surgeries, constituencies, MPs

American readers/tweeters have been getting in touch to wonder about the use of surgery in reports like this from the BBC and other UK sources.
Jo Cox 1974–2016
From the Labour party website

Mrs Cox, 41, is the first sitting MP to be killed since 1990, when Ian Gow was the last in
a string of politicians to die at the hands of Northern Irish terror groups.
The man taken into custody was arrested in Market Street, not far from Birstall Library where Mrs Cox was holding a constituency surgery.

I touched on surgery back in the post about physician's titles, but I didn't cover all its uses.  Oxford Dictionaries Online gives the relevant British senses. (This is sense 2, after the general-English 'invasive medical procedure' sense.)

2. British A place where a doctor, dentist, or other medical practitioner treats or advises patients.
2.1 [in singular] A period of time during which patients may visit a doctor, dentist, or other medical practitioner for treatment or advice: Doctor Bailey had finished his evening surgery
2.2  An occasion on which an MP, lawyer, or other professional person gives advice.
So, you can go to a doctor's surgery (AmE office) during her surgery (= consultation hours). Elected representatives also hold surgeries at which constituents can come to discuss whatever's bothering them. These can be held at their office, but are often at some more public or accessible place, like a library. In my parliamentary constituency (approx. AmE congressional district) the MP has held a surgery on a bus as it goes about its normal route.

By extension, surgery is used for many kinds of meetings where someone offers expertise to someone else. Schools and universities have writing surgeries, there are knitting surgeries and bicycle surgeries, events where you can drop in and have a problem diagnosed and get help in fixing it.

In US news, I've seen surgery translated into meeting. In the back of my mind, I have a recollection that there are similar things to MP's surgeries sometimes in the US, but I can't for the life of me think of (or find) the terminology. Can anyone help?

I've translated constituency above to district, but let's be clear that AmE does have the word constituency, it's just more likely to refer to the people than the place, in my experience. In the GloWBE corpus, there are nearly four times more British uses of the word constituency than American ones.

I tweeted this on Thursday: 


And, of course, the response was requests for translation of MP, which is more familiarly Military Police in AmE. (I think I --and maybe others of my generation-- just know that because of M*A*S*H.) It stands for Member of Parliament, which is kind of like AmE congressperson, or member of Congress. I should say: it's not straightforward to translate parliamentary terminology into American terminology. This one isn't too bad, but when Americans call the Prime Minister the President it's a bit of a sin. The PM is the head of government. The President is the head of state. (So some countries have both.) In the UK, the reigning monarch is the head of state, but the powers of the monarchy are severely restricted--so, as I say, it doesn't make a lot of sense to try to translate the terminology. The president isn't like the queen, but neither is the office the same as the office of Prime Minister. So, simple translations don't get you very far if you want to understand the context of news stories. 

I only first heard of Jo Cox this week, but, wow, she was something special. I can't say anything more about the subject without dissolving into a state of abject despair.

50 comments

  1. A US equivalent of "surgery" could be "office hours" (e.g. https://huelskamp.house.gov/contact/local-office-hours).

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  2. Another possible term for MP surgery: town hall.

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  3. Meet and greet. Open House. Office hours.

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  4. Here in Iowa that sort of meeting-constituents event is either town hall or (somewhat less common) listening post.

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  5. A Town Hall tends to be a public meeting though doesn't it? Whereas an MP Surgery is a private meeting but in a public place.

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  6. Yes, 'town hall' and 'meet and greet' exist, but aren't the same as holding a surgery. 'Office hours' or 'listening post' are closer, but I can't say that I recall ever hearing them advertised that way in the congressional districts where I've lived. It may well be something that's very local--either to an area, or to a specific politician.

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  7. Writing workshop, knitting bee or class, possibly bicycle repair clinic. Surgeons (MDs) see patients during clinic, or clinic hours. Surgery is pretty strictly used for the actual rooms where surgery, cutting open to repair a human body, are performed, or the procedure of surgery itself. The OR. Which is where I work. So these news stories with the use of the word surgery, have a rather surreal quality. Am/E.

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  8. Someone on Twitter has suggested 'drop-in' as an AmE equivalent...that sounds like a good one to me.

