Thursday, February 2, 2006

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When political fiction becomes reality

Brendan Carlin, George Jones and Toby Helm report in the Daily Telegraph that the defeat of Tony Blair's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was in part due to defections from his Labor party -- and in part due to The West Wing.

Really. I'm serious:

The television series The West Wing about the life and times of a fictional US president was the inspiration for the "rebellion by stealth" that humbled Tony Blair and his Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong.

Slumped in front of the television on Sunday night, one of the leaders of the revolt watched with growing interest as Democrats won a key vote on stem cell research by pretending not to be around.

The congressmen hid in an empty office and then triumphantly emerged in force when the vote was called by the unsuspecting Republican speaker.

"That's where the idea came from," the MP, who declined to be identified, told The Daily Telegraph. "We had no big press conferences, no events announcing the coming protest. It was directly inspired by the West Wing," he said.

The Tories toasted their success with champagne on Tuesday night. Not only had the Labour whips blundered by failing to appreciate the scale of the rebellion on their own side: they had also been outsmarted by a classic "under the radar" whipping operation by the Tories.

As a result, Labour crashed to only its second and third Commons defeats since Tony Blair came to power in 1997.

I actually saw this episode, and remember snorting in derision that this could actually happen. Then again, what do I know -- I'm just a political scientist.

posted by Dan on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM


Well, I seem to remember a posse of Democrats from Texas hiding in a hotel over the border in order to avoid a quorum on re-districting; so, perhaps not so far fetched as you think.

posted by: Econoclast on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Lincoln was involved in an incident while he was in the state legislature, known as the jumping scrape. In order to avoid a quorum on a banking bill that would put Whigs in a bad position, Lincoln and some of his fellows tried to run out the door, but were blocked by the guard, so they jumped out the windows. They were still counted as present though. Lincoln was widely ridiculed.

posted by: PD Shaw on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Tony Blair seems to have skipped this 'division' -- as the brits call parliamentary votes. He would have won otherwise, so perhaps stealth did work.

The larger question is, of course, is how much damage this sort of legislation does to free speech in Britain. It is quite conceivable that Samuel Huntington could be arrested for 'hate speech' if he read aloud his statement that 'Islam has bloody borders'. It is truly amazing to be in a country were speech can be outlawed. Hopefully our legislatures in the US will avoid the temptation to pass such legislation.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Brenda Carlin, eh? Any relation to George Carlin? It sounds like something George might cook up......

posted by: Don Stadler on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

so they jumped out the windows. They were still counted as present though. Lincoln was widely ridiculed.

Take a moment to really imagine our 6'3" gangly president, sans beard but perhaps in a top hat, jumping out a window to avoid a vote. Great man though he was, I think we'd ridicule him too.

posted by: Saheli on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

The House of Commons in Canada had an instance where many of one party's Members of Parliament hid behind the curtains and then came to the floor when the vote was called. The vote was on a minor either tax or budget item; there was a half-hearted claim that the government should have resigned on the defeat, as it had lost the confidence of the House.

posted by: Brent Buckner on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian, supported the bill's defeat. Must have been a cunning plan.

posted by: Tresho on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Swiped your link, and Tresho's, with credit, and quote from you, here. Thanks to you both.

posted by: Gary Farber on 02.02.06 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

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