Michael Winner has done a lot of things in his time, but causing a ‘sexist’ slur in the Commons is certainly a new one. His enduring catchphrase “Calm down, dear” was used by the Prime Minister yesterday to quell peals of protestation from Angela Eagle: Labour MP, woman and lesbian. I wonder which one Cameron finds most offensive.
Unsurprisingly, the debacle has inspired a wealth of angry feminist comments lamenting the supposedly backward and sexist state of our government. What seems to be the most embarrassing part of this situation is not this alleged misogyny, but rather Cameron’s apparent desperation to seem amusing and witty to his peers. There is a time and a place for making jokes at the expense of others, but Prime Minister’s Questions is probably neither.
I do not deny that the comment was inappropriate and patronising to say the least, but to label it sexist seems to be distorting it hugely. Cameron most likely made the remark to seem like an approachable man of the people, the thing he is most maligned for being the antithesis of. I am almost certain that more people in this country could disdainfully list where he has been educated rather than any of his actual policies.
Our government certainly need mass appeal, but the pressure they are under to perform like media monkeys is slowly getting out of control. We should elect people to run this country because we think they can do a good job of it, and not because they appear to be particularly entertaining on an episode of Loose Women. If anything, Clegg’s competence during the Prime Ministerial Debates last year and subsequent crumbling of all his promises serve to show that what we see on screen does not necessarily correlate to one’s ability to be a successful politician.
Something particularly perturbing in the reportage of this incident was one commentator’s jibe that Cameron’s former Bullingdon Club membership was to blame for his condescension towards women. Renowned for over 200 years of raucous debauchery, it is probably true that in their hey-day, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and George Osborne got up to more than their fair share of no good. What is unfair to assume, however, is that just because they were affiliated with the elite institution during their time as students, they are automatically guilty of sexism. When Cameron described his favourite joke as “Nick Clegg” before the forming of the coalition, no one accused him of degrading men as a sex, and the same should be true in this case. Innocuous comments made against individuals should not be interpreted as an attitude towards an entire group.
Britain also seems to have a never-ending sour taste in its mouth regarding politicians’ behaviour: whether it’s claiming Kit-Kats on expenses or refusing to reveal their favourite biscuit, they can do no right in the eyes of the public. Whilst MPs do need to be kept in check, many other European countries are a lot worse off with their leaders than we are here. With Sarkozy calling rioting immigrants in France ‘scum’ and Berlusconi sleeping with half the population of Italy, I’d say we’re getting off pretty lightly.
I am certainly pro-female rights, but what I cannot understand is women making themselves the victims in situations where this is simply not the case. A misjudged quip said in the heat of the moment doesn’t seem to call for the chargrilling of brassieres just yet. We all try to be funny now and then, and it seems as though, not for the first time, the Prime Minister’s timing was just a little off.