    (I looked on a few NY representatives' websites looking for equivalents, but gave up after a few, not finding anything like it. But there were online 'if you need help interacting with a federal agency, fill out this form' things, which do a bit of the work of a BrE surgery.

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  9. Something that struck me from the international coverage of this was the term 'Lawmakers' as shorthand for MP (well, longhand I suppose).

    I don't remember seeing that in the UK. I am sure it is helpful in providing context for a US reader, but it isn't really an accurate read-across between the constitutions as the roles of Congress/House of Commons aren't quite the same.

    A backbench opposition MP such as Mrs Cox can't feasibly have much influence on laws passed, but she can represent the interests of her constituents in government. 'Representative' might cause more confusion and 'Parliamentarian' is a bit of a mouthful.

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  10. Jeremy: "Parliamentarian" seems to have a meaning in the US that is unknown in the UK - someone who is interested in or practices the rules for the governance of meetings, not necessarily political meetings. There is a guide book called Roberts Rules of Order that is popular in this regard, and it is almost totally unknown in the UK. It even turned up in an episode of The Wire where the Baltimore drug gangs started organising themselves. My parents were involved in local politics in the UK most of their lives and they had never heard of it, nor does there seem to be a UK equivalent.

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  11. Frank Abate said:
    Perhaps there is no good equivalent for BrE "surgery" (of a meeting with an MP) because US congressional districts are far less local(ized) than UK constituencies, and FAR more populous. There are 650 MPs (for 65 million population), 435 members of the House of Representatives (for 320 million). In seven states, there is only one House rep for the entire state! So for many House reps, meeting on any sort of local or intimate basis with constituents is all but impossible.

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  12. I think 'consultation' or 'forum' might fit the sense of the word you are looking for?

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  13. I think it's the concept that's geographically specific, not the word.

    In Britain there's a healthy belief that we own our elected representatives. That's also an unhealthy belief that we ought to own our representatives but they have found a way to escape and cheat us.

    The constituent-surgery is an essential element in confirming the healthy belief. It shows that they are at our disposal, ready to tackle authorities and bureaucracies on our behalf. Some politicians sometimes describe this role as 'glorified social worker'; to my mind either they've failed to see the symbolism, or they're unsuited to their job.

    We're often criticised for not being able to name our MEP (Member of the European Parliament). I think the criticism is unfair. We don't know who they are because they aren't at our disposal. MEPs don't hold surgeries, therefore they're not proper MPs.

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  14. Jeremy Drew

    A backbench opposition MP such as Mrs Cox can't feasibly have much influence on laws passed

    By all accounts Jo Cox was exceptional. As well as being a superb 'constituency MP', she exerted considerable influence in Parliament through her knowledge, experience and eloquence. On the day of Jo's death, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) George Osborne discarded the prepared text of a financial speech in favour of a tribute to her character and to the actual influence she had had on Government policy towards the plight of the Syrian people.

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  15. "Parliamentarian" in Britain is more likely to mean those in the English Civil War that supported Paraliament against the King, a.k.a. the Roundheads

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  16. Indeed, but I have seen newspaper reports referring to such and such MP as being a good parliamentarian, which I presume means they dutifully carry out their duties in the house rather than they support Cromwell, or, that they know how to handle a second-order amendment to the motion on the floor.

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  17. David Crosby,

    That is sort-of the point that I was trying to make. Calling MPs 'Lawmakers' seems to me to be derived from a system with a strict separation of powers such as the US, rather than a parliamentary system that combines legislation with the executive. If she were only a lawmaker she couldn't hope to influence Government policy and its implementation except through legislation.

    Te Private Members Bill mechanism does exist, but the ones that make it onto the Statute Book are quite rare.

    The main point though was that I have never seem MPs referred to as lawmakers in the UK.

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  18. I think "drop-in" is a good translation. And the reason it's so difficult to find a good translation is because, as David Crosby points out, the concept itself is a specifically British concept - here in the UK this is a very normal part of the work of MPs, they're expected to be accessible to the general public and to show an interest in people's lives, to actively represent them not just by attending Parliament but also by dealing with their individual problems.

