Orville Taylor | Kari go, bring come
It was an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, and Commander Will Riker, first officer of the USS Enterprise, was on a Klingon ‘Bird of Prey’ ship. For the non ‘Trekkies’, the Klingons are a fictional race of humanoids, who are very much like us, but are rough, unwashed, and violent.
Fierce warriors, they consider humans to be weak, puny, and cowardly, while they extol bravery and honour and will cut your throat in an instant. Klingons are maligned as less genteel, aggressive, and of lower intelligence but a proud warrior race that faces death without fear.
Traditional enemies in the earlier decades of Star Trek, they became uneasy allies and in the latest versions even hybridised, producing characters having both human and Klingon parents. While on the Klingon craft, something went awry and the rules of engagement tested Riker’s loyalty.
Although accepting that he had to submit to the authority of the alien captain, there was a critical moment when he was offered the choice to betray the Captain of the Enterprise to show his allegiance and accept a position on the Klingon ship. Riker politely declined, after which the Klingon Captain responded that if he had switched allegiances and betrayed his ship, he would have been killed a traitor.
Unless one studies honour and warrior codes such as the Samurai/Bushido and way of the Ninja, the extreme reactions in some cultures to persons who cross aisles can be completely misunderstood. In some cultures and organisations, including modern gangs, joining with ‘the enemy’ carries very severe sanctions and persons who make the choice to leave are generally in danger for the rest of their lives. Indeed, in some groups, there is no forgiveness, even after death.
Thank God we are a democracy and despite our barbaric killing of ourselves by ourselves, we do not put hands on politicians, and I wish this code would trickle down because poor black lives matter. Yet, when politicians jump from one deck of a sea vessel, they must be careful that they do not land in the deep ship hold. Sometimes it works and other times it goes horribly wrong. However, there is always the dark cloud of suspicion hovering.
As dramatic as it was last week, the crossing of the floor by parish councillor Kari Douglas was neither a first nor a surprise. Of course, given that her late father Easton, a man with more orange in his blood than many present-day Comrades, must be spinning like a turbine in his grave now, her giving her seat to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) cannot sit well with diehard Comrades.
Signs were on the wall months ago when she broke her chain at the Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC) and never stopped until she kept rising until the challenge for the presidency of the People’s National Party (PNP) petered out.
What the flare-up by the BHC emergency section revealed was that Kari was as fed up as poor people in Bounty Killer’s song. However, when she tweeted that she was discouraging electors from voting for the PNP, the party for which she was elected to serve, I wondered if she detoured to the animal hospital and had taken a copious swig of a psychotic feline’s urine. Now, there does seem to be a method to her madness.
Changing political allegiance is a constitutional right. It is protected by freedom of association and freedom of conscience. Many politicians have done it before. Among these are JLP backbone Karl Samuda, who took his seat from the JLP, gave it to the PNP and lit the ‘Sankey and sang the candle’ and found his way back home to the JLP, seat and all. Few people remember that Audley ‘Man a Yard’ Shaw was a PNP Youth Organisation member, but they recall the departure of Ian Hayles from greener pastures. More recently, my friend Sharon Hay Webster bumped heads with her Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP and went on the other side of the aisle.
Joan Gordon Webley, a long-time Labourite, switched to the PNP in 2015 but apparently did not see the loss in the next election. Senior lawyer Patrick Atkinson, QC, knows the quadruple of being defence counsel and attorney general and, of course, Comrade and Labourite, and is a good candidate for the show, ‘Where Are They Now?’
Farther back in history, Madame Rose Leon won seats for both parties and people from central Jamaica recall that BB Coke also completed that feat in the 1940s to the 1960s. I am sure there are others, but we also need to recall that founder of the JLP, Alexander Bustamante, was also a founding member of the PNP.
Showing the digit
Still, there is a big difference between switching allegiance outside and crossing sides in a house or chamber of elected members. When thousands of voters dip their fingers in the ink for the party, which one is elected to use as a vehicle to represent them, the act of crossing the floor is like showing them the digit just beside it.
People in Jamaica vote for political parties, and it is very seldom that they vote according to their consciences. Thus, if a person is on a ballot and the electorate no longer likes the party he/she represents, it is very difficult for him/her to be elected unless he/she is a mega-actor like Samuda. The casting of a vote is a choice of a party as well as an individual. Most elected officials are elected because the constituents chose the party; not the candidates.
Therefore, crossing the floor is an act which potentially subverts the will of the people and cannot be simply an individual choice, because the member did not elect himself. It is like being sent as a delegate to vote in a particular way and voting in another.
Thus, in my considered opinion, where elected politicians have a change of heart, they must resign and return in a different colour in the next election.
That’s true democracy but the polls will tell.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com