Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

David Cameron to dump his ‘Flashman’ image in Commons

David Cameron

One is a former public schoolboy bully who went on to serve his country with dubious distinction. The other is the Prime Minister.

David Cameron is to try and rid himself of his ‘Flashman’ image by being more polite to MPs during Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Cameron's aides have told him the image of the Prime Minister as fictional schoolboy bully Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays is gaining resonance .

As a result Mr Cameron will try to give his Commons performances a “makeover” so they are “less aggressive” and “more Prime Ministerial”.

The move has been triggered by a series of recent incidents when the Prime Minister appeared to lose his temper in the House.

In March he told the shadow chancellor Ed Balls to “shut up” and “listen to the answer” during an exchange on enterprise zones.

Labour accused the Prime Minister of losing his cool under pressure. In the same session, Mr Cameron also brushed off a question from the Labour MP Chris Williamson by saying he had “no idea” who he was.

But the incident which caused most concern in Downing Street was his “calm down dear” jibe aimed at the Labour MP Angela Eagle at the end of last month.

Ms Eagle had been heckling Mr Cameron as he attempted to read a quote from the former Labour MP Howard Stoate, backing the Government's NHS reforms.

He claimed Mr Stoate had been defeated at the last election by a Conservative candidate when — as Ms Eagle pointed out — Mr Stoate had in fact stood down.

To cheers from his own benches, Mr Cameron shouted at the Wallasey MP: “Calm down, dear, calm down. Calm down and listen to the doctor.” Within minutes, Labour had accused him of being “sexist, patronising, insulting and un-Prime Ministerial”.

Recently, when he watched a session, Mr Cameron was said to have been shocked at the “shouty” way he came across.

He told aides he found it very difficult not to raise his voice because of the background noise in the chamber, something not picked up by TV cameras. Mr Cameron has been working on a new strategy for PMQs with his briefing team.

A Downing Street source said: “There is a realisation that it's just not working. We're not winning enough. The Flashman image is very damaging.”

The source said they were partly using Tony Blair as an inspiration. “He was always very effective — especially at using the advantage of office. The Prime Minister always has the last word and we should be using that more.”

Background

‘Flashman’ began life as the bully of Rugby Boys' School class of 1857 in Thomas Hughes's book Tom Brown's Schooldays. He returned to the literary world through the novel series of the same name by George Macdonald Fraser. He remains true to the original Flashman: “A scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward — and oh yes, a toady.”

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