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  19. "By extension, surgery is used for many kinds of meetings where someone offers expertise to someone else. Schools and universities have writing surgeries, there are knitting surgeries and bicycle surgeries, events where you can drop in and have a problem diagnosed and get help in fixing it."
    I think this type of surgery (but not, I think, the type an MP would hold) would be called a clinic (another medical term) in the US. My pharmacy offers "medical clinics" which really stretches this meaning of the word toward the absurd.

    RE: MP, I've often heard/seen this term "untranslated" in American news media. Everyone seems to know more or less what it means.

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  20. I think when the purpose is informally teaching a specific skill, "clinic" works really well. I've seen writing clinics, bicycling clinics, etc. I have a friend who works for a non-profit and holds "clinics" for seniors on wills (how to create one, help with writing one...), and this sounds similar to what MPs might offer.
    Context is everything, though. Just because there's no one-to-one translation doesn't mean the concept doesn't exist. My local state senator holds drop-in hours when people can get documents notarized in his neighborhood office. The local councilman held a Q&A at a diner. The more local the politician, the more of these services they hold. My Congressman is more distant and holds fewer of these events/services, but you bet your ass my representative to my state congress has more on offer.

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  21. Went searching local representatives for examples and found a variety of different names depending on the type of event. The problem is that we equate MPs with Congressmen - but US Congressmen average 710,000 in their district, UK MPs average 100,000.
    Meanwhile, I live in Pennsylvania - members of my *state* senate serve an average of 256,000, and members of the PA house of representatives serve an average 63,000. So between the two, you have something much closer to an MP in terms of the population they serve.
    And when you look at their websites and publications, you find examples of "surgeries"

    Here's a sampling from people representing the Philadelphia area in state government:

    Forums - "Rep. Boyle to conduct two special forums at KleinLife to assist residents with state forms" - http://www.pahouse.com/KBoyle/InTheNews/NewsRelease/?id=72209
    Open house - "The shredding services will be provided in conjunction with an open house for my district office in the shopping center." - http://www.senatorsabatina.com/enews/2015_8-27-back-to-school.htm
    Town halls / roundtables - "I have been excited to host a number of community events including town halls, community roundtables and my “Breakfast with Briggs” meetings." - http://www.pahouse.com/files/Documents/Newsletter/2016-03-19_11-37-13__149%20Winter%20NL%202016.pdf
    Town hall - "Senator Leach has also met with constituents around the district via smaller events like our successful Town Hall in Havertown and the “Donuts with Daylin” series at all District 17 Senior Centers." - http://www.senatorleach.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Winter_2009.pdf
    Mobile office - "Our staff continues to hold monthly Mobile Office events at public libraries, senior centers and township buildings across the 17th District..." - same link: http://www.senatorleach.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Winter_2009.pdf

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  22. Thanks, Sam, your research has succeed where mine failed!

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  23. A 'Town Hall' in the UK is a building, not an event. It is the place where a local authority holds its meetings and has its offices.

    One of the most important things never to forget, whichever side of the Atlantic you are on, is that although they both aspire to be democratic, the way the UK and American constitutions and governments function bear very little resemblance to each other. For one thing, the UK does not have the notion of separation of powers. Indeed, US citizens may be shocked to learn that most UK constitutional commentators regard the rigid separation of administration and legislature as possibly the biggest weakness/defect of the US system. To our eyes, it means the President isn't answerable to anyone. There's no weekly President's question time. For another, it means the legislators have no responsibility to do anything that actually works.

    I don't know what are the most obvious flaws of our system to US eyes. Possibly though they might be the presence of heredity and the rowdiness of the House of Commons. To a lot of us, though, it's the random nature of the electoral system.

    But the point I'm trying to get across, is that virtually nothing obviously transposes between the two systems. What an MP does, what they can and can't achieve, what their ambitions are likely to be, how they succeed or fail in climbing the greasy pole, and how it all works will be completely different from from what a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives does.

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  24. Just in case it is of interest, in Ireland, our politicians hold clinics rather than surgeries. For example, compare the results of the Google search for "site:ie surgery TD" (which produces things about medical procedures) and "site:ie clinics TD" (which produces lists of times politicians are available). We don't have MPs, we instead have TDs (Teachta Dála), hence the TD in the search.

