Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Westminster's weakness: personality over principle

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Nigel Clarke
Dr Chris Tufton sharing stage with MP for Central Manchester, Peter Bunting, at a Jamaica Moves roadshow in Manchester. Bunting has received flak for his critique of Nigel Clarke as reflecting "black royalty" and the affectation of black Englishmen of colonial times.
Damion Crawford
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Dr Nigel Clarke's recent election as MP has highlighted many ills inherent in Jamaica's adopted system of governance.

Calm down. This is only indirectly related to Peter Bunting's intemperate remarks about Dr Clarke's education. Yes, Peter Bunting was quoted as saying "... he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty", which only converted a Jamaica Labour party (JLP_ win into a JLP landslide, so I was bemused by the call from the JLP for Bunting to retract his remarks.

Unlike Peter Bunting, I grew up in colonial times and I can't recall meeting a "black Englishman", so I've no idea what he was trying to say or what he was trying to accomplish. The entire bizarre affair is best left alone, except as it provides lessons how not to conduct our political affairs.

But the trouble is this isn't a one-off misspeak by Peter Bunting. Too many of his public statements appear to lack the necessary breadth or appreciation for geopolitics, Jamaica's standing in the region or world, or his own political party's history. He appears obsessed with colonisation, yet doesn't appear to recognise it when it's staring him in the face.

Just last year, he asserted that the Chinese, with whom his own Government had recent ongoing, beneficial bilateral relations, were colonising sectors of Jamaica's economy. It seems he doesn't grasp the essential role China plays in Jamaica's foreign-policy requirements as a bargaining chip, assisting us to benefit from trade and other interactions with the USA without having to become an American lackey.

So, Bunting's latest outburst, compounded by his reliance on what's now known as the '11-word defence' (his were 17 words) to support a dogged refusal to apologise, shouldn't be given more attention than it deserves. Based on his past public performance, this was expected, and, in my opinion, proves he's unlikely to be an acceptable candidate for future national leadership.

Rational critique of Dr Clarke's candidacy is that it once again exposes the irretrievable weakness of trying to operate a Westminster system of governance in Jamaica. It's obvious to most impartial observers that this by-election, despite Dr Clarke's valiant assertions to the contrary, had much more to do with ensuring his availability for Cabinet than anything related to constituency representation. Everything about Nigel Clarke's rÈsumÈ and record of performance screams his eligibility for membership in any Cabinet.

I was impressed by his efforts to implement a local version of El Systema, a Venezuelan creation that used music classes to uplift underprivileged youth and provide a peaceful route to their lives. I'm firmly of the opinion that no serious long-term crime plan can work unless music is taught as a compulsory course at every high school.

Regrettably, the intent of a very young SputNick (at the time) to contribute to Dr Clarke's effort by offering free piano lessons at St Andrew Technical High School was thwarted on his very first day when the Old Ball and Chai n was prevented from driving onto the school compound to pick him up after the class because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. SputNick's father immediately withdrew SputNick's services. This wasn't Dr Clarke's fault. He tried.

So, his qualifications are spotless, his patriotic intentions established, and his ability to manage any Cabinet portfolio incontrovertible. The issue is, why should this eminently qualified individual have to go out on political hustings, make campaign promises upon which he can't possibly deliver, and, when successful, use much of his time and energy focusing on local issues like potholes and poor water supplies instead of being able to concentrate exclusively on helping develop policy and running a ministry?

Management of a Cabinet ministry, to include the effective use of scarce national resources, requires the type of education that Nigel Clarke was fortunate and deserving to have received and to which every Jamaican youth should aspire.

In order to effectively run a Cabinet ministry, the minister must be able to employ critical thinking. Critical thinking would lead a Cabinet minister to be cautious of spending huge sums, causing massive dislocation, or plugging a diagnosed leak on some Cornwall Regional floors, only to discover that the problem was a leaking roof. The hospital looks to me as if large portions of its external walls are either unpainted or haven't been painted for years. Concrete absorbs liquid and creates mould, so a combination of proper guttering and painting would've cut off the problem at its root decades ago. Was this ever considered?

