrick graham

    Alistair,
    Cameron has used his experience with the tragedy of his disabled child to attempt to bluff the people into believing that his policies will reflect his personal choices ( leaving aside that all the private sector doctors are moonlighting NHS trained anyway).
    It prompts memories of John Gummer forcing his children to eat beefburgers to demonstrate he was not scared of them acquiring new variant CJD, and of the cries of Tories when Labour ministers placed their children in private schools.

    The parallel would of course be of Labour ministers proudly shouting about the comprehensives that their children went to just prior to cutting the state education budget – but hang on, that didn’t happen did it..?

    No we have someone who may genuinely believe he is helping the NHS with these “reforms” but whose policy does not reflect anything other than the long term Tory trend of a genuine Bevanite National Health service. Just as Labour education policies supported state education even when some ministers had their children in private schools…

    Cameron is indeed very weak on the NHS, but continues to believe in his bluff.
    We have to attack and defend on the basis of the two different Party policies – rather than shameful misuse, politically, of one’s own children…

  • Olli Issakainen

    George Osborne has smashed the UK recovery with his ideological plan.
    Consumer confidence has collapsed, which is not good news for retail sector. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of UK demand.
    So, the economy “grew” 0.5% during Q1 after a fall of 0.5%. Manufacturing was up 1.1% and the important service sector, which makes 75.8% of total output, 0.9%. But construction was down 4.7%!
    Unfortunately manufacturing makes less than 15% of GDP thanks to what the Tories did in the 1980s.
    What has happened is that UK plc has made back the income it lost in the winter. Nothing more.
    There is no underlying growth.
    OBR had predicted growth of 0.8%. But after two years out of recession, Britain should be now growing strongly.
    Britain´s economy has flatlined after the unwise VAT rise, but BEFORE the cuts and other tax rises.
    Every sensible person would now change strategy which is only making things worse. IFS has called for a plan B. Jonathan Portes, former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, has asked for scaling back of plans.
    George Osborne is in a difficult position, but he should understand that the biggest threat to the economy is INSUFFICIENT DEMAND. He should worry less about rising interest rates.
    The right answer now is another shot of government spending or easing the spending cuts. Otherwise unemployment will go up and inflation will remain a problem.
    But the bad growth figures make interest rate rise unlikely soon.
    The GDP figures showed that growth in Britain is an illusion. For six months there has been no growth at all. When Labour´s impact was still felt, the economy was growing 1.8%.
    According to David Blanchflower government´s economic policies are wrong. Q2 and Q3 will be even worse.
    Government spending was up 0.7% in Q1, but it also will be smaller soon.
    Latest YouGov poll tells that 52% think that the coalition is handling the economy badly.
    George Osborne is not competent enough. Expansionary fiscal contraction is not working. It has failed to restore confidence despite of huge cuts.
    Mr Osborne is also failing to rebalance the economy.
    Britain is now on the brink of a double dip recession.
    According to Peter Mandelson the Tories want to dominate British politics for generations. Their plan is to claim that only the Tories can be trusted with the economy, and also drive a wedge between the two progressive parties.
    But the current form of the Tories on the economy will only mean that it is them who will be out of power for a generation.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Fantastic to find someone on the internet not talking about that wedding. Huzzah!!

  • Mills

    i like that you call the Bullingdon reference ‘playground’ in one sentence then refer to ‘Adenoid Ed’ in the next. It actually made me laugh out loud.

  • Mike

    Which PMQs were you watching? Cameron was well and truly stuffed by Milliband. His ill advised jibe was a sign he was rattled. Get used to it, he’s being found out for the lightweight he is.

  • MB

    Cameron was rattled. Milliband and Balls are getting under his skin. Very enjoyable.

  • Mark Wright

    The problem with Cameron trying to be humorous is that he’s just not very funny.

  • SG

    ‘The real significance of yesterday lies in why he was in that mode’

    LOL, there wasn’t any significance. It was a jokey off the cuff response to constant attempts to shout over him. Probably the only significance from this is how desperate some are to make an issue out of it – fairly pathetic really.

  • Nick

    “To those who say Angela Eagle was just heckling, she was actually trying to correct Cameron’s inaccurate statement that the former Labour MP had been defeated at the election when he had in fact retired.”

    In debating terms that is a pretty minor point of information. True, Howard Stoate did retire but the Dartford constituency he represented did switch to the Tories with an almost 11,000 majority.