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  25. MPs can make their mark on legislation, not just with Private Members bills but by getting changes accepted on government bills.

    Thus the Rooker-Wise Amendment (indexation of income tax must be proposed every year, not just quietly forgotten)

    Note that the UK's EU Parliament members (MEPs) are elected in multi-member districts, England was divided into nine regions with a total of 71 seats so "who is my member" is nonsense but the voter:member ratio is much like the US House of Representatives.

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  26. The shooting of Jo Cox so eerily echoed the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (Tucson, Arizona, January 2011), I went to look up what the papers said about her event. This is from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/us/politics/09giffords.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FGiffords%2C%20Gabrielle&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=230&pgtype=collection):

    "Ms. Giffords, widely known as Gabby, had been speaking to constituents in a store alcove under a large white banner bearing her name when a man surged forward and began firing. He tried to escape but was tackled by a bystander and taken into custody by the police. The event, called “Congress on Your Corner,” was outside a Safeway supermarket northwest of Tucson and was the first opportunity for constituents to meet with Ms. Giffords since she was sworn in for a third term on Wednesday."

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  27. I agree with Sam that in the United States our state legislators are more likely than our federal representatives to have local meetings with constituents, because the number of people involved is smaller. Our Delegate (our representative in the lower house of the Virginia legislature, the upper house being called the Senate) holds what he calls advisory committee meetings, but they're not restricted in membership; anybody who's interested can attend.

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  28. @lynnequist - I've gone to a couple over the past few years, so I knew they were out there! And I'm almost compulsive when it comes to reading the physical newsletters mailed out from my representatives. Why I find their paper shredding events and group photos with local high school students a "must-read," I will never know, but at least it came in handy this one time.

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  29. OK, I have to ask Sam, what is a "paper shredding event"? To this speaker of BrE, the only time I would shred paper would be if it was a document containing sensitive information. I assume your elected representative is doing something more useful than ripping up paper for you?

    My employer occasionally advertises "Town Hall" events allowing us to meet senior staff. Now I know what they are one about!

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  30. Sorry, "on about" not "one about"

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  31. @wisob They really are offering to help shred documents with sensitive, personal information. I think the idea is, people often don't know how to properly dispose of their shredded documents, or they never remember to do it. So they get industrial sized shredders and invite people out to meet their representative and maybe local police, or identity theft experts. It's usually offered as a once or twice a year thing, and it's appealing to paranoid seniors, who are known for being very active voters.

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  32. I've been trying to think of the NZE equivalent of MP surgeries. I know the phrase sounded foreign to me when I first moved to the UK. Having looked at a couple of NZ MPs' websites for my former home towns, it appears NZ MPs dont do these kinds of events full stop! May be they still expect you to write to them if you need help??

    I cant find anything on google about whether a sitting NZ MP has ever been attacked (other than verbally) or murdered. Possibly says more about Kiwis' disinterest in politics than their propensity towards violence...

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  33. Many millennia ago - well, back in the 1990s when we had dial-up Internet and Usenet was the Big Thing (back in the days before the World Wide Web was really a thing), one of the first questions I asked was why, when riding on the top of a bus, a family of Americans should all burst out laughing when they saw the sign for "Queenstown Road Surgery" above the door of a building.

    Of course, these days, doctors are likely to work in health centres or even wellness centres rather than surgeries.... and the sort of "surgery hours" where you dropped in and waited until your doctor was free to see you are, alas, a thing of the past. Now you have to make an appointment, which is almost impossible.....

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    1. In AmE I've only ever heard "surgery" referring to a medical operation, i.e. undergoing the knife. The standalone building would be a surgical center; the room is an operating room (or operating theater, but I think that means there's a viewing area like in the Seinfeld episode with Junior Mints).

      My guess is that the giggles were due to picturing a road being dressed in a gown and put under anesthesia before the jackhammers come out.

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  34. Re the points above about "parliamentarian" and the different roles of MPs and US Congress(wo)men.....

