British Prime Minister David Cameron today again referred disparagingly to the age of veteran left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner- who was 80 in February and has been MP for Bolsover since 1970 (when Cameron was only three). Cameron had been forced to appear before MPs this afternoon after Speaker John Bercow ruled that he must answer an urgent question from Labour on his refusal to hold an inquiry into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's handling of the BSkyB bid of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp Skinner asked the Prime Minister: "Why is the Secretary of State for Culture getting better employment rights than the rest of the workers in Britain? Is it possibly because he [Cameron] knows that whilst the Secretary of State is in the firing line that it prevents the bullets from hitting him, the Prime Minister?" Cameron's terse response was: "Well the honourable gentleman has the right at any time to take his pension and I advise him to do so."
Many saw Cameron's remark as
rude and ageist, just as some of his remarks in the House to women MPs, including
Tory Nadine Dorries, have been dubbed sexist. Dorries got her own back last weekwhen she accused her party leader Cameron and the chancellor George Osborne of being "two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others - and that is their real crime." There is a growing feeling in the country that Cameron and his privileged cabinet clique are out of touch with how ordinary people, and his comment to Skinner is likely to reinforce this, especially as it comes so soon after the "granny tax" in the Budget caused much criticism and was portrayed by many as an attack on the elderly.
Cameron's comment triggered a flurry of tweets. Labour MP Toby Perkins tweeted:
"Will be writing to PM to ask him + his Ministers to pledge to stop relying on ageist abuse in place of answering questions from D Skinner."
Labour Deupty Leader and Shadow Culture Secretary, said: "David Cameron
couldn't answer Dennis Skinner question so stooped to ageist abuse.
Shameful." Kevin Maguire of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror tweeted
"Cameron reveals the inner Buller Boy every time he insults Dennis
Skinner. The posh boy can never win abusing an ex-miner". Janice Turner
of the Times said: "Very soon all the bootstraps working class MPs like
Dennis Skinner will have have retired. Leaving no one but Etonians and
professors' sons." But Turner's Times colleague Hugo Rifkind retorted:
"Skinner is a disgrace. When ppl talk about the braying horror of
parliament, a good 70% of it is him."And Daily Telegraph columnist Iain
Martin tweeted: "Labour MPs presenting Skinner as loveable, gentle,
Mother Teresa type surely remember vile stuff he's said about
opponents." Nicknamed "the Beast of Bolsover" years ago by satirical magazine Private Eye Skinner has been suspended from the House of Commons at least 10 times, often for his use of "unparliamentary language" against others and is an ardent and outspoken anti-royalist. He routinely makes an anti-royalist joke at the Queen's Opening of Parliament; the New Statesman once published a list of his best Queen's Speech jokes. But Cameron makes what are widely seen as unpleasant comments to Skinner at his peril, for nowadays the Labour MP is regarded by many with some affection and even as a National Treasure.
Cameron has form when it comes to age-related put downs of
Skinner. In January he referred to him as a dinosaur after Skinner
asked him when he expected to be cross examined by the Leveson enquiry,
and "doesn't he agree that the British people deserve an answer as to
why he appointed one of Murdoch's top lieutenants, Andy Coulson, to the
heart of the British government?" Cameron replied that he would be
delighted to go to the Leveson Inquiry whenever he is invited, and would
answer all the questions when that happened. He added: "It's good to
see the honourable gentleman on such good form. I often say to my
children 'no need to go to the Natural History Museum to see a
dinosaur, come to the House of Commons at about half past twelve'."