Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Come red, orange, yellow or green

Published:Monday | August 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I recently met a businessman who, unsolicited, introduced himself as a "Comrade for life". I, therefore, became perplexed when he embarked on a severe and protracted criticism of several policies carried out by his fellow Comrades.

He animatedly castigated one particular minister of government for his inept handling of a vital ministry. He noted how many burgeoning small businesses were destroyed and innumerable lives irrevocably wrecked. These, he said, were small businesses controlled by black Jamaicans.

He decried the decimation of their dreams, facilitated by the survival of the powerful, rich white minority that always seems to land on their (economic) feet. This was, indeed, the antithesis of what Comrades espouse. So, why was he still a Comrade? It's because he saw nothing different about the other side.

 

Socialist background

 

The orange party has remained functionally united throughout occasional internal stresses. Some within it are still sporting red (in support of the neo-socialist principles that once influenced the hue of that organisation).

And, a fairly recent faction is sporting yellow (in support of their beloved leader). However, in spite of their differences, the party holds together well - perhaps because mixing red, orange and yellow will still yield orange.

There used to exist a fundamental and deep ideological chasm between the orange and the green party. But nowadays, the difference appears blurred as the parties share more similarities and have far fewer differences. It seems as if representational politicians maintain their fealty because of family political history, habit, familiar friends, and accustomed rivalry.

I believe that some remain diehard because they cling to the misconception that there is an ideological difference between the parties, and others (a few, I hope) remain loyal because they found a feeding trough.

When Alexander Bustamante left the orange party and formed the green party, it was a huge step. In spite of its name, the orange party seemed to espouse an intellectual approach to grass-roots politics, while the green party appeared to take a grass-roots approach to intellectualise its politics. Somewhere along the way, their physiognomies meandered under the influence of changing political winds and tides (read: fortunes).

Because the difference between the two parties is no longer significant, several 'stalwarts' have crossed the floor. Some have done it repeatedly. The latest to seek a new political harbour is Joan Gordon Webley. But others, at various levels, have done the same. They include Gregory Myers, Col Leslie Lloyd, Karl Samuda, Gulab Dukharan, Abe Dabdoub and Sharon Hay-Webster.

 

Crossing the aisle

 

Regarding the switching of political allegiance, a few years ago, a Jamaica Observer editorial opined, "It is rank opportunism that does little to enhance our Jamaican democracy." However, my belief is that the reasons for switching allegiance include frustration, being unappreciated/ignored, being sidelined, managerial disagreements, disappointment with leadership styles, a lack of support, and stagnation.

Glaring political differences, especially regarding foreign loans and spending, become manifest during the Budget speeches. Differences in administrative styles are also very evident during discussions surrounding national security, but those come in a distant second. Both make for fantastic political football. The most obvious and silent complicity shows up around issues regarding taxation. Both depend way too heavily on it, so both are happy when the other increases it, and both keep it wherever the other left it.

Because the parties are so much alike, we are doing the same things in the same old way and making the same economic and managerial mistakes repeatedly. And, because they are so similar, many people say that they are six of one and half-dozen of the other, and they vote based on enlightened self-interest.

Jamaicans would fare better if there were real ideological differences between the parties. Until then, come red, come orange, yellow or green, too many people remain poor, many remain hungry, inflation is climbing steadily, crime is breathing down our necks. We continue to import far more than we export, and we are sinking deeper and deeper into inextricable debt.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.