    "Parliamentarian" is often used in the UK to mean someone who has the respect of both sides for their behaviour in Parliament (a.k.a the kiss of death if they want to be ruthless enough to get to be Prime Minister, but likely to mean they could be on plenty of committees and possibly the Speaker one day).

    Apart from Parliament's own guide to its abstruse procedures (Erskine May), which isn't likely to be helpful in any other sort of organisation, the "Bible" used to be "Citrine on Chairmanship", written by a then leading light in the Trades Union Congress as a guide for members on committees and in representative functions. But it's really aimed at the kind of meetings that are drafting formal policy resolutions and agreements, such as the TUC and Labour Party used to depend on. Nowadays, much of that formal punctiliousness has gone by the board: if an MP holds or addresses a meeting, it's much more of a rally to promote or endorse some person or campaign where the decisions have already been taken.

    Which refers back to the differences in culture. Though MPs can, in certain circumstances and with a good set of campaigning and parliamentarian's skills, have a significant effect on legislation, the initiative almost always rests with the executive. The whole point of the UK system is that a government has to be able to get most of its business through Parliament, or let someone else have a go. Consequently a major part of an MP's job (unless they think they're safe enough to be lazy) is holding ministers to account for their administration of business, rather than taking the initiative on law-making - and this is usually well-informed by their experience in handling individual constituents' problems and concerns.

    I get the impression that lawmakers in the US do just that - write into law things that in this country are dealt with as matters of administrative discretion, through guidelines and the equivalent of Executive Orders and regulations. Case in point: a lot of the detailed discussions I've seen about possible changes to US gun laws are in this country covered by details buried in the Home Office guidelines to police on how to apply what are pretty generally-worded laws.

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  35. When my senator or congressional rep holds such an event I think it's called a town hall. A forum would be for a specific topic, e.g. a forum on water treatment upgrades. They represent the entire state (it's a small one) so these events are fairly formal. My state rep, on the other hand, represents an area of only a few square miles, neighbors who all know each other within a couple degrees of separation, so his events are much more casual. They're known as coffee hours and take place once a month at a local eatery.

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  36. The search for a better word than meeting for a US equivalent is, I think, doomed.

    A surgery — whether for a doctor or for an MP — is the occasion for one-on-one private conversations between a patient or constituent with a problem, and the person who may be able to sort it to out.

    In British English, I think, any mention of a meeting in political context implies (apart from one which names the people who meet) a public meeting.

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  37. Sam. Well, well, well. That wasn't the answer I was expecting! Thank you.

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  38. Seen on The Guardian live blog about Brexit:

    But London is not the only local Young Labour organization to go rogue. In an email shared with the Guardian, Chiltern Young Labour emailed Corbyn’s office just after 8:30pm GMT imploring him to resign:

    For the good of the party, for the good of the nation, for the good of the people it is time for you to step aside and allow wounds to heal. A party leader that cannot command the respect of the Parliamentarians is one who lacks leadership.

    For the members of Chiltern Young Labour I implore you to do the honourable thing and resign now.


    Note use of Parliamentarians.

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  39. Nick R

    A party leader that cannot command the respect of the Parliamentarians

    What's strange about this is the capital letter.

    According to the OED the adjective parliamentarian was coined at the start of the seventeenth century of those who wanted to bring the Church under the control of Parliament. Later in the century, Parliamentarian became the table of those on the Parliamentary side against the King. This use of Parliamentarian with a capital letter generally refers to seventeenth century political actors. The ones opposed to the Royalists.

    The use of parliamentarian with a small letter to denote a British MP is earlier than I for one would have expected. The earliest quotation is from 1834 referring to 'a veteran parliamentarian'. Almost all of the other quotes involve an adjective.

    Without an adjective parliamentarian becomes a job description. It sounds odd to me, as to others who have posted, because it sounds so pompous in place of the established norm, which is MP.

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  40. I've seen "parliamentarians" used occasionally as an alternative to "MPs and Lords".

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  41. David Crosbie

    Yes, I thought the capitalization was odd, too, especially since it was used in an official email. When googled, the definitions of parliamentarian are given as follows:

    noun
    noun: parliamentarian; plural noun: parliamentarians

    1. a member of a parliament, especially one well versed in parliamentary procedure and experienced in debate.
    2. historical - a supporter of Parliament in the English Civil War; a Roundhead.

