It’s only an advert?

David Cameron has been accused of sexism after he told a female MP to “calm down dear” during a Commons exchange at PMQ’s.

The prime minister borrowed the catchphrase made famous by Michael Winner, during a row about NHS reforms.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle, at whom the comment was aimed, said “a modern man” would not have “expressed himself that way”.

But a Downing Street spokesman said it was just “a humorous remark”.

The last time this catchphrase was used during Michael Winner’s recent appearance on Have I Got News For You it didn’t quite get the same reaction. As he answered one question, he looked up at the audience, grinned his trademark smile, and said: “Calm down dear.”

The audience stayed largely silent. Paul Merton sighed: “Glad we got that out of the way.”

If Winner was made to look a touch silly, he probably wouldn’t mind. For nearly three years now, he has been the star – and director – of a series of adverts for insurance company Esure which have been as irritating as they have been effective.

Whether crashing a car, or dressing up in drag and standing on a chair, Winner showed no reluctance to make himself look a bit foolish for the sake of publicity. And the tactic has worked: the company claims it has reached a million policies in less than four years in business.

The catchphrase has certainly made the leap into wider usage, what Francesca Newland of Campaign magazine describes as “the Holy Grail of advertising”. A spokeswoman for Esure said awareness has been amazing, with even Rory Bremner doing a sketch incorporating it (“Calm down dear, I’m just the prime minister”).

But Winner has now been shunted sideways in favour of a rodent, as the company, having established its name, tries to emphasise its online sales operation instead.

Perhaps then there is hope that a certain prime minister may be shunted sideways especially if he continues to make an arse of himself.

Now wasn’t there mention of a rodent by Ms Harman….

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