The most riveting television in the world

Question Period in the British Parliament.

It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s witty, it’s live, it’s silly, it’s serious, it’s friendly, it’s antagonistic and it’s “reality”.

My soup grew cold as I watched the debate about the European Union constitution.

This is so much better than Canadian Question Period :(

Dude, welcome to six years ago :P

I agree, though, it’s a lot of fun to watch. If politics were this interesting in America I’d probably know who the president was.

What gets me is how intelligent it is… the leader of the Official Opposition grills the Prime Minister and the ruling party for 15 minutes at a time, and then the PM comes back with a counter-point to each and every single argument. And right until you’d hear those counter-points, you’d swear the opposition party had him by the bollocks.

It probably helps that the PM has a notebook in front of him the size of God. But yeah, it’s just scary how fast they can rattle off detailed responses.

“If my right honorable friend would remember, this government spent 283,892 pounds last year fixing the little pedestrian bridge located in the village of Middleofhefuckingnowhere. Not the steel bridge, mind you, but the wooden one with the rooster painted on it.”

“You mean ‘Middleoffuckingnowhereshire’, or ‘Middleoffuckingnowhereborough’, Mr. Prime Minister?”

It’s also embarrassing that the people we’ve charged with representing us can’t even behave in a civilised manner. Shame Speaker Boothroyd isn’t still around to keep the overgrown public school boys in check.

I think it’s quite civilized, actually. All stops are pulled, true, but this is the fate of the nation you’re deciding. No one should pull any punches… it’s good to see such passion among the Right Honorable Members, rather than the bland, boring carelessness that affects Canadian politics, as the Official Opposition knows it’s screwed until the next election anyway and nothing they say in Question Period has any effect. In England at least the papers report routinely on it.

Besides, the behavior is much better than it was in the earlier centuries or even in the early 20th. I have a book with a collection of speeches by Churchill in the Commons and quite a few are scandalous (or reply to crass points.)

By comparision, in the US political debate consists of…well, Bill O’ Reilly blowing a gasket. And some editoral writers. Lucky us.

Churchill in debate in the House of Commons, referring to Labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald:

“I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum’s Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the program which I most desired to see was the one described as “The Boneless Wonder”. My parents judged that the spectacle would be too demoralizing and revolting for my youthful eye and I have waited fifty years, to see the The Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.”

Churchill also referred (although I don’t know the context) to the later Labour PM, Clement Atlee as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”

Imagine a govt. where the people in charge actually have to KNOW something!

Not to mention that the memory of the voters and the opposition party lasted more than 6 months.

Yeah when you watch the British Parliament, so suddenly get the impression that “oh… yeah… these guys DID invent the freakin’ langauge and we have no idea how to use it.”

I dunno, Jakub. There have been some pretty good blowouts on the Hill in Ottawa, too. Members flipping each other off, making threats, etc. Some entertaining speeches as well. I don’t make a point of watching any parliamentary channels, though I have seen some interesting stuff in Ottawa to rival the UK.

One big difference, though – the UK house is like the size of my fucking living room. It looks like it was built for the legislature of the Keebler Elves. Everybody’s crammed in on those benches right on top of each other, so the intensity is ramped up. Our House is about ten times bigger. It doesn’t look like people want to kill each other because, well, you can’t get them all in one shot like you can in the UK. I was just by the Hill Monday night to check out the Xmas lights and it really is one of the most impressive government buildings in the world. Majestic buildings. Gorgeous with the lights and snowflakes projected on the walls, too.

Where are you watching this? I’d like to check it out, if it was available outside of Britain.

They show highlights on BBC World from time to time. I wish I could catch it more often, since it’s really the best TV in the world.

Brett - Canadians have their spats, I’ll admit that, but there’s nothing like the ritual group jeering, cheering or laughing after every statement, or the bemused smiles of the opposing party (as well as the occasional loss of self-control when real anger or shock appear.)

And honestly, it’s a joy to watch Blair at work. Clinton has nothing on him - if Bill is simply the Teflon man, then Blair’s a Teflon fox.

PMQs more an exercise in ‘one-upmanship’ than a forum for actual debate or policy making. It’s the half hour when the chamber is actually full, with people taking notice, rather than just a few fat bald guys sleeping off a big lunch. I suppose it’s civil in that the only insults are limp innuendos about how unsound the tax policies of a member’s party were 20 years ago. Dunno about you folks, but I shut the fuck up when it’s somebody else’s turn to speak, rather than making noises like a flatulent heard of senile donkeys. PMQ’s is basically theatre that disregards the fact it’s only pantomime season for 3 months a year.

It is entertaining though.

I worked in the Canadian House of Commons for a year as a Page in the very early 90s, and I can tell you that Question Period is funnier live than on TV.

The stuff that happens behind the curtains is easily as entertaining as what is shown on TV. I’m not sure about the BBC’s broadcasts of the debates in the British House of Commons, but CPAC has VERY strict rules about what they can show, so a lot is missed because when someone is speaking they must focus on the speaker and no one else. Sometimes they can use wide shots to get some of the surrounding crowd, but that’s the best they can do.

The most memorable incident I can remember was when a (then) member of the New Democratic Party charged the Sergeant-at-Arms who was leaving the Chamber with the Royal Mace and attempted to wrestle it away from him (for what purpose, I cannot say). The Sergeant-at-Arms (always a highly decorated, though ederly, former military man) basically swatted him away like a fly and kept going as if he hasn’t been interrupted.

It was great, and never seen on TV :)