Mary and I had the unique opportunity to sit in during the Prime Minister’s Questions, sometimes called the PMQs, before the House of Commons. It is an event like no other! For those of you that grew up in the CSPAN era, you might recall a random exchange between Labour’s Tony Blair and the Tories, broadcast from the green-hued chamber in Parliament and said to yourself… “Those wacky Brits.” And you’d be correct!
Every Wednesday, promptly at Noon, the Prime Minister subjects him or herself to various questions, barbs, and political puffery…all done with elegant English style and wit. In the fast-moving 30-minute session Prime Minister David Cameron called the Labour Leader Ed Milliband a con-man (twice!) before being warned by the Speaker of the House that those types of comments were beneath the integrity of the Prime Minister.
The House of Commons meets in a room that is smaller than you might expect. The main opposing parties sit opposite each other so they can look into the eyes of their opponent while debating. Hanging microphones are all around the room which is why you can easily hear moans, groans and complaints from members who don’t agree with whoever is speaking.
Most of the questions were softballs from Cameron’s own party, but a few were from feisty Members of Parliament seeking to discredit the ruling coalition party of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The UK is under what is called a coalition government right now. None of the three major parties (Conservative, Liberal Democrats and Labour) had a majority which would allow them to choose the Prime Minister, so the Conservative and Liberal Democrats agreed to rule together. I can only imagine the wrangling that went on to choose the Prime Minister. (The PM is not voted upon by the people but is chosen by their political party similar to how the Speaker of the House is chosen in the U.S.)
As Americans this was a very interesting experience. Can you imagine the President of the United States or a cabinet member in front of the House of Representative every week having to explain what they are doing? Prior to the PMQs, we watch the Secretary of State answer questions regarding international development and what role England was taking around the word regarding humanitarian aid, sexual violence, women’s rights, and economic development. Questions are submitted in advance and must be presented in a specific order so there are no great surprises or shocks with the exception of a rude comment now and then.
As a legislative/government guy most of my life, I’ve always wanted to witness that transparent exchange of thoughts, ideals and challenges. Thankfully we had the chance due to the kindness of a Member of Parliament (MP) who sponsored our attendance. One more experience that has contributed to The Hastings’ Excellent Adventure in England!