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As Senator Rand Paul completes a 6-hour speech, are filibusters democratic heroes?


If you've ever seen the 1939 classic, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, you'll know what a filibuster is. The parliamentary procedure, where a member attempts to "talk out" a bill by giving a speech so long it delays the vote has been practiced since Ancient Rome, when senator Cato the Younger was notorious for blocking legislation by speaking until dusk, at which point Senate rules required all business to be concluded. 


The latest practitioner of the move is US Republican senator Rand Paul who yesterday delayed Obama's CIA nomination with a six-hour speech in protest against drones. "I will speak until I can no longer speak," Paul said, and so he did.

The UK Parliament also has a long tradition of fillibustering. In 1983, Labour MP John Golding managed 11 hours (with breaks to eat), in an attempt to delay a vote on the British Telecommunications Bill. Paul's speech matches the all-time Commons record for non-stop speaking, set by Henry Brougham in 1828, although since that speech was not actually for filibustering purposes, presumably Brougham was just a windbag.