This Powerline article alludes to a certain heckle, "Who Are You?" directed at UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and that Nigel Farage employs to much less success at the EU as sort of a mainstay in the rough and tumble of British politics. Is this a reoccurring joke in British politics, used with some regularity during Parliament sessions? Are there others? To timebox this, say in the last 25 years are still in use.

So reoccurring in this instance means in use by more than one MP. It can't just be some MP's tag line or something.

  • Others within what timeframe? Otherwise this is probably hopelessly broad. Oct 28, 2019 at 15:49
  • @fizz say the last 25 years
    – user9790
    Oct 28, 2019 at 15:50
  • I'm also not sure what counts as a put down. The usual talk of "sedentary position" comes across as highly specific jargon, but could also be construed as a put down etc. Also, does it have to be used by more than one MP? Otherwise Bercow is well known for some his idiosyncratic phrasing (which is certainly deliberate). Oct 28, 2019 at 15:54
  • @Fizz Putdown is something disparaging that evokes laughter. And yes, by more than one MP.
    – user9790
    Oct 28, 2019 at 15:58
  • 4
    The "Who are ya?" taunt most likely stems from a popular football chant that originated in the mid-90s, and is indeed intended as a put-down. I wasn't aware of it being used in Parliament and can't attest to its regularity, so I'm posting this as a comment rather than an answer.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 28, 2019 at 16:07

1 Answer 1


Many recurring taunts and putdowns in British politics stem either from the rules regarding the use "unparliamentary language", or as a result of libel laws. This is due to the fact that once a phrase is considered "acceptable", either due to precedent in the Chamber, or due to a decision of the courts, its use is considered fair game, and it will tend to be used in future.

To give some examples, the major source of euphemisms designed to skirt libel law is the satirical magazine, and staple publication in British politics, Private Eye. They introduced the euphemism "tired and emotional" to describe the then Foreign Secretary George Brown, who had a reputation as an alcoholic, in 1967. The origin of this statement is said to have been due to the aforementioned minister appearing on an unplanned late-night television broadcast after the assassination of JFK in 1963. A BBC presenter was said to have referred to his drunken demeanour as "tired and emotional", although this tale has since been called into question.

Whatever the origin of this phrase though, a quick search of Hansard shows that it has been used almost 50 times in the last 25 years.

I'm aware of two other similar euphemisms that are often used in both houses of parliament, both of which are veiled accusations of lying. Accusing another member of lying is unparliamentary according to the rules linked above, and therefore members have found creative ways of doing so without falling foul of the Speaker. As a result of this, these terms have found repeated use throughout the last 25 years.

In particular, the term "economical with the truth", which was first used by Robert Armstrong, then Cabinet Secretary, in the 1986 Spycatcher trial in Australia, is used to describe a half-truth or a deliberate attempt to mislead. In the last 25 years, Hansard records 130 uses of the term.

Additionally, the term "terminological inexactitude" is less commonly used, having been introduced by Winston Churchill, then Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, in 1906. When asked whether the Government condemned the slavery of Chinese labourers, Churchill replied that the term "slavery" could not be used without risk of terminological inexactitude. Since then, it was most recently referred to by Margaret Beckett MP, who described a perceived untruth as "something which we are only allowed to call a terminological inexactitude".

In conclusion, while it is maybe questionable if the examples above can be considered putdowns, the phrases above are certainly the most recognised recurring euphemisms designed to skirt parliamentary rules, and as such are the most often used. In general, in order for taunts such as the example in the question to be well received, a certain degree of spontaneity and originality is appreciated - as a result, taunts of this kind tend not to be repeated.

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