I'm confident, based on knowledge of Dr Clarke's history, that he'll do more critical thinking on any assigned portfolio and less profiling for cameras.

Congratulations to Major General Antony Anderson, Jamaica's latest commissioner of police. What I'm sure of is that, like Nigel Clarke, Commissioner-in-waiting Anderson has benefited from a "great British education", including at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and also a great American education at the Canadian Forces Staff School and the Canadian Land Forces Staff College, at the International Officer Studies Division of the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and at the Harvard Kennedy School of Management.

General Anderson is another critical thinker who I confidently expect to implement new and transformational policies at the Jamaica Constabulary Force. What he fails to bring to his new job is either a 'squaddie' mentality, or a 'rural and down-to-earth ethos'. If he did, he'd be doomed to the same abject failure as recent predecessors.

I see what this Government is doing. Despite a Westminster system of governance that forces one into the mediocre mindset that a 'rural and down-to-earth ethos' is required for political leadership, it is seeking to fill political and managerial vacancies with transformational, critical thinkers. Sometimes, as in the recent appointment of a chief justice in an unconstitutionally 'acting' capacity, the kindest description of Government's 'actions' to bring these 'results' would be ham-fisted, but the thought process being used is change-oriented, and absolutely necessary to bring about the dramatic attitude adjustment and results Jamaica needs.

Jamaica's current prime minister, despite his occasional muddle of legal and constitutional matters, is obviously a critical thinker who won't be satisfied to simply occupy the office, but is intent on leaving Jamaica better than he found it.

 

NOT THE PROBLEM

 

Good for him. I also read into his 'actions' that he wants to avoid an expensive and possibly contentious process of sweeping constitutional reform, which might delay, and eventually derail, his plans for Jamaicans' welfare. But, Young Andrew, you're not the problem. Jamaica's problem is the Westminster system. Maybe (I doubt it) you can find creative ways around that system to achieve your lofty national goals. But what about the next prime minister? And the one after that?

Unfortunately for us, Andrew Holness is under no pressure to take the constitutional reform plunge because, at every step of the way, an anachronistic, lumbering, tribal, ineffective People's National Party (PNP) is acting as if it's so far removed from national reality that it is almost invisible. An outwitted PNP isn't being helped in its inelegant attempts at relevance by imbecilic public analyses like one appearing on the Twitter account of Damion Crawford:

"In six by-elections since 2016, PNP won four and JLP won two. PNP total votes, 26,748; JLP total votes, 14,714. That's a 12,034 difference. The noise isn't more important than the FACT."

Yawn! Persisting in what appears to be a simple-minded impersonation of a time traveller from 1980, Damion doubled down on the "black royalty" issue:

"This is how #BlackRoyalty has treated us peasants ... . They were warned against the property tax increases". This was accompanied by a report from online newspaper Loop News about a 99-year-old man charged for non-payment of property taxes. He wasn't Dunn:

"This is how #BlackRoyalty has treat (sic) us peasants....they found money for roads in every by-election #PeasantPunishment", accompanied by a Jamaica Observer story of the Cornwall Regional debacle.

This is a pathetically sad reincarnation of old-style politics at its worst. Maybe the Government deserves the critiques. But what on earth does either comment have to do with Nigel Clarke, at whom they're obviously aimed?

Not everybody in the PNP sought refuge in backwardness. The following came from Basil Waite:

"Congratulations @DrNigelClarke on being elected MP. As a Munronian, I'm proud of you. As someone who has accomplished only because of education, I'm proud of you. Your achievements embody the very reason the PNP was formed, and continue to pursue the politics of empowerment."

This means there's hope for the PNP, but Bunting and Crawford's attitudes could keep it in Opposition for 20 years.

The PM says that he believes in term limits, so he must ensure his transformative actions bring sustainable results. Get the constitutional reform show on the road TODAY!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.