Political bust-ups: the worst moments

A list of recent parliamentary punch-ups. Warning: contains violent scenes.

The physical fight that erupted inside the Italian Parliament on 27 October over pension reforms caused quite a stir -- but it was by no means the first time politicians have come to blows. Here, we present an assorted collection of parliamentary pugilism that makes The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker look like a pacifist. Judging from these clips, Bob Dylan might have had it right when he hummed "democracy don't rule the world, you'd better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence."

Ukraine - April 2010

This footage, showing carnage inside the Ukrainian parliament, ranks highly on our list of "low-lights", if only for the sheer variation of methods of attack employed. The speaker, Volodymyr Litvyn, was shielded by umbrellas as opposition members hurled hundreds of eggs. Several smoke bombs are also thrown, in protest against Viktor Yanukovych's newly formed coalition passing a motion allowing the Russian navy to extend its stay in a Ukrainian port until 2042.

India - June 2007

 

Before a debate over a sensitive civil-rights issue had even begun, members of minority parties converged on the House Leader's bench, quickly sparking a violent free-for-all. Gandhi would have wept if he had seen how quickly the debate descended into all-out war, with seriously dangerous-looking metal microphone stands becoming menacing projectiles.

South Korea - July 2009

Here, hundreds of lawmakers clash over plans to ease restrictions on the ownership of television networks. The chaotic scenes began after members of the ruling Grand National Party attempted to rush the bill through, only for opposition parties to barricade the main entrance to the National Assembly. After a concerted surge, GNP members gained entrance and a full-scale brawl ensued. This video stands out for the scale of the fight, which seemed to involve the entire parliament and notably, its female contingent. The bill was eventually passed.

Taiwan - July 2010

The accompanying Metro headline for this confrontation read "Taiwan parliament descends into traditional massive fight", as similar clashes had occurred only months earlier. Along with the usual punches and kicks, legislators can be seen flinging rubbish bins and jostling for space on the speaker's podium, as if any words could calm the situation down. The fight broke out between the ruling Kuomintang party and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, after calls to discuss a controversial trade-pact with China were rejected.

United States: Alabama Senate - June 2007

In explanation for this seemingly unprovoked attack on Democratic Senator Lowell Barron, 65, Republican Senator Charles Bishop claimed he had been called a "Sonuvabitch". He went on, "where I grew up, that's someone talkin' bad about your mother", and so "I responded with my right fist". Quite how 69-year-old Bishop became so aggrieved by this supposed slight against his (admittedly"long-dead") mother is unclear, but it shows how tensions can rapidly boil over even in an otherwise sedate atmosphere. It seems that when it comes to acting like children, old-age is no barrier.

Judo-politician

Finally, the case of the mysterious politician who can be seen calmly flipping his opponent through the air. Details of the origins of the clip are fairly sparse, but it has to rank as a favourite. The film has become a YouTube sensation and contrasts to the scenes of all-out mayhem witnessed above. As one of the comments succintly points out: "When engaging in a political brawl, its best to stay away from Judo practitioners."

 

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Byron burgers and bacon sandwiches: can any politician get away with eating on camera?

Memo to aspirant world leaders: eating in public is a political minefield.

Miliband’s sandwich. Cameron’s hot dog. Osborne’s burger. The other Miliband’s banana. As well as excellent names for up-and-coming indie bands, these are just a few examples of now infamous food faux pas committed by British politicians.

During his entire mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan refused to eat anything in public. When journalist Simon Hattenstone met him in his local curry house for the Guardian, the now-mayor didn’t eat a single bite despite “dish after dish” arriving at the table. Who can blame him? Though Ed Miliband had been pictured blunderingly eating a bacon sandwich an entire year earlier, the national furore around the incident had not yet died down. “He can make me look Clooneyesque or make me look like Ed eating a bacon sandwich,” Khan said of the photographer at the time.

Miliband’s bacon sandwich is now so infamous that I need offer no explanation for the event other than those words. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the photograph of Ed, lips curled and eyes rolling, as he tucks into that fateful sarnie. Yet politicians frequently bite off more than they can chew – why did Ed’s mishap inspire multiple headlines and an entire front page of The Sun?

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“The momentum got behind the bacon sandwich story because he was awkward, it showed him in a light which was true - he was an awkward candidate in that election,” says Paul Baines, a professor of political marketing at Cranfield University. “He didn’t come across right.”

The photograph of Miliband fit neatly within a pre-existing image of the politician – that he was bumbling, incompetent, and unable to take control. Similarly, when David Cameron was pictured eating a hot dog with a knife and fork months later, the story reinforced popular notions of him as a posh, out-of-touch, champagne-swilling old Etonian. Though Oxford-educated, two-kitchen Miliband is nearly as privileged as Cameron, and Brexit-inducing Dave equally as incompetent as Ed, the pictures would not gain the same popularity in reverse. There are many, many less-than-flattering pictures of Cameron eating, but they didn’t fit into a workable narrative.

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No one, for example, focused on the price of Ed’s sandwich. Purchased at New Covenant Garden Market, it was undoubtedly more expensive than Greggs’ £1.75 bacon roll – but no one cared. When George Osborne was pictured eating an £8 Byron burger whilst cutting £11.5 million from the British budget, however, the picture spoke to many. The then-chancellor was forced to explain that “McDonalds doesn't deliver”, although, as it turned out, Byron didn’t either.

“The idea was to try and display him in a good light – here's a guy eating a burger just like everyone else. The only problem was it was a posh burger and of course he didn't look like everyone else because he was spending ten quid on a burger,” explains Baines.

But Dave, Ed, and George are just the latest in a long, long line of politicians who have been mocked for their eating habits. Across the ocean, Donald Trump has been lambasted for liking his steak well done, while in 1976, Gerald Ford was mocked after biting into the inedible corn husk of a tamale. Why then, do politicians not copy Khan, and avoid being pictured around food altogether?

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“Food connects everybody, food is essentially a connection to culture and the 'every person',” explains Baines. “[Nigel] Farage's appearance in the pub has definitely had a positive impact on how he's perceived by a big chunk of the working class electorate which is an important, sizeable group.” Though Cameron, too, has been pictured with pints, his undeniably weird grasp on the glass make the pictures seem inauthentic, compared to Farage whose pints are clearly at home in his hands. In America, Joe Biden managed to capture the same authenticity with an ice-cream cone.

“I think when it comes across badly is when it comes across as inauthentic,” says Baines. “If I were advising, I certainly wouldn't advise Theresa May to be seen in the pub having a pint, that would not shine with her particular character or style. But could Tim Farron come across better in that way? Possibly but it does have to be authentic.”

Food, then, can instantly make a politician seem in or out of touch. This is especially true when food connects to national identity. Tony Blair, for example, publicly claimed his favourite dish was fish and chips despite earlier saying it was fettuccine with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and capers. In the 1980s, Lord Mandelson allegedly mistook mushy peas for guacamole, insulting us all. In the States, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician who hasn’t been pictured with a hot dog, and there are entire articles dedicated to US politicians who eat pizza with a knife and fork. Again, the food fits a narrative – politicians out of touch with the common person.  

Then again, sometimes, just sometimes, no narrative is needed. We’d advise any candidate who seriously wants a shot in the 2017 General Election to not, under any circumstances, be pictured casually feeding a Solero to an unidentified young woman. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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