Ronald Thwaites | Parliament and politics
What follows are edited sections of a sectoral address delivered in the House of Representatives last Wednesday.
The creolization of the so-called Westminster model of government that we have adapted often degenerates into going at each other's guts with incivility and brashness in an attempt to gain or retain state power.
This way isn't working for those who sent us here and who, though inadequately, pay our keep.
Half of our voters have written us off as diversionary and corrupt. Many of the remainder are just 'looking something' from us in a society laced with unfairness, scarcity and greed. They may big us up at the rally on Palm Sunday, but will as easily crucify us on election day the following Friday.
Thank God for a political culture that allows divergent opinions. While we must cherish and elevate that, don't we see the disappointed and confused faces of the schoolers when they are leaving the gallery after hearing us, members of the highest court of the land, traduce and disrespect each other; calling one another in the tone of the street brawl, "fool, hypocrite, thief", tearing down everything the other side has sincerely tried or is trying to do?
Symbols can be signs of deeper reality and resolve. Our titles and trappings are temporary and often burdensome. They are given to us to exalt service and effort, not for self-promotion and hubris.
You know of my suggestion that we should reconfigure this chamber. Let us sit no longer according to party affiliation, glaring or mocking each other across an aisle, but in a semi-circle, alphabetically, or by parish of representation. Could this be one easy way we come to perceive ourselves and have others perceive us not as warring tribes, but as collaborators in the sacred and difficult task of governance?
Victims of our own sabotage
Let us stop being the victims of our own sabotage. Inspired leadership requires mutual trust and civility, not public relations and fake smiles as we screw each other in public view or back-room arrangement.
The two-party system was intended as a foil against the autocracy of the king, the Church and other unyielding tyranny. What we are in danger of doing is, by exaggerating our differences, we lapse into a chronic state of mistrust and bickering, itself tyrannical because it impedes progress by placing party advantage above national interest.
Carl Stone warned us about this a generation ago in his book Politics versus Economics. We have not learned his lesson well.
The current order of the political economy cannot take us where we want to go. That is why more than half our people would migrate if they had the chance; why so many think they would be better off if we were still a colony. Please do not let us continue to be the last to appreciate the paralysing depth of alienation across the land.
For the truth that most of the population already know, but we seem not to, is that neither side alone can lead Jamaica out of the morass of social deconstruction, economic malaise and widening inequality that cramp the life prospects of our people.
Look what wholehearted agreement on electoral policy and fidelity to economic stabilisation has wrought for us already. Why should this approach be the exception and not the norm in developing and executing national policy?
This is why I could not understand how we failed to negotiate, rather than disagree on, the National Identification System and Banking Services bills. Why drive each other to the wall when we both appreciate the need for the reforms they represent? The same obtains with respect to the constitutional changes that we agree are well-needed, but which require a two-thirds majority or assent by referendum. In the present climate of advantage-taking, they will continue to be postponed because we don't trust each other enough to proceed.
So I am calling for a rethinking of parliamentary structure and conduct as an outward sign and a first stage of commitment to deep reformation of our political culture - from one which thrives on one-upmanship to one that prizes collaboration towards urgent common purpose.
And since it is very hard for institutions and vested persons to transform themselves, the pressure will most likely have to come from interests outside the parties.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.