'Calm down, dear': PM's jibe sparks fury in House

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David Cameron was accused of being patronising to women after telling a senior Labour MP to "calm down, dear" during Prime Minister's Questions. Mr Cameron rejected Labour's demands for an apology for deploying the catchphrase used by the film director Michael Winner in a television commercial for car insurance.

Labour was in turn accused of having a sense of humour failure after seizing on the Prime Minister's putdown to Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when she barracked him for getting his facts wrong during an exchange about the Government's health reforms. Mr Cameron said the GP and former Labour MP Howard Stoate had been defeated at last year's general election. Ms Eagle pointed out that he had stood down.

Amid Labour uproar, Mr Cameron also told Ed Miliband and the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls to "calm down, dear".

Opposition figures claimed his remarks showed Mr Cameron was out of touch. Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, said: "David Cameron's contemptuous response to Angela Eagle at Prime Minister's Questions shows a patronising and outdated attitude to women. Women in Britain in the 21st century do not expect to be told to 'calm down, dear' by their Prime Minister."

Ms Eagle said: "I don't think any modern man would have expressed himself in that way." She added: "I have been patronised by better people than the Prime Minister... It is for the Prime Minister to decide whether he expressed himself appropriately in the Commons. It is up to him as to whether he wants to annoy 51 per cent of the population."

Downing Street said: "No formal request for an apology has been made. Let's not over-analyse something that was clearly a humorous remark. He was mimicking a popular TV ad and clearly no offence was meant."

Mr Winner said last night: "Which planet is Harriet Harman on? Does she not know this phrase has become a part of the nation's language? It is a bit of fun. The Labour Party should get a sense of humour."

Conservative aides insisted Mr Cameron had used the same slogan in the Commons in 2007 when he was interrupted by David Miliband, the then Foreign Secretary. The Tories accused Labour of manufacturing the row to distract attention from official figures yesterday showing the economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the first three months of this year. The statistics brought relief to ministers, whose economic strategy would have been in tatters if they had been negative. Ministers admitted privately the figures provided little cause for celebration. "It's going to be a long, slow road to get the economy back on track," one said.

Accusing Labour of talking the economy down, Mr Cameron said: "What is encouraging is that the British economy is growing again, manufacturing is up, exports are up, and we are seeing a rebalancing of the economy so we are not over-reliant on private consumption. That is good news."

But Ed Miliband said the GDP figures showed the economy had "flatlined over the last six months".

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