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Stuck in politics of the past, we need to break the mold

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In small countries like ours, politics and politicians play a significant role in the everyday life of citizens, far out of proportion to what they ought to be. Almost every conversation, every topic of discussion, whether on crime, jobs, sexuality or religion, at some point in time politics rears its head, sometimes the ugly side of it which excludes reason and compromise. It is as though we believe that every problem has a direct political solution.

What is frightening is that the world is undergoing rapid changes – technologically, economically, socially etc. The one area in which we seem to be stuck in the past is in the area of politics. Though this is supposed to provide guidance to the economic and social base, the nature and form of our politics has changed little, in a fundamental sense, since the fifties. Neither Statehood nor Independence has brought about radical change in the way in which we approach politics.

Having inherited the Westminster two-party system, we have used it to “tribalize” our society, into “We and Dem”, the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, as in the movies. The adversarial partisan politics reaches right down into communities, homes and families, so much so that for many of us, our neighbours are characterised and described as being either ULP or NDP. It is a winner-take-all system that those on the outside are just waiting for their side to win to enjoy the fruits of victory, and revel in the suffering of their neighbours who may have supported “the other side”. Sadly, for the vast majority, that privilege only goes to a few.

We have not been able to break that colonial mold and, in fact, regard it as THE blueprint for politics- Government and Opposition, propose and oppose, you for, I against. In turn, it has stifled independent thinking, creative ideas and restricted room for initiative, the band master sets the tone and the choir follows. The result is as we see it before our very eyes.

It does not matter what the issue is, the narrow interests of party must come first. We have a crime situation that neither party has a clear solution which is affecting us all, but we seem to be more interested in trying to prove who has the better ideas than in finding solutions. So, the ULP initiates Pan Against Crime but the NDP trivializes the issue. It comes up with a Social Redemption Charter which is ridiculed by the ULP, and now ends up with “Walk against Crime” as its idea. Where are we going? Shouldn’t the political leadership on both sides be meeting together with the Police top-brass, religious and social leaders to find a common solution?

Then there is the matter of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). From all indications we are going to have another political circus with it, just as we did with constitutional reform. Why do we need party positions on what is a matter of fundamental importance to our judicial advancement and decolonisation process? Instead, we have the NDP making a statement of rejection and now the ULP in its weekly newspaper column attacking it. The NDP is placing itself unfortunately on the wrong side of history, allowing the proverbial tail to wag the dog, but attacks from the ULP will not help, the NDP will insist on a referendum and its members, bound by partisanship, will do as they did in 2009, and put party before country.

That is what happened in 2009, when the constitutional reform process degenerated into a party battle. Interestingly, on reflection, I sometimes wonder how many of our politicians, on both sides, ever took the matter seriously. I remember for instance, the Constitutional Reform Committee meeting with our Parliamentarians, and getting the overwhelming impression that both sides were at one in terms of opposing any attempt to break the two-party mold and to deepen the democratic process by involving civil society in governance.

Our two-party, tribal politics is destroying us, providing nothing new in terms of political organisation and practice. All the “new” and “young” faces introduced on both sides soon become fused in the old system. We are trapped and must break the mold.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.