Kenneth and Martin Bingham | The British monarchy means no harm!
THE HEADLINE in the June 8, 2022 edition of this newspaper, ‘Election-year deadline for ditching the Queen’, announced the Government’s intention to remove the British monarch as head of state. The plan encompasses general constitutional reforms as well.
This ‘marriage’ is perhaps more than one of convenience. However, these are separate issues. The general constitutional reforms are about our domestic affairs. These amendments may be altered later, by this or any succeeding generation. The removal of the British monarchy is essentially about our external affairs. There is no mechanism to amend this reform by either this or any succeeding generation. A major difference, indeed! They should be delinked and treated separately.
But why is there such haste at this time? The world is facing what are arguably some of its worst crises since World War II. Should we be preparing instead for any eventuality, rather than expending scarce resources and further dividing an already-woefully polarised and fractured nation in a fruitless endeavour?
Jamaicans should have every reason to be cautious – even sceptical. Should we trust the judgement of this Government on this issue? These are the heirs of those who promoted and succeeded in withdrawing Jamaica from the West Indies Federation in the early 1960s. Their argument then, was, “We can go it alone.” How has that panned out? What is today’s argument, slavery and colonialism?
Today, countries need even more and greater alliances, as the Ukraine experience so vividly and tragically demonstrates. Why contemplate the weakening of any of the nation’s alliances at this time? Notice how a number of European nations have been scrambling to join the European Union and NATO, following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine! Alliances are essential in this complex world.
One example of the type of collaboration that might flow from alliances was seen in the visit of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Jamaica in one of our moments of need. He stood beside then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson on the median at West Parade, in the heart of crime-infested downtown Kingston, and outlined assistance his government was providing Jamaica to help tackle crime.
A referendum is promised. Here is a word of extreme caution. A referendum is not akin to a general election. The latter takes place at intervals. Thus, the electorate has an opportunity to revisit and confirm or overturn their earlier decision at such intervals. A referendum, if successful, creates an almost eternally binding decision not only on the present generation, but on future generations. We should not be cavalier about a general election; but we cannot be cavalier about a referendum! The unfortunate breakup of the West Indies Federation, which Jamaica instigated and spearheaded, should be an object lesson.
How, then, do we responsibly protect the integrity of a referendum which is binding on future generations of Jamaicans? The first-past-the-post, or 50 per cent plus one, is not an appropriate model for a referendum. Here is why: the low turnout at our polls must require a sufficiently substantial majority of votes cast, in order to ensure legitimacy of the process going forward. If a simple majority is required, then it must be 50 per cent plus one of the sum total of registered voters. Otherwise, we must consider at least 66 2/3 per cent of votes cast. During the last general election, the poll was under 40 per cent. At 50 per cent plus one of votes cast, this could mean that a mere 1/5, or 20 per cent, of the electorate could decide the fate of the nation’s unborn generations on such a fundamental issue. Thus, even 66 2/3 per cent might be inadequate! We must safeguard the integrity of the process as well as our actions. Let us embrace the words of Dr Peter Phillips: “… We are responsible for ensuring that good policies get made – policies that will protect the future not only of this generation, but of future generations.”
Let us reflect on Jamaica’s path during the past 80 years:
• Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944;
• Internal self-government in the late 1950s;
• Independence in 1962.
Our transition from slavery to Independence has been far less traumatic than for many.
Jamaica’s latter colonial days were filled with enormous promises of a great future. Regrettably, Independence has not delivered on those promise.
To better understand our current predicament, let us focus on the words of Dr Peter Phillips. He is reported in the online version of this newspaper on November 25, 2021, headlined thus: ‘Phillips: Political tribalism has held back Jamaica’. He was making his contribution to the Constituency Debate in the House. He noted, “The truth is this failure of Jamaica to grow economically and to substantially improve or transform the quality of life of our citizens [since Independence] is a grave indictment on all of us and the political system, in particular.”
Let us now expend all efforts and energies in developing our country and its resources. Let us develop our mineral spas. A noted German geology professor surveyed our mineral spas during the 1980s and reported finding a total of 64. His comments, made in a documentary aired on the then JBC TV, are chilling: “Jamaica is sitting on a gold mine,” he said. What are we doing to tap into this vast pool of potential wealth for the Jamaican people? Nothing!
Jamaicans – in all walks of life – should come together in an effort to protect Jamaica’s self-interest: the private sector, the Church, civil society groups, workers’ associations, professional organisations, student bodies, civic groups – in short, all Jamaicans.
Kenneth Bingham, 83, a descendant of slaves and slave masters, is a management consultant in retirement. Martin Bingham, his son, who is a strategic management consultant, was born in London, England. They may be reached at email@example.com.