Fellow columnist Stuart Hayward commented [20 Apr 05] that he did not like the wastage of talent and the discord that seems to be a concomitant of our Westminster style Parliamentary system.

            I agree that the system does seem to occasion wastage of talent. However, I disagree with his view that the adversarial style is unnecessary and avoidable. 

            I believe that rule by the majority can be decidedly unhealthy; and is always unhealthy when majority rule is accompanied by a quiescent opposition; or an accommodating, accepting, population.

            To the simple minded, majority rule always conjures up the vision of the majority of people being in agreement with the ruling power or, at least, accepting the ruling power’s edicts. However, this view must be tempered by the reality that ruling powers have POWER.  This power – the vital differentiator – gives them the ability to stifle, quash, and even punish dissent. It also allows the power to be unfair and to use or even abuse its legislative authority to sustain that unfairness.

            Rule by polite consensus carries the same potential for abuse. From Emancipation to 1959, Bermuda was ruled by a system whose hallmark was a polite and unchallenged consensus. From 1959, voices of dissent were heard, then more insistently, then more stridently.  Now those voices are heard vociferously.

            . Consensus – both global and national – kept Apartheid alive in South Africa. Consensus shores up Robert Mugabe’s power in Zimbabwe. Consensus took the USA into Iraq. Consensus maintained Jim Crow in the USA. Consensus maintained segregation in Bermuda.

            Disagreement – expressed in Parliament, in the voting booth, in the media, in ‘town hall meetings’ – is the hallmark of a true democracy.  Democratic disagreement usually results in some degree of non-cooperation. Balanced structured non-cooperation is the hallmark of the Westminster system.

            With all of its wastage of talent, I still prefer today’s noisy and inefficient Westminster system. I do not yearn for any return to consensus. I love the clash of opinion. It’s my only guarantee that differences do exist and that differences can be voiced.  Never again the genteel politeness of that old Bermuda when the ‘Forty’ ran it out of the RBYC.   

            I do wish though, that the quality of public debate would rise and deliver repartee that is more intellectually pleasing. Perhaps comments like “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them, the rest of us could not succeed.” [Mark Twain – a frequent visitor to these Isles.]


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