Coffee House

Prime Minister auditions as his own press officer after shambolic week

22 October 2012

In between confusing the Chamber just a little bit more on his European policy this afternoon, David Cameron appeared to be auditioning to work as his own press officer, reading out a list of the government’s achievements such as falling unemployment and lower inflation figures over the past week to MPs, just in case they’d missed them, as evidence that Britain does have a great deal to offer to Europe.

He had already taken pains to emphasise this earlier today after his crime speech, saying:

‘We need to focus on the big picture. What actually happened last week is that unemployment fell, inflation fell, waiting lists in our hospitals fell, crime fell, the right decision was made about Gary McKinnon. Those are the important things that are happening in an economy where we’ve created a million private sector jobs in the last two years. There will always be people that will go on endlessly about process and processology and Kremlinology and all the rest of it: what actually matters is what is happening out there.’

The Prime Minister seemed a bit grumpy during his Commons statement – not Prime Minister’s Questions-style grumpy, but still rattled – and this wasn’t helped by the appearance of Chris Bryant towards the end of the debate. Bryant asked a question about Russia’s stance on the bloodshed in Syria. Not an annoying personal question, you might think, but still one that prompted Cameron to say this:

‘I’m afraid we did not get the apology we were waiting for. We will have to be patient.’


He did then answer that specific question, but the Prime Minister clearly hasn’t spent his weekend wracked with remorse at his rather childish spat with the Labour MP in the Commons and in an ensuing letter exchange last week.

His statement followed another Conservative trying to deal with the consequences of their behaviour: Andrew Robathan reacted with fury at Defence questions to two queries from Labour about allegations that he had asked for the public gallery to be cleared in a debate last week where current and past members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers broke into applause. ‘Absolutely not!’ he shouted when Jack Dromey asked about it. Angela Smith then pressed for further details. She said:

‘There’s a degree of confusion now about what happened in the debate last Thursday so can I ask you to confirm the armed forces minister approached the Speaker’s chair about the conduct of the fusiliers in the public gallery?’

Robathan replied:

‘I’m grateful to be able to set the record straight. I have the greatest respect for ex-service personnel, including the fusiliers that were in the chamber. Can I say furthermore I believe anybody should be allowed to watch our proceedings from the gallery because it is a very important part of the democratic process. Can I finally say, what you allege is entirely untrue.’

The claims about Robathan are not going to blow up into an Andrew Mitchell-style row, but that and Cameron’s grumpiness do the government little favours when the Prime Minister is trying to move matters on from last week’s troubles, especially when so much of the problem has been about personality and attitude. Neither will reading out the headlines on jobs and inflation that the Number 10 press machine was supposed to be working for last week. And if the PM does want his press machine to function better, he should try to tame his tongue a little: after all, the fiasco over energy companies was his own doing in the chamber and had nothing to do with those in Number 10.

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  • Daniel Maris

    Are soldiers allowed to flout the rules of the House? No good precedents for that. This is one occasion when the people concerned should “know their place”. However, tawdry the priestly class, this is still the holy of holies of democracy.

  • Chris lancashire

    I’m gathering, Ms Hardman, that you’re not a Cameron fan – and it shows. Well I am, he represents the best of an admittedly mediocre political crop on all sides of the House and he is right to be pushing the excellent economic news which is beginning to show all over. Can you just imagine if the actor Blair or the loon Brown were in charge right now – it would be trumpeted all over. Instead you choose to focus on some obscure MP who might – or might not – have said something detrimental about some soldiers maybe, possibly ….

  • Stephen Porter

    David Cameron’s good news attempt is pure spin,they are not good news at all, unemployment down, to many being kicked off of benefits, inflation down, but only because of price cutting by the retailers. a million jobs created in the private sector over the last two years, that doesn’t even cover the amount of new entries to the jobs market. so all in all we are stuffed, and next year there will be massive job losses from the closure of retailers who are bankrupt, and the businesses that cant hang on much longer. the whole world is still shedding jobs. so dream on tory boys, and hope that when the nightmare begins, it doesn’t last to long. this isn’t a recession or even a depression, it is a total collapse of an outdated obsolete corrupt economic system, and the only thing keeping it going is the trillions being pumped into it.


    How reassuring it would be for the No.10 Press Officer (there should only be one) to one day announce that . . . . “There will be no press releases for the next month and that, other than his duties in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister will remain at his desk to ensure full implementation of the literally hundreds of initiatives he has, seemingly day in day out, announced since taking office (even though almost 50% of them are EU obligations over which he has no discretion, and the other almost 50% are things that are either none of any Government’s business, or more often, way way beyond any competency it might even in its wildest dreams possess)!”

  • 2trueblue

    The best thing Cameron could do right now is shut up. the less he says the less gets reported/misreported.

  • Torontory

    ‘…….in an economy where we’ve created a million private sector jobs in the last two years’.
    I really hope this is mis-reporting, as this is Labour/Gordon Brownspeak. Governments do not create jobs in the private sector – only private enterprises do. Please god he doesn’t really think that – just failed to spot a drafting error by his officials.

  • mcclane

    Jack Dromey is Harriet Harman’s househusband. I wouldn’t want to hear their pillow-talk.

    • mcclane

      Probably much the same as Yvette’s and Ed’s.

      • telemachus

        High power economics

        • iviv44

          only in their dreams.

          • telemachus

            Yes it is the stuff of dreams
            Osbornomics is clearly the stuff of nightmares

  • toco10

    We know you struggle with your job Isabel and it certainly shows in this inept post.You are clearly far more interested in tittle tattle than substance probably because it is easier for you to comprehend.A fall in inflation,lower unemployment and a fall in waiting lists in our hospitals seem to me the subjects a Prime Minister should focus on rather than media trivia.Methinks it is time for you to apply for a job which is considerably less demanding in terms of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

    • toco11

      Toco10 – you are a pleb

    • IsabelHardman

      thank you toco10 – I do read these comments and appreciate your feedback as I am indeed very new in this job and learning a great deal. I think if you read back through Coffee House, you’d see we covered the inflation and employment stories. My point in this post, though, is that Cameron is doing himself no favours on this matter: his energy announcement, which was a serious and well-intentioned idea, became a row because he fluffed it in the chamber. If he wants coverage of what is going well for the government, then being petulant when he does appear in the Chamber is not going to help that. I’m afraid that news involves reporting the trivial and childish behaviour of politicians as well as their detailed policy announcements, and I do wish sometimes that watching an episode of the Thick of It didn’t feel quite so much like real life.

      • toco10

        You miss my point entirely-your piece is nothing less than trivia and fluff.Have another read and consider it against the major issues which concern those outside the Westminster bubble.

      • Doppel1800

        I think it is very gracious of you to reply to “toco10″s remarks. I don’t think he deserved one. I wish you good luck in your job. FWIW though, I think Cameron has sounded touchy and irritated for a long time.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        Isabel is my new heroine. I appreciate that she is serving an apprenticeship in which she is required to present us with a lot of trivial nonsense. That is just the nature of things. But she stands up for herself in these comments and it is clear that she observes rather more than she is allowed to write. It is the more senior contributors who we must hold responsible for shallowness and triviality.

  • Vulture

    But I thought Cameron was an experienced PR man…didn’t he head up PR at Carlton TV? Whatever happened to Carlton, btw?……hang on…

    • telemachus

      Forget toco10
      We welcome your stoking diverse debate.
      This post so clearly demonstrates that Cameron and his team have lost direction and momentum.
      I am almost embarrassed to be thinking of attacking them
      I pity them
      And that is the saddest of comments on politicians

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