Normally, before Cameron Direct events, the audience waits in respectful silence for the Prime Minister.
Yesterday the pensioners became restive. “Our speaker hasn’t quite arrived yet,” announced the motherly MC. “What do you expect from a bloody Tory?” shouted one man. Another senior was ominously reading a Socialist Worker leaflet. Hoping for a video diversion, the MC pleaded plaintively above the growing hubbub: “Can we have the active communities clips, please guys?”
Yesterday’s Age UK “election rally” was not the ideal gig to be late for, particularly since the irony of the imminent presence of a PM who had just dramatically forecast his own retirement was clearly not lost on these retirees. The heckling was several rungs down from the notorious slow handclapping of Tony Blair at a Women’s Institute conference in 2000. But once the questions started it was obviously going to be difficult. And noisy. Hands, and indeed walking sticks, shot up.
Someone asked what he was going to do about nurses leaving the NHS to work in agencies for more money. Cameron banged on about nurses going where they were needed. “You haven’t answered my question,” the man (accurately) interrupted him. “They’re leaving the NHS to get more money,” shouted a group of women like a Gilbert and Sullivan chorus. “Rubbish,” called others as Cameron tried again.
Luckily, one man got up to say it was his “dream come true” to ask Cameron a question. “You must have very low standards,” the man with the Socialist Worker leaflet growled. While Cameron stressed year-on-year increases in NHS expenditure – not to mention the triple-locked pensions, the universal benefits and so on – the audience seemed ungratefully preoccupied with cuts in social care.
Another man suggested that the example of Lord Beaverbrook as a “progress-chaser” Second World War production supremo – one clearly fresh in his long memory – should be followed by appointing a cabinet minister specially for the elderly. Cameron implied mysteriously that this would actually make things worse and each departmental minister should think about the old. But then he said: “If you’re not satisfied with how elderly people are being looked after by this Government, don’t blame other ministers – blame me.” “We are,” shouted someone.
It isn’t often a politician turns to the media for relief, even if he was jeered for doing so. “They’ve been promised,” he explained. “They’ve sat quietly at the back.”
“Unlike you shower,” he might have added, but fortunately didn’t. There were some irreverent laughs as, asked about eschewing a third term, he explained “what I did in my kitchen is I gave a very straight answer to a straight question.” Closing, he appealed for support for “another Conservative government.” “Not a chance,” exclaimed one malcontent.
Understandably Cameron emphasised that he and his new best friend, the Greens’ Natalie Bennett, were the only leaders to turn up. But judging by the audience’s volatility, Messrs Miliband and Clegg may have made the right call by staying away.Reuse content