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The grand Palace of Westminster, containing the House of Commons and the House of Lords is the heart of political power in the United Kingdom. Known as "The Mother of Parliaments" due to its form of Parliamentary Democracy, it has inspired countless other democratic systems across the planet, and is an almost timeless institution that vast numbers of people instantly recognise. The British Parliament has been a centre for heated debate, representation and leadership. In its midst, empires have fallen, wars have been organised and fought and seismic social changes have been ushered in. Despite the sheer historic importance of the British Parliament, there have been a number of downright funny moments that have emerged from such a serious institution as this, especially in recent years. Members of Parliament (MP’s) bickering, throwing insults and just generally being comical has, perhaps, helped to increase the amount of apathy towards politics, but it has also resulted in demonstrating that politics is not always a sombre affair, but a humorous, lighthearted occupation at times, too.
MP’s Musical Tie
When Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi isn’t heating his horse stables with taxpayer’s money, he’s in Parliament lightening up the debate with a novelty tie. Zahawi is certainly a character, and, when in 2011 his musical tie went off in the middle of his speech, it caused sniggers amongst the British public. Whilst not being the most eventful of comical situations, it was heartwarming indeed to see the absolute folly of an MP being interrupted by his own tie. Zahawi’s reaction was also something to chuckle at. Without breaking step, he maintained the same tone throughout whilst calmly explaining this interruption with tact, almost as if he was attempting to play the musical interlude as a commonplace, everyday occurrence.
Deputy Speaker orders MPs to Stop Singing
Following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016, many debates and votes on what became known as "Brexit" have followed in the House of Commons. February 9th 2017 was one such day and passions were running high resulting in a group of Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs spontaneously breaking into song. And what song did they happen upon? The EU anthem "Ode to Joy," which they belted out in the middle of a legislative vote to leave the EU. This melodic protest was in support of Scotland, who famously voted in large numbers to remain in the EU making the SNP some of Brexit’s harshest and tuneful critics.
Breaking into song as a form of protest was tickling enough, but it also happened to spark the wrath of Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle who barked “Order!” before politely asking the MPs to cut short their joyful bout of singing. Suggesting that such an act might create a domino effect, complaining “... before we know it we could hear other tunes and I don’t want to get into that”. Perhaps he was rather nervous of backbenchers bursting into song and covering the charts.
Economic Statements always lead to a turbulent and intense storm in Parliament as MPs fiercely debate monetary policy, and the Autumn Statement in 2014 was obviously no different. Digs and jibes are par for the course in these moments, but the then Prime Minister David Cameron took it one step further. Directing his speech at Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, he accused of him being “the first example of political maso-sadism.”
Attempting, in his opinion, to call out The Opposition’s destructive financial policies with the use of a lewd sexual metaphor was peculiar enough from the Prime Minister. However, he fumbles his delivery and, in so doing, created a whole new term in the form of “maso-sadism”. Ironically, there’s probably nothing more self-destructive than a political joke that backfires, and this remark “whipped up” mockery in the press and social media.
“But I haven’t finished”
Prime Ministers Questions is a time for The Opposition to hold the Government to account. This sounds like it should be an earnest business but can often descend into some of the most hilarious bouts of squabbling and riotous behaviour you’ll ever see. The Speaker, who monitors and facilitates the debates in the House of Commons, had his work cut out for him that day as it was the Prime Minister, David Cameron, himself who got shut down in a most glorious scolding in 2014.
As The Speaker interrupted Cameron, the Prime Minister retorted in the style of a whining school-child by uttering “but I haven’t finished!”. A roar of sound engulfed the chamber and the Speaker, with a grin, played along with the dynamic of teacher-schoolboy and dismissed the Prime Minister with an authoritative bravado. Whilst moments like this aren’t uncommon, it remains one of the boldest and funniest demonstrations of it.
It’s always satisfyingly funny to see politicians being put down but it is especially so when we see as notable a figure as the Prime Minister being knocked down a peg or two. What really adds to the humour pie here is the tone and facial expressions of both people involved, evoking an almost cartoon comedy-like feel within the heart of political power.
Michael Foot’s celebrated ‘magicians’ anecdote from 1980 is witty, humorous and compelling in equal measure. Foot famously used a tale from his youth to launch an attack on Government policy. It was orated and crafted well to present his points in a succinct and effective manner. Using a story about a magician’s trick going awfully wrong and forgetting the rest of the trick as a metaphor for the allegedly failed economic policies of the day, combined with the hapless magician looking as confused and bewildered as the minister – was a simple way of exposing, what Foot believed, was a failing cornerstone of the prevailing economic status quo.
