Editorial | Censure Clarke, Brown Burke
Angela Brown Burke, the shadow labour minister and member of parliament for St Andrew South West, must be appropriately reprimanded for her unparliamentary language and open defiance of Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert in the House on Tuesday.
At the same time, Nigel Clarke, the finance minister and MP for St Andrew North West, mustn’t escape censure for his crass playing of the race card against the Opposition leader, Mark Golding, sparking the outburst for which Dr Brown Burke deserves to be rebuked.
In the meantime, Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert must undertake an introspection on her own performance as arbiter of parliamentary behaviour. Her conduct on Tuesday suggested that she might be returning to old ways after a stretch in which she appeared to be finally gaining a hang of the job. She must continuously remind herself that even in the heat of partisan debate, the Speaker’s job transcends party affiliation and/or political preferences.
The Speaker is to be even-handed in her rulings, acting in accordance with the Standing Orders that govern the operation of Parliament.
Tuesday’s imbroglio stemmed from Finance Minister Clarke’s apparently choreographed reference of an action by Mr Golding as being akin to “Massa Mark”, undoubtedly aware of the racial undertones of that slur. If Dr Clarke wasn’t, it would be even worse, for it would suggest a disconnection from the society in which he lives and, importantly, practises politics.
First, Mr Golding is a white Jamaican nationalist who leads a political party in a majority black country. Nothing in Mr Golding’s life, behaviour or immediate family antecedents suggests that he believes that his race ought to bestow upon him any special privilege. His father, Sir John Golding, a famed orthopaedic surgeon, has been lionised for his contribution to the island, especially poor, black Jamaicans.
Days before Dr Clarke’s remarks in Parliament, Mr Golding, celebrating his party’s rise in support in opinion polls, claimed that in defence of their own decline, “Labourites” (members of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) blamed the People’s National Party (PNP) for everything negative that happened in the country, including when Parliament’s audio system malfunctioned during Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ contribution to the Budget Debate. In a throw-away line, Mr Golding quipped, “damn fools”.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Dr Clarke interpreted the “damn fools” quip as a declaration that people who support the JLP were fools, rather than, as some people did, a statement of the silliness of the claim directed at the leadership of the governing party. This newspaper concedes to Dr Clarke’s interpretation.
But the finance minister used that statement to segue to pinning the “Massa Mark” label on Mr Golding, thus invoking the honorific for white people on slave plantations and for the leadership of colonial Jamaica. Or as a pejorative for the supercilious, who trade in class, status or colour.
Dr Clarke, a black Jamaican, will have a hard time convincing most people that his remark was not intended as a cheap shot, using race in a country whose motto is “Out of Many, One People”.
The minister’s remark is especially disturbing for its echo of the idiocy of last August’s statement by PNP parliamentarian, Lothan Cousins, that he failed to understand “how poor, black people can support” the JLP.
“That is not the party for us,” said Mr Cousins, who is black.
Before Mr Cousins’ remark was the quip by the PNP’s general secretary, Dayton Campbell, of Robert Montague, that JLP’s chairman, being “the leader of the black section” of the JLP.
At the time of the Mr Cousins’ statement, this newspaper warned that his “crass attempt at creating political schisms on the basis of colour” was a recipe “for a return to the worst bits of the distressed political culture from which Jamaica has worked hard to extricate itself, but the remnants of which are still to be defeated, and to which no one wants to return”.
We still hold to that position and remain disappointed that he and Dr Campbell weren’t, as we recommended, censured by their party. Dr Clarke’s offence was committed in Parliament, which has an obligation to ensure he is held to account.
With regard to Dr Brown Burke, she was clearly out of order and disrespectful, and offended the decorum of the House with her declaration to Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert, that she wouldn’t withdraw “on your terms” her “shut your mouth” admonition of a member of the House who attempted to interrupt her effort to have Dr Clarke withdraw his slur against Mr Golding.
But Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert isn’t totally blameless, having failed to protect the Opposition member from the challenges as she attempted to defend her leader. And perhaps Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert genuinely didn’t hear the provocative soto voce claim by JLP gadfly, Everald Warmington, about the presumed correctness of Dr Clarke’s remark.
“It is not unparliamentary,” Mr Warmington declared, “He (Mr Golding) is a descendant of a slave master.”
Jamaica has serious problems of economic and social privation, some of which are displayed in colourism and class relationships that flow directly from the country’s history of slavery and colonialism. But these won’t be resolved by crass political discourse, and not when it takes place in Parliament.