David Cameron’s jibe at Dennis Skinner: forget the ageism, it was just badly done.

by Stephen Tall on April 30, 2012

David Cameron, it became clear today, was not impressed by Commons Speaker John Bercow’s decision to grant Labour leader Ed Miliband an urgent question on the subject of Jeremy Hunt’s hanging-by-a-thread career as culture secretary. His not-impressedness manifested itself as indignant anger — it was “spectacularly ill-judged” according to the Telegraph’s Iain Martin:

From the off Cameron’s approach was wince-inducingly ill-judged. He rushed his statement and sounded steadily more touchy as he got deeper into it, lashing out and even shouting at one point about Charlie Whelan. It wasn’t very Prime Ministerial.

Mr Cameron has faced particular stick for his dismissive suggestion to veteran Labour backbencher Dennis Skinner that it was time he took his pension:

(Available on the BBC website here.)

I’m not sure it was as insulting as the faux-outrage from some Labour MPs suggests. Dennis Skinner is hardly a shrinking violet, and if he dishes it out (and he does) he should be prepared to take it. Indeed it would be far more ageist of Mr Cameron to afford the 81 year-old MP for Bolsover special treatment.

But the charge against which David Cameron which does stick — and which is more dangerous — is Iain Martin’s: “It wasn’t very Prime Ministerial”. The Tory leader has rarely been able to resist the cheap joke in the Commons, for instance once accusing Gordon Brown of wearing more make-up than Barbara Cartland, or surfing the smutty laugh resulting from his labelling Nadine Dorries as ‘frustrated’.

A sense of humour can go a long way in public life. (It’s surely the only plausible explanation for the Rise of Boris.) But there is a two-fold risk: that it can misfire and look petulant, or make the joker look lightweight. David Cameron looked both of those things today.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.