Monday, March 02, 2015

Yellow Cards

Zoe Williams has a piece up about Angela Eagle's idea to:
Introduce a system into the house to combat uncivilised behaviour: yellow cards, hour-long bans rising to three-session exclusions for more serious offences.
Barracking – being often sexual in content – discourages women from seeking election in the first place, and this lack of representation then alienates women from the political process.
 And she notes that Angela Eagle was
Once memorably told by David Cameron “Calm down, dear” to indicate that, being female, she was stupid and hysterical and should defer to people who, having penises, were better than her.
The first thing that struck me about this was that David Cameron said that to her because she was barracking him - was shouting from her seat to try and disrupt his answer at PMQs - and shouting so loudly that it distracted him enough to tell her to shut up. Hansard also notes that he said "calm down to dear" to Ed Balls to, doubtless to indicate that he too is in a state of penislessness. Equally, the reason that both sides barrack each other has less to do with a gendered desire to disenfranchise women, than a partisan desire to derail opposing MPs. You just grab whatever stick you can.

The second thing it triggered was a very faint recollection of a sketch about the House of Commons in the 19th Century. Usually descriptions of barracking and heckling in the House is accompanied by po-faced mutterings about how far we've fallen, and how much more serious we were once upon a time. After a bit of googling, I found what I had half remembered in a book called "Random Recollections of the House of Commons by One of No Party" - God knows where I read it:
A Scene from the House of Commons
I shall allude to only one more scene of this kind. It occurred towards the close of last Session. An honourable member, whose name I suppress, rose, amidst the most tremendous uproar, to address the House. He spoke, and was received, as nearly as the confusion enabled me to judge, as follows :
I rise, Sir, (Ironical cheers, mingled with all sorts of zoological sounds), I rise, Sir, for the purpose of stating that I have... ('Oh! Oh! Baa!’ and sounds resembling the bleating of a sheep, mingled with loud laughter). Hon. Gentlemen may endeavour to put me down by their unmannerly interruptions, but I have a duty to perform to my con- (Ironical cheers, loud coughing, sneezing, and yawning extended to an incredible length, followed by bursts of laughter). I say, Sir, I have constituents who on this occasion expect that I...(Cries of ' Should sit down," and shouts of laughter). They expect, Sir, that on a question of such importance... ('O-o-a-a u-' and loud laughter, followed by cries of 'Order! Order!' from the Speaker).
"I tell honourable gentlemen who choose to conduct themselves in such a way, that I am not to be put down by... (Groans, coughs, sneezings, hems, and various animal sounds, some of which closely imitated the yelping of a dog, and the squeaking of a pig, interspersed with peals of laughter). I appeal... ('Cocke-leeri-o-co!’ The imitation, in this case, of the crowing of a cock was so remarkably good, that not even the most staid and orderly members in the house could preserve their gravity. The laughter which followed drowned the Speaker's cries of 'Order! Order!') I say, Sir, this is most unbecoming conduct on the part of an assembly calling itself de-" ('Bow-wow-wow!, and bursts of laughter).
Sir, may I ask, have honourable gentlemen who can... ('Mew-mew!, and renewed laughter). Sir, I claim the protection of the Chair. (The Speaker here again rose and called out “Order! Order!” in a loud and angry tone, on which the uproar in some measure subsided). 
If honourable gentlemen will only allow me to make one observation, I will not trespass further on their attention, but sit down at once (This was followed by the most tremendous cheering in earnest). I only beg to say, Sir, that I think this is a most dangerous and unconstitutional measure, and will therefore vote against it." The honourable gentleman then resumed his seat amidst deafening applause.
Maybe the po-faced mutterers are right - the standards of heckling really have deteriorated since those lost glory-days.


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