Mon | Sep 26, 2016

When Seaga brought down the House

Published:Thursday | March 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Lance Neita is a public relations and communications consultant

The wit and humour of Eddie Seaga is often downplayed when giving account of his substantial contributions to parliament, governance, economics, planning and culture.

Like everything else about the man, he is obviously in complete control of this part of his psyche, releasing it at the most unexpected and surprising moments, thereby taking the listener or audience completely off guard.

He displays a reserved sense of humour, which adds pungent depth and meaning when used to make a point or to lighten up social exchange. His jokes are often given straight-faced, as if challenging the listener to find the humour while he moves on.

No surprise then that he forewarns in the introduction to his autobiography not to expect the usual side bars on relationships or activities of a non-political nature that would match the usual format of biographies. "I had little of those things in my life because of my involvement 24/7, as they say, in national affairs."

The reader may, therefore, search diligently but without success to find any of the legendary one-liners. The omission is regrettable as Mr Seaga has given us some quite famous off-the-cuff ripostes that could fill the pages of another book if he felt that way inclined.

Unforgettable moments

With 40 years of political representation under his belt, he features prominently among the numerous anecdotes of witty exchanges and repartee that have generated laughter, temper, and good-natured teasing in the House in spite of the gravity of the matter being debated.

There have been some unforgettable moments has parliamentary oratory when speakers of the likes of Bustamante, Norman Manley, Wills Isaacs, Rose Leon, Florizel Glasspole, Hugh Shearer, Wilton Hill, Iris Collins, gave no quarter as they clashed in the House, to the delight of an attentive public which followed the blow-by-blow accounts on radio or raced to buy the newspapers to read the reports.

It was Seaga, however, who, in theatrical terms,0 'brought down both sides of the House' when in response to an announcement of a steep increase in import duties on motor vehicles in the early 1970s, he turned to the chair and asked: "Mr Speaker, is that what this government means when it says it is putting this country back on its feet?"

The laughter was shared on both sides, and of course was accompanied by loud thumping and drumming on the Opposition desks, a habit which has now become a tradition in support of any point that finds favour with a particular side in Gordon House.

The laughter was more one-sided in November 1980 when Mr Seaga was being sworn in as Prime Minister at King's House and used a punchline that left the largely labourite audience in stitches and the Comrades discomfited.

As he approached the platform to speak, the public address system suffered a temporary breakdown, and one could sense the anxiety, especially among the technicians, who felt that they were in for a tongue-lashing.

Relaxed atmosphere

It wasn't made any easier by his opening statement: "Your Excellency, it would seem that we have a malfunctioning mike," (eeh eeh now, whispered a JBC-TV cameraman), only for the prime minister to continue with a smile, "but that is a situation we have had to put up with for the past seven and one half years."

The laughter swept across the lawns of King's House, the tension was broken, the cameramen were more comfortable, and the grand ceremony continued in a relaxed atmosphere.

There was no desk to thump on this occasion. That is a signal of approval that has crept into our society and has been popularised as a substitute for handclapping. Parliamentarians could learn a lesson from this dialogue, which took place at an undetermined time some years ago between a father and his 15-year-old son while watching a televised session of the House.

"Daddy, why do the MPs always hit their desks so vigorously whenever a promise is made or a project is announced?"

Came the wise reply, "That, my son, is what is known as knocking on wood."

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications consultant and can be contacted at lanceneita@hotmail.com. Feedback may also be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.