    The major point surely is that Howard Stoate appears to support the coalition’s plans to give more power to GPs.

  • John

    I think Cameron’s reaction was just another example of what a nasty prick he can be. I also get the impression that if Cameron were to burp in someones face Osbourne would still laugh. Couple of bullies really.

  • Dave Simons

    I’d second that, Stevo. Given the rapid approach of what Ted Heath once referred to as ‘this strange, foreign practice’ (the former Tory Prime Minister, not the bandleader) – i.e. the Referendum – I would be interested in what people on this blog are going to do about it. I’ll be voting AV on grounds that there’s more voter choice and reform would set a precedent for further reform. I don’t need to be told that the Tories are against AV because they’ve done nicely thank you out of FPTP and that the LibDems are for it because it increases their chances in elections. I’m glad Ed Miliband’s for AV despite the fact that Labour have also done quite well out of FPTP.

  • ambrosian

    The Tories may be increasing NHS spending in a narrow, technical sense. I believe the increase is about half a percent per year. However, they are also requiring £20 billion of “efficiency savings” which to a large degree is code for cuts. The special circumstances of the NHS mean that it needs an annual increase substantially above inflation just to stand still. One also has to factor in the substantial costs of the proposed reorganisation which I understand have to come out of the existing health budget.
    We are already seeing cuts to front-line staff, including doctors and nurses, and an increase in waiting times. This makes nonsense of the Government’s claim to be protecting the NHS and explains why an overwhelming majority of the medical profession are opposed to their policies.

  • MB

    Whenever he’s rattled he tries to make a joke at opposition expense but only manages to look stupid. He’s a lightweight and a stranger to the truth. The cracks are showing.

  • Chris lancashire

    ambrosian: that’s the same £20bn of “efficiency savings” that the previous Labour Government announced and committed to.

  • ambrosian

    The Government are making many unsubstantiated claims about what Labour was planning to do. But even if this one is true, I’m not an apologist for the Labour Party. They spent vastly more on the NHS than previous governments which is why satisfaction ratings with the NHS are at record levels but I would like them to have spent even more and to commit to higher spending in the future.
    Glad you don’t appear to be disputing any of my other points.

  • Pam

    Your beginning to look like Olli Alastair…..you certainly sound like him.

    You will be “outed”.

  • Ehtch

    Flashman??? More like Lord Flashheart from Blackadder he was.

    “Smoke me a kipper Angela, I’ll be back for breakfast”, and all that. The mask has certainly slipped.

  • Luke

    Interesting point about Clegg, I also noticed how uncomfortable he looked while all of his Tory friends were enjoying themselves so much…

  • Luke

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/28/david-cameron-howard-stoate-nhs

    I refer you to the above Guardian article where Stoate explains how his views were entirely misrepresented….

  • Ehtch

    Are you looking forward to the wedding today Alastair? I am. It should be interesting, in that certain way.

  • Dave Simons

    Thanks Luke – I strongly urge anyone to read the article, with its amusing comment by Cameron, the laughing Cavalier:
    ‘I don’t know what it is about some people on the left. It seems that when they put the socialism in, they take the sense of humour out.’
    In fact it was quite funny to see a Prime Minister getting his facts wrong (again) and trying to score points by misrepresenting someone. I think George Osborne’s emetic display of laughter was misdirected.

  • Eamonn

    Instead of Michael Winner, I’ve now got an image of David Cameron driving in to the back of a parked car & telling the upset woman driver to “calm down dear. It’s only a commercial. I’m really a very good driver.”
    David “Death Wish” Cameron, the tv/internet car insurance salesman, crashing in to the NHS which doesn’t appear to be adequately insured against his & Lansley’s damage.
    David Cameron may be a great salesman but what’s he selling?
    Where’s the evidence that Cameron is a very good driver?
    As Alastair Cameron suggests… get in there Ed.

  • Marketa

    It is interesting how much attention has this
    humorous remark attracted. Some, like the Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman, are outraged. Others
    find it funny. But I was actually more amused by Angela Eagle’s
    response: ‘I’ve been patronised by better people than the prime minister’,
    and also the fact she was not provoked by Cameron’s words. I found a short funny rhyme about this issue onhttp://wordplayblog.co.uk/2011/05/honey-wheres-the-money/

  • D & G scarves accessories

    -MOOERN BASIC TOK it jeans  uproariously at Cameron’s ‘humorous’ (the Downing Street line) put-down.
    It is why Ed should keep coming back to the NHS again and again and
    again.