The pure genius of Theresa May: an unnecessary election produces an obvious catastrophic result

I realise that some followers of my blog may not be on other forms of social media, or follow me there, for that matter. So, to close the communications circle, I’ll post here a Facebook live video that I made earlier today, that covered some of my thoughts on the UK General Election held on June 8. You can view it here:

In summary, the Conservative Party gave up an overall majority to ‘secure’ the largest number of seats, but no overall majority: the opposite outcome than intended when calling a snap election. The final seat count is shown in the two images from Associated Press:



Put differently, PM Theresa May’s Party won the election, but lost clear control of Parliament.


No wonder she looked shocked and dis-May-ed when accepting her own win in Maidenhead, Kent.

By contrast, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn was elated. His party had lost, but its claim on public support soared, to around 40%, from some 24%. He has the mojo.

Britain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn smiles after arriving for the declaration at his constituency in London, Friday, June 9, 2017. Britain voted Thursday in an election that started out as an attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May to increase her party’s majority in Parliament ahead of Brexit negotiations but was upended by terror attacks in Manchester and London during the campaign’s closing days. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


I think the outcome will go down as one of those unnecessary electoral disasters that sometimes befalls politicians who get taken up with the power that polls suggest may be there for the taking but who not had a real sounding of what is going through the minds of potential voters. It’s a simple disconnection that means polls will differ greatly from actual voting outcomes.

It also points out a simple weakness of polls: they are pictures of intentions, frozen at a moment in time, and do not have the power to catch the dynamism of people’s feelings. Polls also do not have the power of judging how voters will react when you actually put in front of them the option to express their sentiments in a voting booth.

The cloying pull of power is (of course) powerful. It’s greed personified, and those who seek it often miss obvious signs that they are well set already and need go searching for more.

For those who like it, the numerical analyses are fascinating, especially the surge in voter turnout, especially amongst young voters (around 70%). See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/09/general-election-sees-highest-turnout-25-years-nearly-70-britons/

The BBC has some fascinating interactive maps: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-2017-40176349

Enjoy!

Crime in Jamaica: On the verge of what?

It’s hard to know what people really feel about many topics because we have no true way of gauging all the opinions at any time. We tend to get outcries from people, both close to, and far from, issues and incidents. We get opinions thrust at us by ‘opinion shapers’–media, politicians, pressure groups, interested parties, etc. We can take from all of that what we wish. 

Right now, we are going through a lot of introspection over the high rate of violent crimes in Jamaica. Many people have no interest in solving or reducing those crimes themselves, by direct action: that’s dangerous and not sure to have success in individual or collective cases. They take that position in part from the fact that society has created bodies to deal with law and order, and they should do that task. Many people will try to do their part by being law-abiding citizens, but that does not mean that they will try to uphold the law if they see it being broken, or suspect that to be the case. Let’s agree that is a reasonable reaction if one is concerned with self-preservation. I’m not going to impose some moral duty on anyone without having a good idea how their life is shaped, with its responsibilities and past, current and future problems.

But, having left the task to the powers of law and order, people reasonably get disappointed, even angry, when it appears that these bodies are not making crime go away, and, even worse, crime seems to be increasing and getting far too close. So, some people start to clamour for change.  

That change demanded can be in several forms, but I think is distilled into (a) change of bodies (living or organizations), and (b) change of actions. So, people will seek personnel changes at the head of organizations, and maybe lower down if they feel that such wholesale change is needed. That’s what the Republic of Georgia did a few years ago by sacking its whole police force (known to be corrupt) and starting over. Or, people will seek or get different organizations, such as different forms of legal processes to speed up the the wheels of justice, eg with say ‘gun courts’. We may also get more radical changes, such as the creation of some mixed police-military force to deal with what seems like more than a simple crime problem and has implications of national security. We may also get different actions. For instance, forms of policing may change; it could become more ‘collaborative’ or ‘community based’ (they tend to be mutual), or it could be more ‘abrasive’ (in the belief that force meeting force will yield tangible results). Proponents of each will tend to be poles apart in thinking which will work better. But, that’s for the people to resolve, if given a chance. 

Anyway, people will ‘see’ that ‘something’ has been done. Then, we get to see what, if anything, changes.

So, in Jamaica, we are going through these processes. Some of the change seems voluntary or spontaneous. 

The Commissioner of Police just announced his resignation, after just over two years in the post. I would say he had some successes but visibly several failures, if one judges the rate of murders as a key statistic. The JCF spun the line that crime was declining and only murder was rising. They seemed to miss the point that telling people they were more likely to be killed wasn’t comforting. Dr. Williams seemed to want to root out corruption, in his words, and judging by the reports one still sees, he had some success, but it’s a work-in-progress. We read too many ‘crooked cop’ stories.

An interim Commissioner has been appointed, from within the ranks, and she was highly considered when the post last came vacant. Like the outgoing Commisoner, she has high academic qualifications in law enforcement. However, we can say safely that such qualifications are no guarantee of success in dealing with crime in Jamaica. But, let Ms. Novelette Grant have a chance to impress. 

So far, no one has publicly called for other changes in the police force, and that’s not a surprise. I think the JCF needs a root and branch approach to its culture and practices, which we have seen in recent times, but know from a long way back are outdated, inefficient, insensitive, self-protective, dangerous to the process of justice, and encouraging of wrong doing rather than the opposite. I have said repeatedly that until the JCF can show itself capable of fulfilling its tasks in a coherent and consistent manner for a period of time, the last thing to do is give it more powers. As with a child, show us that you can manage those little walking steps well first, then we will think about letting you run around. Now, I imagine the JCF feels under siege, but it’s a situation much of its own making.

Some are clamouring for a change of style that shows ‘no holds barred’ in dealing with crime and criminals. (I am in danger of doing what I see being done, which is to talk in platitudes or cliches, but I will try to be specific.) One suggestion from a politician, yesterday, was to dispense with INDECOM (the body that oversees and investigates conduct of the security forces), label killers as ‘terrorists’ and ‘shoot’. Not surprisingly, that suggestion set off a few reactions, including from me. What’s unknown is how many feel the same way.
Now, from what I have seen over the past, this politician has a tendency to provoke, so one needs to be careful about being drawn in too much by the words, but to have some notion of what thinking may be going on behind them, because he’s also a mathematician. In my mind, that means that he is not a fool but capable of intricate calculations about possible and probable outcomes (including reactions), including to what he says and does. So, to paraphrase him, it’s important to not get ‘played’ or caught in a ‘joke’. However, think hard about this line of argument:

But let’s try to wrestle with the superficial statements and whether they really see a place for due process as we now know it. 

My main reservation about these ideas is that many killers have shown clearly by how, where and when they’ve acted that the prospect of being killed seems to hold little or no fear. But, let me deal with crime from another perspective. 

I asked a few weeks ago whether Jamaica was at civil war. Wesbsters defines it as ‘a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country‘. (We may argue about what ‘war’ means, but it’s armed conflict between groups.) You can see from the context that I did not pose the question assuming that ‘civil war’ was striking us nationwide. It was notable that West Kingston was once again at the centre of police-citizen disorder. The events in Tivoli in 2010 had all the hallmarks of a civil war episode, in my mind, with the security forces of the State pitted against a community, and armed resistance taking place. Now, I did not hear of any political cause that was being put forward, but I’m not sure that would negate the idea that civil war existed. 

Anyway, my point is that if we are in a state of civil war, in some or several areas, against common or disparate groups, then that changes the nature of the attempt to keep law and order, and brings it clearly into the realm of national security. In other words, the sometimes uncertain role of the army in dealing with what appears to be crime can and must change. 

I’m not well enough versed in constitutional and legal matters to know what that may imply, but I am willing to listen to those who are. 

The police tell us repeatedly about how many murders are the outcome of gang disputes. We can ask what the gangs are doing and who they are doing it for. If part of their existence is to make inaccessible parts of the country–which seemed to be the case in Tivoli in the past and in recent months, and seemed so in parts of St. James, recently, we have to ask ourselves whether we are dealing with simple criminal activity or something quite different

The terrorist/shoot suggestion is problematic on many levels, not least whether we want to give such power to the police force that has shown itself to be less-than-capable in just carrying out its simple policing duties. 

It also leaves open how we treat killing that somehow does not fit this ‘terrorist’ labelling. I wont go into the various forms of manslaughter or murder, but just worry that very diffent forms of violent crimes like domestic abuse and gang-related killings would seem to defy a one-size-fits-all solution. Unless, one says if you kill you will be killed. Jamaica has a religious basis for taking that view and I will watch the discussions to see what if any justification comes forth.

I do not see Jamaica’s crime problem (and it’s not just murder that we need to deal with) as amenable to any quick solution (short of eradicating large swathes of the population–AND I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT!) The social basis for the existence of much criminal activity was built over decades and supported by people in power and made legitimate by a principle of tolerance so that much wrong doing was normalized. Committing crimes is part of our culture; it has its tentacles in almost every aspect of our lives. We would be dishonest to deny it, though it is not a comfortable admission. You cannot flip a switch and just turn off those processes. 

I also do not see a lasting solution to crime in Jamaica (in its many and disturbing forms) that can come from the organizations set up to uphold law and order ‘dong something’ without the full engagement on a sustained basis of the majority of citizens. 

I would be very worried if the ‘terrorist/shoot’ idea got much support, but I would not be surprised to see that happen. It has appeal in terms of its seeming to correct a wrong. But, it holds so many dangers for all of us. 

Waiting to exhale: PNP President does the inevitable

I’m fascinated by the cult of the individual within Jamaican politics. It’s something that is clearly there, though intelligent politicians try to dance on the head of a pin to convince us that things are otherwise. You cannot appear to go against he or she who is at the head without being accused of disloyalty. But, what that tends to do is to stop change occurring smoothly and so disrupt the natural process of decay and renewal.

How a good political machine should look

If I can extend the decay metaphor into gardening, one tends to see things putrefying because they stay there as unbalanced elements. As any gardener should know, just piling things onto a heap isn’t enough to make good compost; it needs a good mixture of carbon and oxygen–brown and green materials, for simplicity, or older and younger elements. What that does is change formerly living materials so that, as they die and decay, they transfer their energy into becoming agents of new growth. I like this metaphor because the PNP has shown what happens if you do not allow natural decay to occur and if you do not take care to mix materials properly: you end up with a rancid pile. 

Clearly, the PNP has let its leadership fester and so was doing little to generate the new growth that must be there for it to compete as a viable political party. Little green shoots that started to sprout were often quickly yanked out of the ground and thrown to the roadside. Older dying wood was left in place, riddled with termites and unlikely to be able to withstand any major storm. The house that was PNP look tired and bedraggled. It was not the house that Norman built, and it was certainly not the house that Michael rebuilt.

With the gardening theme set, it’s worth recalling this:

‘A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden.’ (Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

I’m not a cheer leader for any politician. Those who know me, know what I think of politicians and those who are in the heart of political machineries. I subscribe to the adage: ‘Politics is too important to be left to the politicians’ (variously attributed to Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I’ve watched with a little interest the pseudo fight for leadership of the PNP. It couldn’t be started, really, because (as is the Jamaican wont) observing protocols meant that those interested had to shuffle around kicking dirt and whistling, acting as if they were not doing anything. Those who were likely to have big interest in becoming leader were already known: Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting. How much support each has and can muster amongst delegates is for us to learn. Who else with try to join the fray, we will await to see, and if they are really working with a substantial base of support.

To say that PNP needs an image makeover is as big an understatement as has been made for a while. I’m not sure if it’s amenable to aggressive surgery, though.

The party seems to have done something that is counter to what it says it stands for, by clearly ignoring what people want. That ‘betrayal’ has been rewarded by election defeats made more hurtful by a clear alienation of the voter base.

It also seems to have been caught by a generational shift that is easy to see and easy to deal with, but somehow appears to have been resisted. Then again, the older wood maybe didn’t understand well enough what was growing in full sight.

Modern life, like it or not, has become wedded to fast (and, sometimes, loose) communication. Of the two major parties in Jamaica, the JLP seems to have understood how to capture the public imagination by running with the pack…onto the track of social media. Without wanting to draw parallels with the USA, it’s notable how a man who spends a lot of time and energy on Twitter surprised many by winning the elections for president. Donald Trump is many things, but he is not someone who misunderstands how people think, and how to rile emotions. He rants and raves on stage, but he also does it online: it’s part of his persona. As far as anything about the ‘real Donald Trump’ goes, that part of him seems real.

I looked on at the PNP President many times, ranting and raving on public platforms, and jabbing her finger in the air, and in the direction of whoever was annoying her, then I wondered why she would dissemble from this character, which seemed to be her real self. It was the perfect persona to take on line, instead of a series of insipid pieces of non-information that dribbled out. She was a firebrand, so why act like dying embers? She admired Fidel, and as his name means, he was always true to himself–long speeches, and all. You never doubted which Fidel you saw.

If one thing seemed to mark that leadership was doomed, it was the lack of sincerity and realism in the persona that was being put out to the public. Take a look at the Twitter account @PSimpsonMiller. Note that it says that her own remarks are ‘signed ~PSM’. Now, just do a check to see how many such tweets there were. There are precious few! So, what was/is the point of the account? To post bromides in the forms of pictures of flowers and teddy bears? You cannot be serious! Even, images of the leader doing political activities were not signed by her. Not, so odd, in a way, but it goes to the point that this was a front. I struggled to find any substantive remark about any major issue. Why?

Look, it’s nice to get the homilies each day, but many people can get that from many other non-political sources. This is a sign of the ‘unspiring’ of Mrs. Simpson-Miller, if I can coin a term. She was made duller by a group of people managing her. I say that without fear of contradiction: the Twitter account proves it. Once that duller politician was rolled out, the die was cast: she was no longer the leader she was. She was not allowed to be herself. By betraying what was the real Portia, it fed the lack of interest in her and her party. People didn’t know what they were getting any more.

I mention the lack of inspiration in the online presence for several other reasons. First, as a gauge of public interest. Andrew Holness, now PM, has about 29,000 followers on Twitter; Portia Simpson-Miller has about 7,000. Yet, people rattle on about how she is the most popular politician, in Jamaica. Something isnt adding up. Second, it treats the population with a degree of disrespect in not having substance at its core. If the leader is about disseminating trivia, then trivia becomes the MO. How can you go to the electorate on issues having laid this basis of prettiness? If you want to argue that social media is just one sphere, I heard you, but show me the written tracts or speeches that laid out the positions.

Personally, when the leader went off and screamed at the crowd in St. Ann, I would have loved to have seen a tweet or a post on Facebook embracing that rant: ‘Dis gyal jus tell dem de peeple a St Ann dat she nuh freyd a nubaddy’ Signed ~PSM. My respect would have shot up ten-fold. Instead, what we got was rumblings about how this ‘moment’ had been captured by a news media cameraman and disseminated. What’s the problem with being who and what you are?

As people crawl over the legacy of Portia Simpson-Miller, they must try to chart the point as which she crossed over from being her real self, to being a creature operated by others. 

I remember seeing her in person and hearing her speak passionately about issues related to women and child abuse, especially. I had no doubt that I was hearing what this lady truly felt. But, such feelings about utterances have been long gone. For that reason alone, the announced departure was too long in coming, but then again, when you’re on the strings of puppeteers, they call the tune.

Reading political tea leaves: Jamaica voters still ignored, massively, but who should worry?

Please do not insult me by talking in weeping tones about low voter turnout, especially, if you are a politician. It is no secret to those seeking elected office who is on the electoral rolls, and by extension who is not registered to vote. With that information, for any politician to not engage any potential voter points to the inherent corruption of our system of democracy. Strong words? Maybe.

I have been back in Jamaica just over three years, and I am a registered voter, never having had the opportunity to cast my ballot in the country of my birth. I have some of the excitement of any first-time voter. I need little to get me to go to the polls to cast my vote; I am a prime meal in the menu of electoral desires. So, let me pose a few simple questions to those who seem driven to make a living getting paid out of the public purse to represent me.

  • Do I need to tell you my political preference, if it exists? No! Assume I’m neutral.
  • Do you want to try to convince me to vote for you? You should!
  • Do you think you need to let me know, directly, who you are and what you have done or are thinking of doing? If not, why not?

Now, with those simple questions posed, where can I go?

I have not seen any political candidate darken my door for either general election in February 2016 or local government election in November 2016. That’s a disgrace in its contempt.

