Female lawmaker accuses British PM of sexism

Last Updated: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 17:04

London: A sexist throwback to the Conservative Party`s reputation as an exclusive white men`s club, or an innocent political jibe?

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads the Conservative-led coalition government, stepped into a sexism row on Wednesday when he borrowed a popular British TV commercial`s phrase and told a female opposition lawmaker to just "calm down dear" during a heated debate about heath care reform in Parliament.

The popular British advertisement is for car insurance.

"Calm down, dear, calm down. Calm down and listen to the doctor," he said, after Labour lawmaker Angela Eagle heckled him as he tried to read a quote from a former Labour Party MP. Cameron claimed that the MP was defeated at the last election, but Eagle corrected him and said he had stood down.

Eagle said Cameron should know better than to borrow a patronising phrase like that.

"I don`t think any modern man would have expressed himself in that way," she said.

While Conservative Party members such as Chancellor George Osborne were filmed laughing at Cameron`s remark, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats sat wearing a stern expression — he neither smiled nor laughed.

Britain`s Conservative Party has a long history of being dominated by white upper class British men. In recent years, however, it has sought to revamp its image by installing female advisers and ethnic minorities.

It is thought Cameron lost many votes during last year over the perception that he came from a class of privileged white men, far removed from the struggles of the working class. Even this week there was a small controversy of whether he would wear a regular suit to the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday or tails.

In the end, Cameron`s office said he would wear tails — much like what he wore at Oxford events.

"Let`s not overanalyse it," a Downing Street spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy. "It was a humorous remark, mimicking a popular TV advert. No offense was intended."

Eagle was joined by Labour`s deputy leader Harriet Harman, who said that Cameron`s response showed his "patronising and outdated attitude" to women.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," she said.

Some early editions of Thursday`s newspapers led their front pages with the story.

Bureau Report



First Published: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 17:04

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