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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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman