“I am not a liar”: An iconic phrase for how long?

I’m a keen sports fan, and what better way to use the weekend time for relaxation than to take in a good slug of live sporting action. Now, many may not agree, but I see politics as another sporting contest. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think so.

In Jamaica, the sport of politics is played on many different pitches. This weekend, we had the annual conference of the official parliamentary opposition, Jamaica Labour Party. This time last year, the conference was all a dither over its leadership contest. Then-leader, Andrew Holness, has thrown out the challenge and aspirant, Audley Shaw, had picked it up and was running strongly, he thought, according to the polls. Well, they say that only one poll counts, and when the votes were counted, Audley (affectionately termed ‘Man a yard’) was licking his wounds. All was not sweetness and light on the day, and has hardly become so in the twelve months since. But, the battle between winner and loser has been out on the back burner. AndrewShaw
From my house, I could not hear the sounds of political revelry. However, I needed to go to New Kingston twice during the afternoon, and the nonstandard sound of a happy crowd–blaring vuvuzelas–could be heard loud and clear.

I was not really tempted to turn off real sport, like football and tennis, to tune into the political version, but was interested when the leader came to the podium. He’s been PM once, and seems to want to be PM again. He’s in a great position, because the current PM is presiding over a period littered with political banana skins falling all over the place, and she and her ministers are skidding on them with the greatest of ease. In most countries, if the government handed the opposition such easy targets most people would say that the government must fall. But, this is Jamaica. Partisanship, which is as tribal as can be, means that obvious sins and transgressions are either not seen by those of the guilty party or passed off as contrived by [fill in the gap to blame any other agent].

During the past week, the PM had one of those parliamentary performances in defence of the seemingly indefensible, regarding the use of National Housing Trust (NHT) funds to buy land that house a tourist attraction. She did not clarify the situation, and set off more questions about what actually had taken place, and (more disturbing to my febrile mind) sown huge seeds of doubt about her own oversight of a portfolio that is in her hands. The most stunning revelation was that she apparently did not know about the transaction, which took place early in 2013, until a few days ago, when it was reported in one of the local newspapers. If that’s the truth, it’s worse than farcical, given that the director of her office is on the NHT board. Is it really believable that such an official would be privy to actions taken within the portfolio of the responsible minister/PM and not utter a peep? It beggars belief. But, the PM had stridently told Parliament that she was as straight as an arrow.

That seeming contradiction–of a straight arrow, flying with a bent fashion–surfaced, not surprisingly, during Mr. Holness’ conference speech. He talked at length about the brewing ‘NHT saga’ and took the chance to put in front of his supporters, at least, and the nation, if interested, an interesting picture.

Politicians need contrast between each other. The obvious ones in this case, of one leader being male and another female, is not a contrast that can work positively in all cases. It could easily alienate a good segment of the voting public.

But, to be handed the contrast that is about truthfulness is almost a gift hoped for but never received. Mr. Holness boldly stated to his audience, that the PM had failed to meet a slew of promises made to the electorate. But, he went on: “I never butter it up. I never pretty it up. I tell you what was going to happen. I am not a liar.” (my stress).

A liar? Well, first, a politician would hardly say the opposite, now. Rather, the assertion of being truthful is  often stated–and taken with large doses of salt, by many. Or, the idea is left clearly in view that all that is being uttered is the truth. But, to state the negative leaves an interesting void to fill: who is a liar? In the mind of the partisan, at least, there’s only one answer. Second, no one said Mr. Holness was a liar, so what would prompt him to deny something of which he had not been accused? Answer. The assertion is meant to be a contrast. And to whom is he wishing to be contrasted? One guess.

Given the reactive nature of politics, I wait with bated breath to hear how the straight arrow deals with this.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)