With his Chancellor in front of the Leveson Inquiry and world markets digesting the latest eurozone bail-out, yesterday was never going to be the most relaxing of days for David Cameron.
But in the event, it was not matters of state that took the Prime Minister’s full attention, but the disclosure that he recently left his eight-year-old daughter Nancy in a country pub.
He and his family had stopped before lunch at The Plough in Cadsden, Buckinghamshire, one Sunday.
After a swift drink, they gathered their things and headed to Chequers but failed to realise that their elder daughter was in the lavatory.
Mr Cameron shared a car with his bodyguards while his wife Samantha followed with their son Elwen, six, and daughter Florence, 22 months.
Each thought Nancy was in the other car and it was only when they reached the Prime Minister’s country residence, two miles away, that they realised their mistake.
As the story became public yesterday morning, Downing Street found itself under intense scrutiny. Initially, No 10 said a “distraught” Mr Cameron had rushed back to collect his daughter after 15 minutes without her parents.
“It was a slip, these things happen,” a spokesman said. “The Prime Minister and Samantha were distraught when they realised Nancy was not with them. Thankfully when they phoned the pub she was there safe and well.”
Three hours later, No10 was forced to clarify that it had been Mrs Cameron who made the journey. Some social workers said that similar scenarios could warrant a visit from the authorities.
In the Camerons’ case, however, there is no intention of intervening. A spokesman for Westminster council said: “The child was looked after by others and away from their parents for a very short period. This was clearly a case of a mix-up and no action was warranted.”
But Hilton Dawson, head of the British Association of Social Workers, called the incident “extraordinary”. “It actually raises a very serious point,” he said.
“Social services might well make a few inquiries, ring up the school and ask if there has been anything said about this child. Are health visitors or anybody picking up issues about this family? Is it one indicator of some problem?”
It was reminiscent of an incident 13 years ago when Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, surprised diners at the Groucho club by allegedly checking in his eight-week-old daughter with the cloakroom assistant. Mr Powell insisted that the woman had been helping to organise the event and had offered to sit by the child while his wife ate in the same room.
Some, at least, of the locals in Cadsden were sympathetic to the Camerons yesterday. Stephen Hollings, the pub’s landlord, who was once married to Barbara Windsor, said there was “absolutely no way” Mr Cameron had drunk too much.
He said: “He’s a really nice, honest, decent chap.”
“Nancy came out of the pub and said something like ‘where are my parents?’
“We knew who Nancy was and looked after her until she was collected.”
Customers at The Plough yesterday said that Mr Cameron was a regular visitor both with his family and on his own.
Norman Mead, 89, said: “How can you do that, walk away and leave a baby?” But he added: “He’s a nice man. He will come over and shake my hand and pass the time of day. He was on his own last time I saw him.”