Hung Parliament or Hung Parliamentarism?
EDITORIAL, 17 May 2010
by Johan Galtung, 17 May 2010 - TRANSCEND Media Service
Oxford. St John’s College gave style to the big conference 15 May on a possible endowed Chair in Peace Studies at that elite university. Beautifully choreographed by an Anglican chaplain, dean and tutor, Liz Carmichael, the conference lived up the setting; quadrangle lawns immaculately manicured, trees in blossom, the weather graciously blessing the foggy island. The Icelandic volcano had a rest from spewing ashes of wrath on an England and Netherlands demanding bailout for their greedy citizens. They had pocketed derivatives spewing from the activities of freshly minted masters of business administration from you know where. But dear volcano; greed is virtuous, not a vice.
Fog and ashes dispersed, the deep culture of the nation became more visible. Basic theme: winning, but according to rules. The country has been through a shocking exercise: the 6 May election. Not according to the rules, some waiting in line could not vote for lack of ballots and staff, like in Iraq-Afghanistan. Even more shocking: nobody won. A hung parliament. One party lost a hundred or so, another gained a hundred or so, a third did not match its refreshing leader, partly because of the crazy FPP, first past the pole, the winner takes all. But rules rule, so be it.
The parliament hanging in the air, arithmetic was applied to parliament, like Euclidean geometry to drawing borders. You know, those straight lines on the map left behind by Anglos with an excess of Euclidean geometry at Eton and Harrow. The magic 50 percent line was crossed with, heaven forbid!, a coalition. Two carriers of political will had to attune them to each other, two young men in their 40s marching intact, the lesser instructed by the bigger not to touch transatlantic relations, Trident genocide nukes, nor the European Union where he once worked. Compromises are in the air, like ashes clouding the sky.
And something better than compromise: transcendence, go beyond.
Make out of clashing ideas something new, like Angloamericans learning how to solve world conflicts, rather than 200 or so punishment expeditions routinely run by the English empire, and 243 or so US interventions starting with Thomas Jefferson up till our days, with English participation. And the bulk of the 23,000 nukes. Go beyond nuclearists vs. nuke-skeptics, euro-skeptics vs. europeanists.
And there is something worse: hung parliamentarism. Look around, watch it at work. A majority, a party or a coalition, takes over for a period or two, defined by its stand on that 19th century problem: how much State-Plan vs. how much Capital-Market in running the economy. Important. But so are nukes. And wars, like Iraq, Afghanistan. And so is transatlanticism vs. EU. Hardly even mentioned in the campaign. The UN does better, dedicated to peace, development, the environment.
After a period or two enters the other 19th century Hamlet ghost. Now it is his time–usually male these ghosts–staying long enough to cancel, wash out, the traces of his predecessor, now in “opposition”, preparing the negation of the negation. Sounds dialectic, but is a ballet around a balance point fixed late 19th century, a discourse fed to the masses for democratic consumption. The rest is for back stage decisions by the back stage boys, eagerly seconded by media focused on winning, not solving anything–they do not even know what peace could look like. Support our boys, they say, send Prince Charles, blessed by a church that combines “God, save our gracious Queen”, with “Queen, save of gracious God”–an elderly gentleman with an Oxbridge accent.
Listening to the gentle voices of English peace theory and practice the Angloamerican confusion of conflict with violence rears its head from the beginning. “Preventing conflict”, “post-conflict” abound, meaning violence, neglecting conflict–incompatible goals– something very different that may lead to violence, if not handled well and remove the key cause of violence if properly resolved.
They land at am attractive point: preventing, reducing, violence, for a post-violence situation. There is no end to meetings and joint activities by all parties, including exchanging narratives of their sufferings, and beautiful intervention by women on both sides to de-escalate their men. Much needed, but when they all have shared each other’s sufferings and enjoyed cohabitation, commensalism, love, sex, whatever; what remains is–the conflict. Who controls, even occupies parts of the Middle East? Which nation runs the political game in Kenya? Those underlying conflicts have a tendency to explode sooner or later and, like in Yugoslavia, unimpressed by 24 percent of marriages crossing the divides. Unlike South Africa where finally one person-one vote became the solution. And that political violence evaporated, greatly helped by bringing truth to bear on reconciliation.
Is Anglo-America a conspiracy against conflict resolution, in favor of conflict settlement through victory? Hosting a Karl Marx, yet for those who think class is out look at the composition of the new cabinet in terms of education, family and nation-within-nation.
One can raise the flag of justice, but does it mean punitive, restorative, distributive or “equitative” justice? Too ambiguous. Nonviolent and nonviolence, fine, but no substitute for solution.
And yet, in spite of all of that: history is also a struggle against slavery, against colonialism, against patriarchy, sexism, racism. There are residues. But the legitimacy is gone.
And who were up front? Women more than men and very often Angloamerican. There was a Bertha von Suttner yes, but indeed also a Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gandhi’s many English ladies, the suffragettes, the Greenham Common women, the Welsh Women for Life on Earth. Their struggle was nonviolent. But it went beyond that, toward solution.
Next in line: the abolition of the war system. For “just war” thinking, try just slavery-colonialism-patriarchy for a starter.
Middle-aged, middle-sexed–neither excessively macho nor feminine in the narcissistic face-painting ever-slimming sense–middle towned–usually not from a capital filled to the brim with patriotic markers–middle religious, neither hard nor so soft as to exclude spirituality. Quaker yes, indeed, but also Anglican, with the light occasionally shining from Canterbury, and permanently from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, middle-politicked–anchored in State and, not on Capital.
There are many of us; together we are the majority; unarticulated in the caricature of democracy we are served every four-five years. So, when the new professor is appointed let us hope she will shed new light on this beautiful island in the North Sea. And beyond.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.