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In the British government, the Prime Minister appears before the House of Commons every week to answer questions from the MPs about current governmental activity. According to Parliament's website:

Prime Minister's question time usually starts with a routine question from an MP about the Prime Minister's engagements. Following the answer, the MP then raises a particular issue, often one of current political significance....Exchanges may become heated, and this is often the spectacle presented on television (on C-SPAN in the US).

Typical British understatement. A typical "heated exchange" is a vicious verbal-sparring match that goes something like this:

MP: {snotty question about British politics incomprehensible to outsiders}
Members of the Opposition: AAAAAAAARRRRR! BAWWWWWHAWWHAWWHAWW! Heah, heah, heah!
PM: {snide, equally incomprehensible reply}
Members of the PM's Party: AH-HAAAAAA! Heah, heah, heah!

Some PMs have been quite good at Prime Minister's Questions. Whatever else you might think about her, Margaret Thatcher was perfectly capable of thinking on her feet and burning the ears off any MP who questioned her. John Major, however, couldn't handle it to save his life and tended to dither and fumble his way through the half-hour.

The US Government has no comparable event, which is a pity; one wonders how some American presidents would have handled it. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan could probably weasel their way through it, but the dysphasic Dubya and his dad would be squashed like bugs. For a good ol' knockdown, drag-em-out battle, you'd probably want a former mayor of New York City like Rudolph Giuliani or Ed Koch.

The protocol of the Prime Minister’s Question Time can be confusing to those unfamiliar with it. Every session, with few exceptions, begins with the standard question from a Member of Parliament, called “Question Number One”. This question has been previously handed to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and enquires as to the Prime Minister’s schedule for that day. The standard response from the Prime Minister is:

-“Mr. Speaker, this morning I had meetings with Ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.” This is usually the time where he also addresses any heads of state with whom he has communicated.

Following this routine answer, the same M.P. raises an issue, anything from a new bill on fireworks to an international situation at the United Nations. The Prime Minister responds and usually then the Leader of the Opposition Party, who asks another question that may or may not be related to this topic. The leader of the opposition has the opportunity to ask six questions throughout the half-hour question time. This amount has decreased over the years in order to give a greater range of people from different ridings a chance to ask questions. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, acts as another voice of opposition, but in a smaller sense because the party is relatively small and is often closer to Labour on most issues.

You may notice while watching that while someone is asking a question, a group of people stands up. This is not a sign of solidarity or respect (that is expressed through the cries of “here here!”) but rather a request to ask a question. Before the question time, equal amounts of people from both sides of the House of Commons are assigned a spot in which to ask a question. If their request gets through, the Speaker can ask them for their question by saying, “Question to the Prime Minister, Mr. John Smith”.

This program, in my humble opinion is almost as entertaining as it is educational. The exchanges can be quite passionate and often quite amusing, two key elements that are missing from American democracy, (again IMHO).

I used this site in gathering information for this node. One can also watch Question Time here.

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