    It seems as though the person in the email might be using it to describe those MPs who were part of the shadow cabinet but have since resigned in protest of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, or lack thereof, in their view.

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  42. So if I'm following this right, a surgery with an MP is when you actually get some one-on-one time with him or her. I think in that case "office hours" fits better than "town hall." (--Which is short for town hall meeting, by the way. Town hall also refers to a building, it's just that the meaning has spread over to a meeting with a group of people because the local town hall so often was an obvious place to hold such.) A "meet-and-greet" I'd think of as more of a social mixer, possibly for campaign fundraising purposes.

    I think the one place where our systems possibly do line up is that if you are having trouble navigating some issue with the government, you call your congressman, or in the UK's case, your MP. (And I've never heard the phrase as "Call your senator," although you can, just as "Call your congressman.") What is likely, at least in my state, is that rather than speaking with the congressperson directly, you'll talk to a staff person, but congresspeople will have at least one office in their home district, possibly more depending on the size of the geographic area, and those will have regular hours they are open. It sounds like this is similar to the concept of an MP having a surgery, only the MPs seem to announce they are going to be available for people to come talk to them at a certain time, rather than having set office hours, if I've got that right?

    Do MPs get offices and staffs in their home districts?

    I find it rather odd that we in America think of the separation of powers as one of our strengths while the common perception in the UK is that it's a weakness.

    (For what it's worth, the checks and balances that this puts in place does put some limits on the president's powers. He can't make laws, Congress does that, so if he wants legislation (such as the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) he has to get someone to introduce it and get it passed. Congress also sets the budget and as such has some control over defunding programs he wants (how much depends on what their constituents back home will put up with). He can veto legislation, but Congress can override the veto and pass it anyway, it just takes a vote of more members (2/3rds, instead of 1/2). He can be impeached (impeachment proceedings were brought against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton -- and Andrew Johnson in the 1860's for that matter -- Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached). The president is also answerable to the courts; Nixon had papers and the infamous Watergate tapes subpoenaed, he claimed executive privilege in order to refuse to release them, and the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision ordered that he must turn them over -- which he did, resigning a few days later.)

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  43. Dark Star in the Morning

    People ask their MP for help not only if they have a problem with the government. Very often the problem is with departments of local government and public services such as hospitals. The feeling is that although these bureaucracies do not come under central government control, nevertheless they may and often do listen to and respect the advocacy of MPs on behalf of the constituents. Indeed, there's nothing to prevent MPs from helping in disputes with private bodies where there's no direct or indirect involvement with answerable institutions.

    What matters is that an MP is able (in theory at least) to exert moral pressure, to raise media and public awareness. Moreover, MPs have the right skill set to interrogate officials who are confused, ill-informed or defensively obfuscating. And they can call on the investigative assts of the House of Commons Library and researchers employed by themselves personally and, possibly, those employed by their party,

    Yes, MPs have constituency offices. A 'good constituency MP' is expected to spend pretty well every weekend (which is more than just Saturday and Sunday) and the bulk of the recess in their constituency, with, as you say regular 'office hours'. So ideally an MP lives in his/her constituency and keeps a secondary home for weekdays in London. This is not practical for those who live a long way from London, for those whose family lives in London, and others with special property/family complications. But all MPS are expected to live and work substantial part of their time in the constituency that elected them. And their office is still open and functioning when the MP is at Westminster.

    I think the number of staff in each office is up to the individual MP since he or she employs them, claiming some or all of the salaries in expenses on top of their own salary. Many MPs employ their wife or husband. This infuriates some tabloid newspapers, but there's a good argument that a partner will do a lot more work for the money than a paid employee.

    In theory we have our own version of separation of powers. A Prime Minister derives his authority from his/her party and their voters, but much of the power is technically transferred from the Queen. Ideally, this could save its from dictatorship; if a Prime Minister attempts to hold too much sway, the Sovereign could, in theory, withhold important powers. This is hypothetical in the extreme, but I think it's fair to argue that it a good thing that the Prime Minister is not the head of the armed forces, the final signatory of legislation, the head of the Church of England, the ultimate source of promotion to public office and public honours.

