Seating plan triggers war of words
THE OPPOSING forces of opposition and government have been powerfully evident in the parliamentary confrontations – verbal, gestural and physical – that have recently degraded the National Assembly.
It is important to understand that the physical configuration of Parliament is a major contributory factor.
It is based on the Westminster model, where the government and opposition face each other like armies with their generals in the front rows and the Speaker in the middle.
This territorial arrangement encourages confrontational rhetoric, grandstanding, insults, cheers and jeers from backbenchers.
The British parliament has a long history of famous confrontations, notably between William Pitt and Charles James Fox in the 18th century, when “opposition” acquired its parliamentary sense.
The French National Assembly, by contrast, has a quite different configuration, with all political parties seated in a semi-circle, as in an ancient Greek theatre.
From this arrangement we derive the terms “right wing” and “left wing”.
Although there are sharp divisions, all members of the assembly are clearly part of a political spectrum making up the French body politic.
The key figure is the Speaker, who in Britain is obliged to resign from all political affiliations.