A very British form of protest

Someone was recently convicted of disrupting prime minister’s question time—called PMQ by those in the know—by throwing marbles in the general direction of the MPs. (“Marble-throwing PMQs protestor gets suspended prison sentence”)

No, that’s not the part that strikes me as particularly British. We’ll get to that.  But before we do, I should explain that it takes an expert to tell when someone disrupts PMQ, because the MPs bray at and heckle and bully each other like a classroomful of twelve-year-old boys whose teacher stepped out for a smoke a month ago and still hasn’t come back. (My writers group, whose members are an invaluable and giddy guide to all things British, advises me that the MPs sound like public school boys, which if you’re American means private school boys, because public schools here are private, but that’s too much confusion for one post. Let’s thank them politely and not get into it here.) All that braying and harassing are politics as usual. The reason this guy stood out was because he was in the visitors’ area.

And, yeah, the marbles. I admit that.

Plus his language. The MPs are allowed (even expected) to be horrible to each other, but their language has to be pristine.

Blackthorn in bloom on the North Cornish coast

Irrelevant photo: Blackthorn in bloom.

What kind of language did the protester use? That’s in dispute. The prosecutor claimed he stood up and said, “I’m sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen. You fucking wankers, you’re just liars.” But the protester, who as far as I can figure out had already pled guilty, interrupted, shouting, “Can I just say, for the record, I didn’t call anyone fucking wankers. I called them dishonourable bastards.”

That “dishonourable”? That’s British. The next person who interrupts the American House or Senate will not, I guarantee, use the word dishonorable, even though I switched to the American spelling to make it a fraction of a percent of a probability more plausible.

The “I’m sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen”? That’s also British.

I’m still not sure what our protester was protesting. According to the article, he has (as the current phrase puts it) mental health problems and felt his life was wasting away. In response, I’m sure the government will make more speeches about putting mental health on a par with physical health and keep on underfunding both.

They’d outlaw marbles but Parliament’s dissolved until the election.

35 thoughts on “A very British form of protest

  1. From either of the quotes attributed to him, the guy sounds like the sanest person in the world :)

    I Googled “House or Senate disruptions” because I wanted to see the most recent activity on this side of the Atlantic, but it looks like things have been quiet here. I remember there used to be pretty regular disruptions from activists who infiltrated the spectator’s galleries in the House or Senate, but not lately, it looks like.

    Anyway, the PMQ is an absolutely awesome and beautiful example of democracy in action, but it creates such cognitive dissonance in my brain regarding the stereotype I have of the British. Here are these people who seem so infuriatingly (yes, infuriatingly!) polite and controlled all the time, and yet, for a few minutes each Wednesday, they spontaneously yell and interrupt and stomp their feet (I’m guessing) and act so utterly human toward the leader of the country. It’s always a little breath-taking (at least for this uncouth and obnoxious American) to see, and makes me feel that underneath their polite restraint, the British are waiting to explode, it’s just a matter of time.

    I guess we don’t have anything much like it here in the US (town halls? Press conferences? In theory, I suppose, but they’re usually so scripted I don’t think they compare), unless you count that one crazy congressman who called the President a liar during the 2009 State of the Union speech, or that other crazy congressman who beat a colleague senseless with his walking stick back in the 1850s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Checking for disruptions in the U.S. was a brilliant idea, and it never crossed my mind. Thanks for trying, at least.

      My impression, in both the U.S. and the U.K., is that terribly polite people can be wild when they do finally lose it, so maybe PMQ blows off some steam for the sake of safety. Although the MPs are also horrible to each other outside of PMQ. I guess any culture’s contradictory, but I know for a fact that this one is.


  2. Professor Wikipedia says that ‘public’ indicates that any Tom, Dick or Harry can attend, whereas the other sort of school had some sort of restriction on them, such as a restriction to people of a particular faith. Think of Public bars as against private clubs…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah. Prof. W. may be right. It’s right roughly as often as print encyclopedias, but that’s on an average, so I guess we should wait and see if someone else wades in and changes the entry. And then if someone else changes that…

      Excuse me for a minute. I’m dizzy.


  3. I haven’t heard of this .. but yep, I laughed out loud in the part where he said “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen”. That is so British! Yes, I will insult you. But I’m still going to be polite about it. Funny, I just sent an American friend a postcard I got from Bristol. It was a cartoon of a man drowning in the River Thames. A rather distinguished looking “chap” walks by with his dog and the man shouts “Help”. But the gentleman ignores him, but stops and helps him when the drowning man says “Excuse me, sir. Do you mind if I trouble yourself a bit?” That was the only time the chap helped him! Hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder what conversation was had during security checks about the reason he had marbles about his person. Points for originality of the projectile. I think “dishonourable” was the perfect insult since the MPs refer to each other as “honourable”. Of course, they do so immediately before impugning the character of the person they just addressed but – as you point out – bullying and other such juvenile behaviours are part of the tradition of British politics. In fact, I recently overheard my kids explaining to a friend that if any statement includes the phrase “with all due respect” then what follows is guaranteed to be disrespectful. I think they learned that from British politics.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Ha ha ha! In other words I just killed the conversation, something I seem to make a habit of. I think you could actually write a blog post a day just about the bizarre workings of the British parliament, the democratic process and political parties. The whole things is often more farcical than a sitcom and more jaw dropping than satire.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t think of it as killing the conversation, just as brilliantly taking in everything I could think of. (What are you doing inside my head anyway? Messy in there, isn’t it?)

          If I understood the British parliament better, I’d be less hesitant to write about it, but maybe I should wade in anyway. It is, truly, bizarre.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your irrelevant pic again! And I must say, dishonourable b*#@ is a much better insult than f*^# wanker. Seems to carry more weight somehow…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marble Tournament this weekend on the town square…that patch of grass to the right of. Pre-lims and marble toss prior to. With all due respect, wankers-in-waiting pay added value admit. Bring your own. Marbles. Tea and biscuits provided.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Several years ago when I was recovering in the hospital after having my oldest, I watched Tony Blair get yelled at by a lot of people on C-SPAN. It was very entertaining! Made me wish our congress was half as lively.

    Irrelevant comment: You have the best irrelevant photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why is beyond me. I’m still trying to absorb the fact that they do. But I can tell you that a woman barrister (that’s the part of the legal profession that appears in court–in wigs) I heard interviewed on TV said they give her serious hat hair. Or wig hair, I guess. How anyone keeps a straight face in court I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. In America, he’d probably have been shot by a policeman. Like the guy in the town right next to ours who was throwing rocks (i.e., stones, not boulders) in a supermarket parking lot. Shot dead, I guess because sticks and stones may indeed break your bones, so clearly bullets would be a reasonable response …http://time.com/3729247/police-shooting-pasco-history/

    Anyway, it just illustrated the point that the British are so endearingly civilized, by comparison with the dishonorable wankers – er, jerks – on this side of the pond.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The British legal profession and its wigs | Notes from the U.K.

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