(Screen grab from video of David Cameron addressing members of Parliament Wednesday, April 27, 2011.)

Cameron has used the phrase before, but it was still a hold-your-breath moment that harkened back to President Obama calling a female reporter “sweetie” and Sen. Arlen Specter (D- Pa.) telling Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to “act like a lady.”

Some members of Parliament laughed; others looked on in shock. Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle, at whom the comment appeared to be aimed, didn’t react.

Was the comment, which was in response to a debate over the National Health Service, intended to be funny? Did it indicate that Cameron was sexist? It’s hard to tell.

Eagle later said that “a modern man” would not have “expressed himself that way.” The Labour party’s former equality minister Harriet Harman said it showed “[Cameron’s] patronizing and outdated attitude to women.”

A Downing Street spokesman, however, dismissed it as just a “humorous remark.”

When movies such as “Anchorman” and “9 to 5” portray male characters using words like “dear” and “sweetie,” the men are clearly being condescending. When politicians use those words, should we assume the same?

Maybe, except that Cameron has used the line before in the Commons — toward a man. When responding to a statement on Afghanistan in 2007, Cameron told Foreign Secretary David Miliband to “calm down, dear.” The remark to Miliband stirred no controversy.

What do you think? Was the comment toward Angela Eagle sexist, or harmless?

Watch the full exchange here: