#COVID19Chronicles-138: August 30, 2020-The leaders debate

Last night’s third national debate had much more bite and cut and thrust. This was a heavyweight bout and fireworks were flying. This wasn’t the hurling of brickbats we see in Parliament, but it also wasn’t the genteel fireside chat of the previous debate on economy and finance. Each man had his prey in sight and went for the kill shot early and often. That’s how we got to meet “Mas’ Tom” to help him with stories to lambast Dr. Phillips, whom he quickly dubbed “Pappa Tax”. Some may not like that, but it’s at least gives a sense that blood runs through their veins.

We saw a PM standing firmly on his government’s record of achievement. Getting things done was the mantra, whatever choice of words or actions described.

We saw an Opposition leader who had energy and clarity and qualities of a potential national government leader. His focus tended to be on betterment of people and opportunities for them to achieve that.

Questions were mostly well-pointed, especially those from Dionne Jackson-Miller, who was the real winner, for probing and persistence. But, that’s her norm.

George Davis punched well, too, but didn’t connect as well as DJM. She came with zinger upper cuts on matters to do with the PM’s apparent repeated disregard for the Constitution:

I, personally, put much store in the array of numbers trotted out in these kinds of debates, because I know that the ‘truth’ being delivered is whatever version of ‘facts’ the speaker wants. We may sometimes be asked to compare apples and pears, but without the option to clarify which. But, I notice where people stumble over numbers. So, the fuzzy maths about housing starts doesn’t really move me. But, I find odd that Dr. Phillips stumbled over the number of years of Jamaica’s independence “52…58”, not least because he has lived them all. 🤔 What did the PM mean when talking about “flattening the murder rate”? Too many COVID-19 updates, I fear. Who wants murders ‘flattening’ around 1000 a year?

I’m also not too bothered by what is really hype; image is part and parcel of the whole political game. So, we had the PM strutting onto the stage sporting his now iconic green Clarks shoes. If we didn’t see them during the walk-on, we got them at the end with the ‘elbow bump’ farewell (see below). But, not everyone likes the shoes.

I was bothered by the PM’s rambling answer to the question of how he’s dealt with corruption or misgovernance within his administration, for which I think he should get little credit for what has been at best ambivalence and at worst tolerance of corruption—and perception is key in that waving hands to show they are clean doesn’t cut it for most people when they see what ‘dirt’ has been blowing around. We have court cases pending, so the legal system may not come down definitively on the matter of crimes committed, but the stench that’s been lingering hasn’t been sweet.

The PM was duly criticized for the way he has accumulated power into his own hands (minister of 6 portfolios), and in the Office of the Prime Minister—“the Ministry of everything“. That allowed Dr. Phillips to contrast himself as being more about ’Team’. (In truth, that may be a way of making sure he doesn’t go down alone with the ship ‘Orange Manifesto’).

Again, time management reared its head, and both leaders struggled mightily to get their words out in the allotted time. In my opinion, the PM was guilty of this to an egregious extent bordering on rudeness in pushing through to the end of his desired words, despite calls to stop by the moderator. That’s disrespectful on several levels, but it’s also telling about how ‘power’ is seen by some.

The PM stressed leadership, strength, and stamina—a set of metaphors for youthfulness—and who can get things done.

Many people ‘scored’ the debate at worst a tie and a best a clear win for Dr. Phillips.

More elaborate polling is also underway:

Although, I thought the discussion panel for the economy/finance debate was weak in not committing themselves to identifying a winner, I wasn’t taken by the elaborate scoring method that was employed last night, which seemed like a means to force decisions.

On final optics, both remembered to urged voters to cast their ballots, appropriately. They were also each given a chance to send a message about voting safely in COVID-risky times.

The debate was a warning about polls. Dr. Phillips has been trailing badly in favourability ratings for months, by some 40 percentage points.

However, on his performance last night, whatever his ‘favourability’, he was at least a match for the PM. That may spur some to give PNP candidates a boost, feeling that the leader isn’t such a loser, after all. However, his performance may do little to change the other poll view that PNP has performed poorly and is disunited.

Image courtesy of 1SpotMedia

My takeaway from the debates, especially this last one, is what economics tells us is important: what shifts sentiments. Jamaica’s electorate is fickle and has shown it’s ready to dump an administration that has done many good things for the population, but can get overtaken by the lure of a juicy present (in 2016, ‘1.5’ [J$1.5 million tax threshold] did the trick). (People may now have views about how good was the cut in income tax being offset by increases in GCT and other indirect taxes.) This time around, I don’t thing the bag of goodies offered by PNP will do it, but a funny conundrum about what the current administration represents in all its pushing to archive may create its downfall. It’s often not really taken people along with it. Those with better memories will look at the road programs and how pretty the ‘cyaapet’ is but not forget the months of mayhem it inflicted on many of us, and how many loud concerns went unheeded. Last week’s heavy rains also showed that the quality of some of this work is shoddy. The management of the pandemic may be such an event, where the sense of calling elections when the spike is clear will strike some as another rung on the ladder of disregard for popular concerns. That’s separate from addressing what would have been a better time. So, I’m positioned to see a closer election than many predict. I have no money or reputation on the line, but want to see if those rumblings in my gut are meaningful.

