I do not watch Coronation Street. I'm not a big fan of BBC News. I don't dream of living in London. In short, I'm not a anglophile who has some weird love of the United Kingdom and all things British. The disclaimer is necessary because I suspect some will interpret what I'm about to write as thoughtless chauvinism against Canada. It is not...
I was browsing the the television channels this morning when I came across a replay on CPAC of Question Time from the UK House of Commons. A few things struck me.
1. Unlike at the federal Parliament in Ottawa where ministers answer questions on matters related to their portfolio, in London the prime minister answers all the questions himself. And because Britain is still more-or-less a unitary state, the prime minister has to answer questions about foreign policy, education, healthcare, and trivial local issues. It is a challenge for any one person to keep up-to-date on so many issues and be prepared to answer questions about them every day.
2. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, is a gifted speaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of facts. It is a beautiful thing to watch him answer a question. His off-the-cuff answers sound as thoughtful and genuine as Assistant DA Jack McCoy in NBC's Law and Order. But Blair doesn't have a script. He knows the basic gist of what he wants to convey and speaks without notes. His voice goes down at the end of a sentence to indicate that the sentence is over. That is a sign of someone who knows what he wants to say in advance of saying it. He did not fill pauses with "hums" and "ahhs". And he never one used the word "essentially" as our own prime minister is known to do. The leaders of the Liberal Democrats and Conservative parties also spoke eloquently. As did the backbenchers.
3. The MPs in London sit very close together. They have no tables or desks. The debates and questions happen in close quarters.
These observations lead me to question why the members of our own federal Parliament lack the vigour, thoughfulness and skill of Blair and his colleagues. Is it the British school system, which emphasizes debate skills? Or does the UK Parliament attract a higher quality of leaders? Or am I just being a snob?