Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Tony Deyal | Those were the days

Published:Saturday | October 7, 2017 | 12:04 AM

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life." This was how Jeremy Thorpe, politician and leader of Britain's Liberal Party, reacted after Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reshuffled his Cabinet in 1962.

Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who is famous for his "A week is a long time in politics", made this observation about Macmillan (Wilson was opposition leader at the time), "The Right Honourable Gentleman has adopted the streak of gallantry in Disraeli (a previous prime minister) without his vision, and the self-righteousness of Gladstone without his dedication to principle."

Wilson also said, "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Describing his approach to government, he remarked, "I'm an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat."

I have always considered myself even more of an optimist than Wilson could ever have been. I don't even own a raincoat, and I lost my only umbrella. Worse, if you give me a bag of horse manure, I would go through it with a fine-tooth comb (which I now have to buy having thrown away the one I previously possessed when most of my hair and my youth disappeared simultaneously) looking for a horse.

What I have found, having done so in an attempt to compare the modern Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, and, in fact, of most Caribbean islands, with that of the Parliament on which our democracies are based, is a horse of a different colour. This is not only because politics and race in Trinidad and Tobago are almost one and the same, but that instead of fine stallions kicking up their heels and challenging their opponents, what we have here are, in the mane, donkeys disguised as thoroughbreds.

Let me give you just one example. According to one newspaper, after the devastation of Dominica, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley, suggested that "citizens who could accommodate Dominican family or friends left homeless after Maria should open their doors to their Caribbean brethren for a six-month period".

When he was highly criticised for this suggestion, Dr Rowley said angrily,

"Those now who have a lot to say about what I said about Dominica had misconducted themselves and so annoyed our CARICOM purchasers of our goods that we were in danger of losing our CARICOM market, and all I will say to them is just shut your mouth and let Trinidad and Tobago strive."

Facing even more criticism for his "shut your mouth" statement, Dr Rowley then sought to explain what he meant. According to the Trinidad Express newspaper, "Rowley stated on Wednesday that his instruction to 'shut your mouth' was directed to members of the Opposition and not John Public. Rowley said he was in no way attempting to stifle free speech and was, in fact, exercising his own free speech."

In response to the "shut up" from Dr Rowley, the opposition response, reported by the Express, was, "Saying that no United National Congress (UNC) member of parliament has made any negative comment on government's plan to offer refuge to Dominican citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the UNC is now calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to take his own advice and 'shut up'."

Compare this with Benjamin Disraeli's comment on another prime minister, Lord John Russell, "If a traveller were informed that such a man was the leader of the House of Commons, he might begin to comprehend how the Egyptians worshipped an insect." Or another comment on Russell by Lord Derby in the House of Lords in 1864: "The foreign policy of the Nobel Earl ... may be summed up in two truly expressive words, meddle and muddle."


Lack of class


The lack of class displayed by the exchanges of "shut ups" and even one about a "stink mouth" is even more apparent when one considers how views about Margaret Thatcher were expressed. Jonathan Aitken, a former Conservative MP and Cabinet minister, said about his party's leader, "I wouldn't say she is open-minded on the Middle East, so much as empty-headed. She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of Sinus."

Norman St John, another British politician, described Thatcher as 'The Immaculate Misconception', and yet another, Denis Healy, said caustically, "The prime minister tells us that she has given the French president a piece of her mind not a gift I would receive with alacrity."

In Trinidad, when we had a female prime minister, the leader of the Opposition at the time, Dr Keith Rowley, could not rise to those flights of eloquence and, instead, speaking of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was prime minister at the time, went for, "She could jump high, she could jump low, she could drink this, could drink that, she could bark at meh dog, I go ignore she cat."

The term 'cat', especially in its Trinidad pronunciation, 'kyat', is also a term for the female sexual organ. Subsequently and recently, as prime minister, Dr Rowley, referred to the former prime minister's behaviour as 'Jamettry', knowing that a 'jamette' in Trinidad is a prostitute or woman of extremely loose virtue.

What they call one another in or out of Parliament concerns me only from my sense of what parliamentary or political repartee should be and was. When an offended MP asked Prime Minister Churchill, "Mr Churchill, must you fall asleep when I'm speaking?" Churchill's response was, "No, it's purely voluntary." When he heard that President Nixon had called him an "asshole", Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's immediate response was, "I've been called worse things by better men."

Henry Clay, an American orator and senator, boasted, "I would rather be right than be president," and his balloon was immediately burst by Republican Thomas Reed, "The gentleman need not trouble himself. He'll never be either."

I believe that Winston Churchill, commenting on parliamentarian and former admiral, Lord Charles Beresford, might as well have meant many or even most of our regional politicians: "He is one of those orators of whom it was well said, 'Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they said.'"

- Tony Deyal was last seen waiting for someone to call him "two-faced" so he could quote Abraham Lincoln, "I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?"