The UK is emphatically not like the US or at least the uncivil America of Donald Trump.
On Monday, Labour MP Dennis Skinner was kicked out of the House of Commons by Speaker John Bercow for calling British Prime Minister “dodgy Dave”. It was a reference to Mr Cameron’s tax affairs after the revelations contained within the Panama Papers. (These, by the way, were hardly an indication of impropriety or dodginess on Mr Cameron’s part.)
Anyway, Mr Skinner, an old political warhorse if there ever were one, was evicted for a whole day because he made the comment and refused to withdraw the unparliamentary “adjective”, as instructed by Speaker Bercow.
This civility is greatly to be prized though The Guardian, some little time ago, did a rather jokey piece that includes readers’ comments on why British members of parliament are not allowed to call each other liars in the House of Commons, “when we all know this is a prerequisite of the job?”
The article points out the strict boundaries laid out by Erskine May (the “bible” of British parliamentary procedure). “Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language,” says May. Insulting, coarse, or abusive language is off bounds. Abusive language includes the imputation of false motives, charges of lying or being drunk, and misrepresentation of the words of another. UK Commons Speakers have objected to blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor. To that list is now added “dodgy”, courtesy Mr Skinner.
What then to make of the language being used across the pond? ‘Lying Ted’, ‘Liddle Marco’ and suchlike. ‘Twas not always so uncivil as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby pointed out last fall.
Even in the heat of the hard-fought 1980 presidential campaign Ronald Reagan remained unfailingly courteous, Jacoby quotes Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon.
Though he got plenty of criticism, “he has, on the contrary, been unfailingly courteous and responsive to his media critics, never whining about the treatment he has been given or suggesting that the liberties of the press should be curtailed.”
Jacoby reminds us of the 2009 attempt by two prominent political activists, Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis, to launch a civility campaign. “They wrote to all 535 members of Congress and the 50 governors,” he says, “asking each to sign a simple Civility Pledge: “I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it.”
Just three of the 585 elected officials were willing to sign.
Why then be surprised by the ‘Lying Ted’ jibe?