Britons are no strangers to rough and tumble political dust ups. The Prime Minister’s Question Time every Wednesday at noon (whenever Parliament is in session) is a case in point. To the casual Yank observer coming to it for the first time it looks — and particularly sounds — like chaos warmed over, punctuated by weird barking noises. However much like mayhem it might appear, there is an underlying order to it supported by tradition.
Prime Minister’s Questions (or PMQs) is a constitutional requirement in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister must answer questions put to him or her by members of the House of Commons. Interlocutors must ask their questions while standing. The questions cannot be put to the PM but are directed to the Speaker of the House: “Mr. Speaker, does the Prime Minister actually mean to suggest,” and the like. The barking noise you hear from other members started life as “hear! hear!” and devolved over the centuries into a monosyllabic, guttural blur, noised either with approval or disapproval depending on who’s doing the speaking and who’s doing the barking. It is used in lieu of applause. Applause is strictly forbidden because it drowns out the speaker.
Weird though it may look to us non-Brits, I think America could do with some of it. PMQs hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire in ways that American presidents never are. Most importantly, it works because its rules are strictly adhered to. I don’t know if PMQ rules are ever broken but one gets the feeling such a thing would be unthinkable, that it just isn’t done.
So, odd though PMQs are, and even Brits will confess they are indeed odd, nothing like Tuesday’s American presidential debate has ever been seen in Britain before. Brits didn’t just find it odd, they found it scandalous. They also found Donald Trump’s indifference to the rules of the debate particularly disagreeable.
Brits largely agree with the rest of the world press, that the debate turned America into a greater laughing stock than ever before, and Donald Trump is the overwhelming principal cause. The BBC noted that Trump interrupted Joe Biden 73 times. That’s almost twice a minute on average, considering Biden’s total talking time was only 40 minutes. Such contempt for the rules is unprecedented in debates in the United Kingdom.
Because America is a powerful ally, Europe’s leaders are reluctant to disparage any American president too openly. But don’t doubt for a moment that most of them secretly hope that Donald Trump loses the election. They know Trump is an idiot, they just won’t say it out loud. But America’s allies want Donald Trump gone just as much as we do. So let’s do them a favor. Let’s vote Trump and his pirate ship of criminals, losers and suckers out of office. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.