A few weeks ago David Willetts said some foolish things about feminism. David Cameron appears to have repeated the trick today at PMQs. The Prime Minister responded to a heckle from Labour MP Angela Eagle with the words “calm down dear”. It’s trending on twitter as #winnergate and #calmdowndear.
Frankly, I think it a silly, patronising thing to say. The red face of the Prime Minister suggests that he also thinks it was a patronising comment, and I dare say he wishes he hadn’t said it. It’s little help that he said the same thing to Gordon Brown in December 2007 when Mr Brown was Prime Minister. (Thanks to Felicity Parkes for posting that on twitter.)
Comments such as this demonstrate that debates in the House of Commons are infantile and tribal, relying on cheap jibes and patronising insults. It also reinforces the idea that male MPs are the norm, with the “Lady Members” being the other. While I’m not convinced that increasing the number of women in Parliament would have a direct civilising effect on the quality of debate (women can heckle too, you know) it certainly couldn’t make it worse.
28 April 2011: Angela Eagle has a reply in the Guardian this morning. While I agree that it was a patronising and insulting thing for the Prime Minister to say, I don’t agree with Ms Eagle’s analysis of government policy. Conservative policy appears less pro-women because, as Amber Rudd MP pointed out a couple of days ago, Conservatives are wary of using the power of the state for social change. This doesn’t mean Conservatives or the coalition government are anti-women, simply that they tend to be anti-statist.