Despite many disagreeing with his politics, his speeches, in particular this one, is remembered fondly across the political spectrum as an example of using humour effectively in debate.
“Most Annoying Person in Modern Politics”
Ed Balls was a well-known figure in Government as the Education Secretary and also in Opposition as the Shadow Chancellor from 2011-2015. His red-faced rants and constant mutterings under his breath during his time on the Opposition benches became a hilarious staple. Balls is no stranger to comedic events, becoming known for a Twitter cock-up where he seemingly wanted to search for himself but instead tweeted his name “Ed Balls” sparking an internet meme.
Clearly Prime Minister, David Cameron, became very frustrated with Balls’ constant musings, lashing out in a Prime Minister’s Questions in 2011. The exchange cultivated much laughter for a variety of reasons, the Prime Minister calling out his behaviour by telling him to “shut up” and referring to him as the “most annoying person in modern politics” then finally suggesting even Balls’ own leader would become aggravated by his outbursts.
The spat wasn’t just comic gold because of Cameron’s remarks but also because of Balls’ response; handing over a glass of water in a mocking bid for the Prime Minister to calm down.
Back in late 2015, extracts from an upcoming unofficial biography of David Cameron called Call Me Dave was leaked to the public prior to its release. What garnered the most attention and ignited a firestorm in social media, was an uncorroborated anecdote about how Cameron, in his university years, put a "private part of his anatomy" into a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation ceremony. The whole debacle became known as “PigGate”. All eyes descended on Parliament for any reference to the alleged event. It eventually came in the form of Kevin Brennan MP’s question.
In reference to Call Me Dave he highlighted discrepancies between Cameron’s various stances on a taxation issue, a relevant point to be brought to public attention. Brennan, with a subtle caveat, ends his questioning by softly poking fun at “PigGate” – stating “clearly someone’s telling porkies”.
This first reference to "PigGate” in Parliament was handled in a genius way, by slipping it in without being too obscene - Satisfying the public with a cheeky wink towards the recent events that had transpired.
Dangers of Coke
Back in 2011 the then Chancellor, George Osborne, was accused of being a user of cocaine by an ex-dominatrix. This was the catalyst for a lot of online speculation. This, coupled with his somewhat bizarre ‘spaced-out’ behaviour in Parliament, led many to jump to the conclusion that he was still a cocaine addict. This became so widespread that even MPs made reference to it.
The best and most amusing occasion that this issue was brought up was by Shadow Leader of The House, Chris Bryant. At the time, in early 2016, the Government were proposing a Sugar Tax to combat rising obesity levels in the UK. In response, Bryant remarked gleefully that “the Chancellor has realised the dangers of Coke.” The cleverest statement on the topic we’ll probably ever get. In many ways, this was not too different from the aforementioned “PigGate” . Bryant’s inventive combination of the political issue at the time with a dig at Osborne’s rumoured drugtaking was extremely smart.
Tom Watson’s outburst
It’s fair to say that Michael Gove as Education Secretary was a hugely unpopular appointment and tenancy, especially amongst those in the teaching profession. His policies angered and upset many and tension was ramping up amongst those in opposition. In 2010, MP Tom Watson stood up to state his disappointment in the personal and professional failings of the Education Secretary, arguing that he “cynically dashed the hopes” of many students.
What followed was a furious outburst at Gove, with Watson deeply bellowing “you’re a miserable pipsqueak of a man!” Arguably, this has to go down as one of the most iconic insults to grace Parliament ever, and despite its unprofessional aura it resonated powerfully with millions of people’s grievances with Government policy.
Veteran MP Dennis Skinner has been in Parliament for decades and is colloquially known as ‘The Beast of Bolsover’ – never shying away from speaking his mind Skinner is known for being rebellious and voicing his displeasure in a scathing way that is typical of him. Many a politician has fallen victim to his passionately voiced opposition. In fact, he always reserves the same seat near the front so he can make direct eye contact with ministers speaking on the other side of the House.
He is perhaps most well-known for his quips during the State Opening of Parliament – a ritual- drenched affair that marks the official start of a session of Parliament (it’s no secret that the UK loves to keep traditions). What is supposed to be an air of respectful silence to hear the words of the announcer known as ‘Black Rod’, is interrupted annually by a one-liner from Dennis Skinner. This interruption is, ironically, now also a tradition during the State Opening of Parliament as Skinner has been delivering his asides for years.
After calling a fellow MP “a pompous sod” in parliament, he was asked by the Speaker to withdraw the comment. Skinner announced that he would withdraw the word “pompous.” “That’s not the word I’m looking for” replied the Speaker. “I can’t withdraw both” ends Skinner before being summarily removed from Parliament.