Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Member for South Holland and the Deepings

One purely stylistic difference between the British House of Commons and the U.S. House of Representatives is the way they describe the units of territory that their members represent ("constituencies" to the British; "districts" for us in America).

The British describe their constituencies by name. For those of us who enjoy the place names in Victorian novels or P.G. Wodehouse stories, there's nothing quite like such oh-so-British names such as Ashton-under-Lyne, Basingstoke (for fellow Monty Python fans, that's the one in Hampshire, not the one in Westphalia), Faversham & Mid Kent, Old Bexley & Sidcup and Weston-Super-Mare. Some are quite convoluted, such as East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow. And some of the Welsh ones, such as Ynys Môn, are, for those of us who are English-speakers, well-nigh unpronounceable. But MPs must learn to pronounce them, because it's against the rules for one MP, other than the Speaker, to refer to another MP by name during House of Commons debate. One must instead refer to "the member for South Holland & the Deepings", or whatever the constituency.

And if, like me, you wonder what "The Deepings" are, well, through the magic of Wikipedia, you can find out.

In comparison to all that, the American system of referring to congressional districts by number seems hopelessly prosaic. We refer, for instance, to the congressman from the sixth district of Pennsylvania. Now, I'm sure he's proud to have that title (especially after having almost lost it at the last election). But still, it's not the same as being the member for Stratford-on-Avon, is it? I wonder if, before the next general election, he'll go around saying "to be the Conservative candidate or not to be the Conservative candidate, that is the question".

No comments: