Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Mind your PMQs

For those of my readers who didn't know, I've been travelling the last few weeks and therefore not listening to NPR. However, I did have the opportunity to be in the UK for Tony Blair's last day in office, and I watched his final Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) with the British branch of my family giving me context. I'd never watched a PMQ before, and for those of you who haven't, it's a pretty amazing thing. PMQs is a political convention in which once a week the current Prime Minister spends half an hour answering questions from Members of Parliament at the House of Commons. Apparently this usually gets quite heated, and so there are lots of rules, along with a Speaker of the House of Commons who decides the order in which people's questions will get heard (in the case of the current speaker, a doddering old guy unfortunately), and no one answers the questions directly, they all reply to the Speaker. So for example, there's a lot of "I would reply to the right honorable gentleman that...". It all seems very British to me, although C. tells me that Canada does basically the same thing.

Anyhow, I don't really have an opinion about Blair, other than that he seems to be a hell of a lot smarter than the leader of our fair country, but that's actually being held against him by many Brits who say, "Bush is too dumb to have known the truth about Iraq, but Blair did know the truth and lied about it." I don't know; I think I'd rather have an intelligent (and intelligible) president who lies than a delusional one who doesn't know any better, but I suppose the grass is always greener etc. Regardless, I must say I was impressed with Blair's wit and charm during his last PMQs. You should really watch it here to get a flavor of it, and to hear Blair's verbal intonations which make everything even funnier, but below are a couple of my favorite parts for your enjoyment. As you read them, imagine as I did how impossible it would be for our sad President to think so quickly on his feet.

context: apparently P45 is an unemployment form
Burden (Labour MP): I thank my right hon. Friend for the huge contribution that he has made, not only to the success of our party, but to the transformation of our country...
Blair: ...I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words in relation to the closure of Longbridge in his constituency. He is absolutely right. I think that 85 per cent. of the work force have now found a job, and I congratulate him on that. I feel a certain solidarity with them since I received the following communication by urgent letter yesterday:
"Details of employee leaving work: Surname Blair. First name T"—
it actually says "Mr., Mrs., Miss or other"—
"This form is important to you. Take good care of it. P45."

context: Tony Blair is going to convert to Catholicism as soon as he can. He couldn't do it as Prime Minister because part of his job is recommending bishops (for the Church of England of course) to the Queen, something that struck me and J. as completely strange in our world of theoretical separation of church and state
Younger-Ross (Liberal Democrat MP): What advice would the Prime Minister give his successor on the relationship between faith and state, in particular with regard to his successor's reported views on the disestablishment of the Church of England?
Blair: I am really not bothered about that one.

context: there's been some kind of scandal about an EU treaty that Blair says he didn't sign but did, or something like that. I didn't catch the details.
Winterton (Conservative MP): I wish the Prime Minister and his family well for the future, but is he aware that a majority of the people of the United Kingdom feel betrayed by the fact that they are being drawn down further into the suffocating quicksand and expensive bureaucracy of the European Union?...
Blair: ...I am afraid that we cannot agree on the treaty, but as for his good wishes to me, may I say to him au revoir, auf Wiedersehen and arrivederci?

context: there's been massive flooding in the Sheffield area, it was a pain in the ass for us when it caused trains to stop running, but it also really sucked for the several people who drowned
Smith (Minister of State): My right hon. Friend has visited the city of Sheffield on a number of occasions over the past 10 years to see for himself the work done by that city in rebuilding itself after the economic devastation of the 1980s. Now, of course, we have to start all over again. On his final day as Prime Minister, can I ask my right hon. Friend what message he has for the people of Sheffield?
Blair: Vote Labour...

And finally, how could you not approve of someone who uses the phrase "low skulduggery"? Almost makes me want to move to England.

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