At Prime Minister’s questions, the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman told David Cameron that he should have more class. This was a serious breach of etiquette. Ms Harman, though the niece of an earl, and therefore superior in rank to the son of a stockbroker, nevertheless went to a less celebrated public school than the Prime Minister. She should therefore have a care advising him on his manners. The Etonian Cameron, who had been crowing in a Bullingdonish sort of way about the EU referendum, looked suitably shocked. It was observed that, for the rest of the session, he was noticeably more sober in his deportment, if not necessarily more classy in his answers. He started to treat the questions put to him as if they might be honest attempts at eliciting information. This is a very bad idea. The moment the protagonists start to treat Prime Minister’s questions as an opportunity for finding out answers, the whole point will be lost. We might as well pretend that the purpose of Trooping the Colour is to give Princess Anne some exercise, or that hot air ballooning is a viable form of public transport.

This episode may also be bad news for Andy Burnham, since it could reinforce the hypothesis that Mr Cameron would be more discomfited by facing a woman opponent. The Prime Minister, it is held, has a woman problem. The evidence for this is patchy. Though a vigorous champion of being allowed to choose a man for his mate, Mr Cameron freely opted for a woman in that department and has at least as good a record as his recent predecessors for appointing women to his Cabinet. It is also reported that it is difficult to open a cupboard inside 10 Downing Street without finding a female adviser falling out of it.

The charge sheet on the other hand records the time when the Prime Minister advised a woman on the Labour front bench to “calm down dear” and the moment when he appeared to wander off into an embarrassed reverie about Nadine Dorries’ carnal needs as she was asking him a question about the status of his coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It has always seemed to this observer that the business with Nadine Dorries was more in the minds of other people than in the Prime Minister’s own. His put down of Angela Eagle, meanwhile, though vulnerable to being deemed offensive by those apt to be offended by such things, was no more unsavoury than Alex Salmond’s, who recently told the Conservative minister Anna Soubry to “behave yourself woman”. In the event Mr Salmond’s scorn was treated with considerably more indulgence than Mr Cameron’s.   Mr Salmond, you see, is not thought to have a woman problem. He is therefore allowed the occasional foray over the border into the realms of misogyny. Mr Salmond has a Tory problem, although that is generally regarded more as a social necessity than a personal failing.

Nor is it a defence for Mr Cameron to say that he has a Tory problem too, especially when he continues to work so assiduously to cultivate it. Bloody-minded Conservatives are, to a very large extent, like earthworms in being part of nature’s considered strategy. Yet they are also nurtured by a Prime Minister, who seems to go out of his way to fertilise their capriciousness with his contempt.

His contribution towards this effort this week was to announce that members of his Cabinet wishing to campaign for Britain to leave the EU must resign in order to do so. Infuriating though this was to members of his party – including members of his Cabinet – this does not seem like such an outrageous position to adopt. It is generally what collective Cabinet responsibility is held to mean, except that it was punctured on the one occasion in recent history that really matters, when Harold Wilson permitted his Cabinet to be for or against European membership at the time of the last referendum in 1976. Mr Wilson allowed his Cabinet to split in order to hold his party together, while Mr Cameron seems to want to hold his Cabinet together in order to cause his party to split.

Realizing that this makes Harold Wilson the rather better politician, Mr Cameron took 48 hours to change his mind, although convention dictates that it was necessary for him to claim that the media had got him wrong in the first place. The bond of togetherness, it seems, would only necessarily apply to the period when the PM was negotiating terms with the EU: in the subsequent referendum, the latitude given to Cabinet ministers will be subject to the Prime Minister’s all-important what-he-thinks-he-can-get-away-with test. We will have to wait and see how this turns out. At the current rate of progress, however, this is not a Prime Minister who is going to be able to get away with very much.

Unsurprisingly, the media did not take too well either to Mr Cameron’s policy gymnastics, or to his blaming them for the confusion, and started letting it be known that perhaps the PM had been too relaxed when he had given them the original briefing. This had taken place during a trip to Bavaria, which is where Mrs Thatcher liked to go on holiday, but is not otherwise a place obviously associated with hanging out and chilling. David Cameron though has a relaxation problem to go with his women problem: it is not that he cannot switch off, rather that he flicks his mental resources to the up position somewhat too readily. For this already over laid-back Prime Minister to appear too relaxed when explaining his policy to journalists, presumably he must have been talking to them while wearing swimming trunks and carrying a surfboard. There is no evidence that this was the case, which lays open the possibility that Mr Cameron was not too casual in his speaking, but too casual in his thinking.

He should try learning from his Chancellor, George Osborne, who continues to want to pass laws that impose hair-shirted discipline upon himself. This week Mr Osborne announced in his Mansion House speech that he would legislate for permanent budget surpluses, a piece of contrived stringency immediately denounced by the libertines over at the Guardian as Micawber economics. The Government is also passing a law banning so-called legal highs: whether this will be extended to outlawing those manufactured moments of ecstasy enjoyed by Conservative backbenchers when they vote aganst David Cameron has not yet been made clear.

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