We could use more harumph­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMAN AT THE LEGISLATURE - Ken Her­man Com­men­tary kher­man@states­man. com;512 445-3907

And now, in a week when we saw some con­tentious mo­ments on the Texas House floor, let us pause to give thanks for the re­spect­ful, if not al­ways sin­cerely so, way our two leg­isla­tive cham­bers gen­er­ally con­duct their busi­ness.

At least com­pared to the Brits.

De­spite the ac­cent they put on when we’re lis­ten­ing to make them seem more re­fined than your av­er­age Texas law­maker, the Brits have a cer­tain way of twist­ing the ver­bal knife dur­ing par­lia­men­tary pro­ceed­ings.

I know some of you en­joy that won­der­ful Brit tra­di­tion known as “prime min­is­ter’s ques­tion time,” dur­ing which MPs (mem­bers of par­lia­ment) ques­tion the PM. It’s jolly good fun.

We had a par­tic­u­larly en­ter­tain­ing par­lia­men­tary mo­ment Wed­nes­day when PM Theresa May an­nounced the for­mal de­liv­ery in Brus­sels of the Ar­ti­cle 50 let­ter. This was the no­ti­fi­ca­tion that puts Brexit in mo­tion, the United King­dom’s de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union af­ter four decades of mem­ber­ship. The world has not seen a re­align­ment this sig­nif­i­cant since the South­west Con­fer­ence fell apart.

The let­ter trig­gers two years of what will be knotty ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the U.K. and the EU. It’s un­clear what con­ti­nent the U.K. now will seek to join.

But enough of my ig­no­rance. What we want to talk about here is the PM’s AM speech (Texas time) and the re­ac­tion it got from some MPs. The re­ac­tion was what I call harumph­ing, the gen­eral noise some MPs make when they don’t like what they hear.

I lis­tened live on the BBC World Ser­vice as May spoke at about 6:30 a.m. Austin time. She spoke of the chal­lenges ahead.

“Bri­tain is leav­ing the Euro­pean Union,” she said. “We are go­ing to make our own de­ci­sions and our own laws. We are go­ing to take con­trol of the things that mat­ter most to us. And we are go­ing to take this op­por­tu­nity to build a stronger, fairer Bri­tain.”

It’s un­clear whether they’re go­ing to do any­thing about that whole driv­ing-on-the-wrong-sideof-the-street thing.

May spoke of “great turn­ing points in our na­tional story” and “the en­dur­ing power of the Bri­tish spirit,” with that last line draw­ing what sounded to be like harumphs of ap­proval.

But about a minute later harumphs of dis­ap­proval rang out, harumphs dis­rup­tive enough for Speaker John Ber­cow to in­ter­rupt May in the name of deco­rum. The pas­sage that seemed to trig­ger the rum­ble of dis­cord was this from May: “I want us to be a truly global Bri­tain, the best friend and neigh­bor to our Euro­pean part­ners and a coun­try that reaches be­yond the bor­ders of Europe, too.”

This is when the speaker felt the need to in­ter­vene, and with a par­tic­u­lar MP in mind (one who, for those fa­mil­iar with the Texas House, may very well be the Bri­tish ver­sion of Texas Rep. Jonathan Stick­land, R-Bed­ford.)

FYI, Mr. Boswell, whom Ber­cow scolded di­rectly, is Philip Boswell, a Brexit foe. He seems to have a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion as a rap­scal­lion. I’m not sure ex­actly what a rap­scal­lion is (a type of hip-hop onion?) but I don’t get to use it much and this seemed like a good place.

Boswell’s web­site tells us he’s mar­ried, has three kids and was in the oil and gas busi­ness. There’s also this on his web­site, a re­minder of the fa­mil­iar no­tion that the U.S. and U.K. are di­vided by a com­mon lan­guage:

“Be­low are the dates for my up­com­ing surg­eries. These are drop-in ses­sions, so feel free to stop by.” Ex­cuse me? Here’s the deal. In Bri­tish English a “surgery” is of­fice hours in which politi­cians meet one-on-one with con­stituents. Kind of too bad. It’s more in­ter­est­ing in the way we think of surgery.

OK, back to Ber­cow, and it’s im­por­tant that you read this with your best Bri­tish ac­cent:

“Can I just apol­o­gize for hav­ing to in­ter­rupt the prime min­is­ter? Mr. Boswell, calm your­self. You’ve got to try to learn to be­have in a states­man­like fash­ion. That’s your long-term goal. It may be very long term, but it should be a goal.”

Nice, right? Ber­cow then as­sured mem­bers they’d have a chance to ques­tion May, but asked that they give her a “cour­te­ous hear­ing” un­til that time.

May con­tin­ued to min­i­mal harumph­ing. All in all, most en­ter­tain­ing.

I’d be OK with a lit­tle more of this kind of thing, com­plete with harumph­ing, in the Texas House and Se­nate.

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