A colleague asks: “Why was Winston Churchill able to get away with calling Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald the “Boneless Wonder,” whereas a Labour MP was sent home by the Speaker last week for calling Prime Minister David Cameron “Dodgy Dave”?
Good question! Ah for the likes of Question Time in the U.S. Congress, where President Trump or Madam President Clinton gets to be grilled with all the famous gusto of the House of Commons.
Dodgy: 11 April 2016
Eighty-four-year-old Dennis Skinner (Lab., Bolsover) was ejected from the House of Commons by the Speaker, John Bercow, for refusing to withdraw, and in fact repeating, the term “Dodgy Dave” with respect to David Cameron.
Amidst cries of “chuck him out!” the Speaker asked Skinner to “withdraw the adjective.” “The Beast of Bolsover” (so named for his flaming attacks on Conservatives) replied: “This man has done more to defy this nation than anybody else. He’s looked after his own profit. I still refer to him as ‘Dodgy Dave.'” And out he went. You can watch the whole jolly episode here.
Boneless: 28 January 1931
Fifty-six-year-old Winston Churchill (Cons., Epping) deplored the lack of courage over a bill about to be quietly set aside by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government:
“I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum’s circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most desired to see was the one described as ‘The Boneless Wonder.’ My parents judged that that spectacle would be too revolting and demoralising for my youthful eyes, and I have waited fifty years to see the Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.”
You’ve probably guessed the difference. Churchill’s remark was not “unparliamentary language,” since it referred to MacDonald’s lack of courage, not his honesty. Skinner’s remark essentially labeled Cameron a crook. Under the rules, Members of Parliament may not accuse one another of dishonesty or use profanity—though, as The New York Times puts it, “the line at which insult crosses over into ‘unparliamentary language’ is often hard to draw.”
Mr. Skinner should have urged Mr. Cameron to ‘fess up to his sins lest he become another Boneless Wonder. That would have been fine.