“Boneless Wonder” vs. “Dodgy Dave”

“Boneless Wonder” vs. “Dodgy Dave”

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 

Mr. Skin­ner fires all bar­rels at Mr. Cameron.

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.

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