Peckniffian cant banned in Parliament

The UK press has been alive with talk of the Prime Minister calling Ed Balls, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, a "muttering idiot" during a session of Parliament. The the Speaker of the House forced him to withdraw the remark. In The Observer, Gaby Hinsliff and Quentin Letts' debate includes some other language prohibited in Parliament, including my favourite: "Pecksniffian cant."

QL Consult Erskine May, the parliamentary rule book, and "idiot" is not, oddly enough, a banned term (though it is now, clearly). Insults that are banned include "hypocrite", "blackguard" and "Pecksniffian cant", although only Jacob Rees-Mogg would use that last one these days. The thing these insults have in common is that they are the opposite of dialectic. They do not take on the argument. Clearly that is not what we want in our political discourse because it is a short step from that to the sort of punch-ups they have in the South Korean parliament. Boy, I'd love to be a South Korean sketchwriter.

And here's more, Simon Hoggart's Parliamentary sketch:

There are also some words and phrases that haven't been heard in quite a while. "The hon gent is an impertinent puppy!" would earn a rebuke, and a dismissal if not quickly followed by a withdrawal. You cannot accuse anyone of "Pecksniffian cant", or "ruffianism". Try saying "the minister is behaving like an impudent jackass", and you'll be out on your ear lickety split. "Pharisee", "stool-pigeon", "bletherer", "guttersnipe", "cad" and "swine" would also horrify the Speaker and the clerks. And don't even think of saying "the hon member has been returned by the refuse of a large constituency".

(Image: Seth_Pecksniff_85, "A photograph of an engraving in The Writings of Charles Dickens," Wikimedia Commons)

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