Ronald Thwaites | The tone is wrong
After the now-concluded Budget Debate, I am wondering what will be in the minds of those who will commence the Vale Royal Talks next month.
Will we continue the toxic charade which dominated Gordon House over the past two weeks, or can we put all that aside behind closed doors and rediscover some real sense of national interest? Will it be only a gesture, or the start of genuine collaboration?
After the weeks of preparation for the debate, what does the observant Jamaican take away from the hours of talk which degenerated into a 'tracing' match, offering so much revisionist history and so many alternative facts that the Trump machine would admire how well we have copied them?
The tone of our politics is wrong. It cannot take us where we want to go towards renewed national purpose.
In the midst of Audley's condemnation of People's National Party's lies and cretinism, delivered at sound-system volume on Wednesday, I asked a desk-thumping Ed Bartlett, who I think of as a mature and balanced minister, if he and his company really hated the Opposition as the words and vitriol so clearly indicated. He demurred. I pointed out what is undeniable - that no one side of the political divide can achieve what the country needs without the cooperation of the other, despite all the posing and self-promotion. He agreed, but went on to say that the 'tracing' match was mere "cut and thrust" of politics.
DERISION DIFFERENT FROM CRITICISM
I disagree. Anyone who understands the value and fragility of human relationships will know that there is a huge difference between criticism and derision. The finance minister volunteered to me, not long ago, that Jamaica would be well served by a government of national unity, yet he felt it necessary to be a major player in the hurtful burlesque of the last two weeks. This, even to the extent of deflecting from the really serious and life-affecting issues of economic development involved in the spending of more than $700 billion of other people's money.
It is not funny, trivial or good-natured anymore. The tone is wrong and it affects the substance of national life, sets ordinary people on edge and at odds with each other, nourishes a climate of division and contestation where common cause is essential.
Both the Government and Opposition have to change the way we relate to each other. Courtesy and genuine respect, in private as well as in the public glare, are more than nice middle-class virtues. They are the clothing of trust which, itself, is the foundation of national purpose.
One good sign was the report last week that Fitz Jackson has taken his place at the National Security Council. The public must insist that this signal of bipartisanship in relation to national security be furthered.
Psalm 1 tells us that we should avoid keeping company with scorners. There was plenty of scorn evident in Parliament last week. And the bad vibes are infectious, too. The Opposition gave their fair measure as well. I found myself being sucked into the virago behaviour even while acknowledging its futility.
There were some very significant proposals and plans advanced both by the prime minister and leader of the Opposition in relation to land, housing and education, for example. The financing and execution of these projects are what must dominate public discourse from now on.
Expand the agenda for Vale Royal and bring those talks squarely into the public domain so that citizens can force the pace of consensus and keep alive the indisputable truth that chronic, virulent political divisiveness impedes development.
There is a growing generation of younger people who despise the pointless name-calling and blame-throwing of an underperforming political culture. If they vote, they make a choice between the lesser of two evils. Elected by a minority, what kind of pride can we take in that. The prime minister reminds us that a win is a win. It does, for sure, in a narrow legal sense, but in the broader context, it does not confer satisfaction or moral legitimacy.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to email@example.com.