Sunday, June 19, 2005

I Love the Brits

If you've never watched CSPAN's telecast of the Prime Minister's Questions, you're missing out. The show, which airs on CSPAN Sunday nights at 9e/8c, is recorded every Wednesday when Parliament is in session and the British Prime Minister (currently Tony Blair, in case you didn't know) appears before the House of Commons and members can ask him any questions they want. It's a hoot.

I discovered them actually through a Saturday Night Live parody. SNL did a skit highlighting the just plain funny stuff that happens during the weekly Q&A sessions. In America, we have no equivalent of this tradition since I'm sure it'd be a violation of the separation of powers for the president to appear before Congress every week to answer questions. But basically House of Commons members can ask the PM any question on any topic and he has to answer it - however he likes, of course, but he must respond. And he doesn't choose the members of parliament called upon - the speaker of the house does. Very often, members of parliament ask pointed, insulting and often hilarious and even more often inflammatory questions. It's really an amazing exchange. We really don't have an equivalent of that style of debate and Q&A in the U.S. Congress (at least that I've seen).

Tonight's broadcast of the PM's Questions (here's a transcript) mostly focused on Britain's role in Europe as France and Holland have recently rejected the EU Constitution. There was also a lot of questioning by members of the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat Party (multiparty system over there, remember?) about Blair's (the Labour Party leader) flip-flopping on issues.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the Conservative Party, pointed this flip flopping out to the PM and said, "The Prime Minister has taken more positions than the Kama Sutra." Zing!

Could you imagine if anyone ever said anything like that on the floor of Congress? Americans would flip out. Everyone in the House of Commons at that time, however (including Blair), cracked up.

One of my favorite questions from PM's Questions past from a member of the Conservative Party: "Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my constituent Susan Brown (I forget her real name) in her successful hip replacement surgery? She is recovering well after what she said was a most comfortable stay at the hospital with very attentive doctors and nurses." (Here Blair nods as if to wish the woman well...the Conservative Party questioner continues...) "But will the Prime Minister tell me why Mrs. Brown had to travel across the English Channel to France to get this surgery at an afforable price?" Zing again.

And tonight there was this exchange:

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Bonjour. What steps does the Prime Minister propose to take to measure the results that his Ministers achieve on a regular basis? Will he consider introducing a "Minister of the month" award? Will he accept from me a nomination for Douglas Alexander, the Minister for Europe, who has achieved so much in such a short time? I had not fully appreciated that putting Britain at the centre of Europe meant renegotiating the common agricultural policy, renegotiating the European budget and picking a row with France. He has my complete support.

The Prime Minister: Merci beaucoup.