    It's not what the Queen does, it's what a prime Minister or military chief can't do.

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  44. "Constituency" in AmE would refer to people, yes, specifically to a portion of the electorate and/or the ideo-partisan organizational structure that cares about a particular issue or would support a particular candidate or policy. So, it was remarked during the Republican partisan primary that Marco Rubio, a sitting US Senator, did not have a "natural constituency" within the party, because he and Ted Cruz drew from the same portion of the Republican base.

    "Constituents" would be the residents of a state or congressional distinct.

    As for the comparative political cultures angle, well, I'm not sure "aspire to be democratic but differ from each other" is a point of significance. Yes, they differ -- how does that necessarily bear on how democratic each is?

    Separation of powers checks the American executive in several ways: the House controls the federal budget, the Senate must confirm appointments to the executive branch and judiciary and must ratify treaties, and there is obviously the routine lawmaking. Two points do stand out regarding what I take to be British concerns with this arrangement. One, American positive face culture seems to extend to, and in fact is arguably strongest in terms of, our political culture. The American system runs on comity, as our Jeffersonian legacy. (Thomas Jefferson hated open conflict. Paradoxically.) But the system itself, in which each lawmaker must be corralled almost to a person, in which factions form, in which there are so many veto points, means that we can and do have Leadership Breakfasts full of positive face exchange and then everything proceeds through the laborious process.

    No need for (high level) positive face threatening behavior! Town hall meetings in the districts between congresspeople and constituents can get contentious though, but the norm and ideal is decorum and letting people have their say.

    What has developed that is the very dangerous legacy of the Cold War and its aftermath, though, is lack of political willingness to check on executive national security power. That is worrisome indeed.

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  45. Just a minor point, the US President is the head of State *and* the head of Government.

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  46. Irene C

    The American system runs on comity, as our Jeffersonian legacy.

    I'm afraid you can't expect many Brits to understand this. Even if we have some idea of what Jefferson thought, the word comity is a total blank.

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  47. Constituency in BrE can also be used for 'support base', but the meaning of 'electoral district' is much more common and more important.

    When voting in elections to the Westminster Parliament, each individual voter may be swayed by three considerations

    • the personality of the candidate
    • the policy issues usually those of the political party the candidate belongs to, but sometimes for a single issue or set of issues
    • the character/abilities of the potential Prime Minister, that is the leader of thew party that the candidate be;ones to

    Different voters may place different emphasis on the three considerations, but the aggregate of their choices shows a pattern.

    Between the first two considerations, the result seems to be the same as in the US. The fortunes of a party in one place are generally (though not without exception) reflected all over the country. OK, in Britain we have shifted somewhat from having two dominant parties. In some constituencies third and even fourth parties play a significant pat, but this is just a more complicated version of what went before.

    The significance of the individual candidate is seen at the margins. An outstanding politician like Jo Cox might be able to win an election in a 'marginal seat' that an average politician would lose. Had she lived, I'm sure she would have gone on to win by increase majorities at future elections.

    Where we differ from the US is that we simultaneously vote for our next Head of Government, our Prime Minister. Again, the aggregate choice is for a party, but at the margins the leader effect can be enough to make all the difference. We speak of our Prime Ministers winning elections and Leaders of the Opposition losing them. Most people would agree that Ed Miliband lost the last election: that Labour just possibly should have won under a different Leader. The same may have been true of Neil Kinnock some years back. And there's a very real fear that the next General Election could be lost entirely because of Jeremy Corbyn.

    All this explains our perplexity when US Government falls into gridlock. And we're a little surprised when the President fails to get his policies effected. We forget that we vote simultaneously for legislators and Head of Government, but you vote separately.

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  48. Re 'constituency': then there's the quaint (to my ears) Canadian word 'riding', which I believe means 'parliamentary constituency'. Here it means 'one of the three historical envisioned of Yorkshire'.

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  49. Yes, we in Canada use riding as a synonymn for constituency. In fact, riding is the more common word. Is it never used in the UK? I wonder where we got it from then.

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)