#COVID19Chronicles-134: August 26, 2020-The Debates begin: kid gloves stuff, so far

The National General Election Debates began last night, hosted by the Jamaica Debates Commission, with teams of 3 representing the two main parties—I really missed the chance to hear from the now-crashed-on-takeoff Jamaica Progressive Party.

It wasn’t riveting to watch, and being a declared fogey, I found the 9pm start time too late for my tastes. I gave it 15 minutes, went to bed and enjoyed catching up with the rest this morning—it’s just over an hour. I don’t need to listen to analysts discussing things after.

I’m no fan of televised political debates, which are too often just platforms for party sound bites, a bit of back biting, and often short on real substance; more damage-inflicting on the opponents, if possible, and damage limitation for your own side. Because politicians are often fast and loose with their facts, many such debates now come with fact checking; I didn’t detect it last night.

My vote won’t change because of the debate, but my views on politicians may. However, all on show last night have given us hours of airplay over the past four years, so little new will surface for me. A few odd juxtapositions happened, for instance, when Raymond Pryce (brought in to replace a COVID-infected Peter Bunting) was dealing with a question on roads, I couldn’t help but see him protesting at the weekend by lying on the rain-sodden street in the constituency he is contesting. His explanation to the Gleaner is worth a read:

‘Pryce said he was told by the policewoman that he was in contravention of the Disaster Risk Management Act, insisting that unless he lived in the community or had a spouse there he had to leave. The politician said he demanded to know what section of the act he had breached, but the deputy superintendent could not say. “So, mi siddung, then mi cut me two hands behind mi neck and mi cross mi feet at the ankle,” he said. Pryce said the policewoman told him that he was “an embarrassment” and that his antics were unnecessary.’

The video is as good:

The debaters started off mainly nervous, but Lisa Hanna showed that she has been good at this stagecraft for a while. Pryce, too, was the consummate debater in terms of tone and demeanor, and how words and looks must meld to give the right aura. It was all genteel stuff, really, for the most part, and because it’s supposed to be about politesse as well as politics, it’s just a bit sad.

It was not until after about 50 minutes that things got a little spicy. First, Dr. Tufton went after Dr. Campbell (stating clearly “the member opposite”–Dr. Campbell is an MP, like him–except he apparently looked at Mr. Pryce, which caused him some offence) about a reference to a death ‘during’ the COVID-19 pandemic and linked it to the government “campaigning”—the by-election was in early-March (well before any national COVID issues) and the unfortunate death during childbirth was in mid-April. Not sure what Dr. Campbell was trying there, except a badly aimed cheap shot. Anyway, back came Mr. Pryce to correct the minister of health on yet another ‘piece of misinformation’–the apparent misdirected glance–and he went there!!!! He got in his quick jab about ‘marketing…’ and stopped short enough to for it to not cross the ‘Market Me’ line (a matter related to the company and its contract with the ministry of health and wellness, that some want to suggest comes from a personal relationship between the minister and one of the company’s principals). It was truly bizarre, not least because, all through the Tufton-Campbell exchange, the cameras panned only between the two of them, so we the viewers were in no doubt about the exchange. As for Mr. Pryce, perception is a funny thing.

But, we had to put up with some stolid stuff, instead, the rest of the time. With no audience, the atmosphere was also lacking. None of the piped crowd noise like in recent COVID-affected football matches, sadly: “C’mon, Tufton! C’mon, Tufton!” 🙂

I’m a sports buff, so I have no doubt that things like debates are fine for a country’s intellectuals or insomniacs, but I would like to see a change-up. Why not some arm-wrestling, or a simple display of strength test. In this era where almost everyone is working out and looking to get fitter, put some of them under a barbell and add the weights till they say ‘Stop!”. Burpees, crunches, push-ups, wind sprints. We want to know these people have the stamina. So, have them do a few wind sprints, or spin around a pole and then answer the questions, while catching their breath. At the least, it would be entertaining. I know some would welcome a no-holds-barred WWF slam down.

In passing through the corridors of social media earlier, I was intrigued by the range of opinions, praise and criticisms. I was also intrigued by various displays of what could be called ‘shade’. This one from Phase 3 Production’s head had me rolling. It’s innocent enough on the face of it, but, did it need to be noted? 🙂

Some interesting ;social distancing occurred

We have two more of these to deal with.

But, hey, spare a thought for our northern neighbours having to endure the Republic National Conference, with screech-fest performances such as that of Kimberly Guilfoyle:

Sometimes, you have to be grateful for life’s small mercies 🙂