Seat­ing plan trig­gers war of words

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - GE­OFF HUGHES ● Ge­off Hughes is emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor, Wits Univer­sity.

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.

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