This is not an exercise for beginners. It is an exercise in advancing the exploration of arrogance. it started as a banality. On the way to the Rathaus on Thursday I went to the hairdresser and was in a chatty mood. Here I am telling my hairdresser about the fact that I have two main professional occupations, and he volunteers that he knew that one is politics, but did not know the other. This was the funny thing, I was not even thinking of politics. Politics is something that I do in my spare time, it is not a profession. Politics is also a civic duty. After all, if you are not willing to govern, you are damned to be governed.
Thursday’s triple – in fact quadruple – dose of the Bern city parliament had something for everybody. There were big items on the agenda and we did not get through half of those items. Still, some of the meatier subjects were debated. The annual report 2013, or a great opportunity for the left to say that they also know about finance, and the right to point out the errors, or vice-verse. Thursday night was no exception and we got it approved, but not without a vote of protest from our fraction. The best was yet to come. The details are theatrical. At one point it really got out of hand and people were shouting at each other (and yes, the local newspaper reported on that). Civilised I say, in comparison with some parliament squabbles elsewhere, but unusual for typically slow and anaesthetised Bernese. The protocol of Thursday’ sessions is going to be a doozy!
The epitome of ridicule was reached as the clock was about to strike 23:30. At that point one member of the parliament gets up to make yet another motion of order and argued that we were wasting taxpayer’s money by going into overtime, thus we should break up and resume the debate at another time. Parliamentarians in this city get paid in 3 hour blocks, and since we had been debating since 20:30, we had been at it for three hours and were no where close to conclusion. We voted, and this was motion did not get a majority. This one motion prompted yet another one by another parliamentarian asking that our honorary for the overtime be cancelled. This caused a commotion because such a motion of order is not permitted according to the statutes. However it is possible to ask that we voluntarily forfeit of the honorary. This was put to a vote, and roughly speaking those who had wanted to debate the damned business to its bitter end, forfeited, and those that wanted to go home didn’t.
In view of all these antics, one must be curious as to what it was that we were debating. You guessed it, about spending money. This time about a public transportation project that has captured the fancy of mostly left politicians, but which is meeting considerable opposition from the residents, the extreme right, and the liberals. When one looks at the project in detail, there are major flaws with it. Surely Bern should update and modernise its public transportation, but this project is ridiculously poorly conceived. A lot of arguments for it are about serving two suburban communities (Köniz and Ostermundig) with trams. Both Köniz and Ostermundig have train stations. Needless to say that S-bahn (trains) are a whole lot faster than trams and do not cause congestion on the streets or hinder bike riders. But that is not all. Actually, I get bored listing all that is wrong with this concept. The debate in the Stadtrat is however a bit more interesting, but just as poorly informed. Lies, and more lies, and who gives a damn? Damn lies!
Still, the substance seems almost besides the point; marginalised. The basics of the exercise are about power. The majority block wants this project’s credit to be approved, and the minority doesn’t. The strategy on the pro-project side is to get it through as fast as possible, and that on the minority side is to delay it. It is the way it is. Anyhow the fellow with the motion that we forfeit our honorary is now poking fun at the fellow who wanted to interrupt the debate because he did not forfeit. This is pathetic! Kindergarden silliness.
Indeed the arguments against going into overtime were not very sound. We will debate this damned tram project as long as it takes, this is what a parliament is for. This is not a business meeting to be run efficiently. Democracy, for better or worse, is not very efficient. First people are irrational, and if anything, politics is irrational. Fortunately the whole project will be put up for a vote in September, and then the residents can have their say.