David Cameron, no stranger to controversy, is rapidly developing a reputation for being the most indiscreet prime minister in British history.
In 2014 he made an open mic blooper when he boasted to Michael Bloomberg that the queen had “purred” down the phone to him when he called her with the results of the Scottish independence referendum.
He clearly didn’t learn his lesson as he has now managed to drag the queen into controversy again, and, once again an open mic is to blame.
He was today caught on camera telling the queen in a remarkably jocular tone that the leaders of some “fantastically corrupt” countries, including Nigeria and Afghanistan, were due to attend an anti-corruption summit he is hosting on Thursday.
In a pooled video feed, Cameron was shown talking with the queen about the summit.
“We had a very successful cabinet meeting this morning, talking about our anti-corruption summit,” Cameron said when the queen approached.
“We have got the Nigerians, actually we have got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain.”
Cameron went on: “Nigeria and Afghanistan; possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
The one saving grace of the whole debacle is that the queen, smart cookie that she is, did not respond to Cameron’s comment (which really would have been a disaster) but kept her inscrutable look. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby then fortuitously chimed in with: “But this particular president is actually not corrupt.”
Cameron does not take the opportunity to shout, “Yes, quite,” at the camera, but there we are.
Cameron’s unguarded comments were made at a reception to mark the queen’s 90th birthday at Buckingham Palace today, and recalled his boast to Michael Bloomberg about calling the queen, after the Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom.
He told the former mayor of New York, “The definition of relief is being the prime minister of the United Kingdom and ringing the queen and saying ‘It’s all right, it’s OK.’ That was something… She purred down the line.”
Cameron’s breach of protocol on that occasion was of a different order than today’s blooper, which makes no one but himself look foolish, as did open mic remarks made last year about how people in the British county of Yorkshire “hate each other.”
His remarks to Bloomberg, by contrast, hugely irritated the palace because they suggested that the queen had a political position on the independence vote. Many had of course suspected she was pro-Union, but she had been at pains to make no direct comment on the referendum, as she lives in permanent fear of being seen to be interfering or meddling in politics.
Cameron subsequently made a humiliating public apology for the incident.
Inevitably, his remarks will overshadow any contributions of Nigeria and Afghanistan to the forthcoming conference.
Cameron does have a reputation for being indiscreet. Sources tell The Daily Beast that he has been known to answer the phone at his local pub and then shout to his wife, “WORK CALL, DARLING!!!” while making for the exit loudly discussing education policy.