We could use more harumphing
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.