I wrote a blog post in February, entitled Just tell me if you love me: the outcasting in Jamaican politicsbefore the general election. I wondered if ‘I may not be who the representatives want involved at all’ because the politicians were interested in ‘keep them poor, keep them hungry, keep them under control’. I do not fit that profile: I am not hungry, literally, or for most of the promises that politicians may be offering. But, I do want something from elected representatives. I want my mind tested. I wrote those months ago: ‘The lack of willingness to engage people on substantive issues is one of the things that has made me wonder who is being feted in all the political hullabaloo.’ That thought still has relevance.

Many politicians show that they are afflicted by the national disease of low productivity and are work-shy: ‘the ‘work’ is talking to the people’. The current Opposition showed that they were little interested in any broad dialogue with the nation, even to the extent of crying off what might have been showpiece televised debates. They got a real taste of how well that went down, but being shown the door in February. Don’t satisfy yourself by saying it was by one seat that PNP lost. They lost by many voters from their own known party support staying indoors, whether to eat the curry goat or other box food that had been offered or just to tune in to ‘Days of our lives’.

Many parish councillors are similarly afflicted. But, unlike MPs, some of whose work is broadcast for us to marvel at, the workings of local government in Jamaica is a dark secret to many. Imagine what life may be like, if, as in many munipalities in the US, one could watch local access TV to see what local government is doing. Go check out the website for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for example, and watch its archived video of meetings, including yesterday’s. Or, just check out it’s live feed that promotes the many attractive things that are going on in the city. Oh, you don’t have anything much of which you’re proud to show? My bad!🙄 

The other thing that was true last February and was re-inforced this month is the following, which I wrote nine months ago: ‘My suspicion is that the PM has gotten locked into a mode of only being passionate and verbose when riled and is not up for moderate or moderated discussion. Maybe, it’s an age thing: getting cantankerous. I can relate to that. Maybe, it’s some other physiological thing.’ Whatever I might have thought was behind that tendency to be cantankerous, I could not have imagined it would be directed at her own party! What kind of election strategy tells you that yelling about your fearlessness and calling out your party supporters in public for showing they disliked chosen candidates, and issuing barely veiled threats to them is a sure-fire winner? People in a constituency have a tendency to know who and what they want and what they think works. For the people? You’re joking, right? 

Usually, when people say ‘Have you lost it?’ they mean your mental faculties, but it can also be ‘the vote’. November 28 is proof positive, I would argue. Going from total control of municipal government, to ‘no count’ takes a certain skill, which I as a coach would not be teaching to any team that I hoped would succeed. I tell kids I coach: 

  • give yourself the best chance to win, not the best chance to lose; 
  • own goals must be avoided;
  • don’t attack your team mates; save that for the opponents;
  • remember what brought you success, forget what caused you defeat.

It’s not rocket science.

But, getting back to me, and not for narcissistic reasons. I wrote in February: ‘I want to be engaged, properly’. Then, ‘I want[ed] to know how PNP can step up the progress so my child can believe she has a bright future here. I want[ed] JLP to go further in showing me how to get from poverty to prosperity. I’m a product of both messages, after all.’

‘I’m waiting and I’m patient’, I wrote before the national election. That’s still the case. Except…

I am convinced that people like me are a threat to politicians. I can think, independently, and have little need for the spoils that politicians can share out to sway significant numbers. I’m a threat, not because, if so desired, I can vote you out, but if pressed I can plan to replace you. I may have no personal desire to be a politician, but I know many who do, and who are prepared to think about doing that outside certain existing party constraints.

No one lives for ever, and no group of politicians and political hacks lasts forever in a democracy. Jamaica is a democracy that has many strong-minded people who have decided to withdraw from voting, because they despise and distrust politicians and political processes that have promised often but delivered rarely. These are not apathetic people: they are antipathetic

The politics of poverty-maintenance and garrison building is derelict, like many of the structures in such places. Waiting in the ‘food line’ of political favours is demeaning to anyone who can think stand up for themselves. Like bushing offers no permanent solution to overgrown areas, trying to buy votes with ‘make-work’ schemes is a never-ending exercise, and the price has to keep rising. 

Those antipathetic voters are people who can move and shake in other walks of life and many have yet decided that they are not going to move and shake to the voting station. Some, I suspect, have seen their political will exercised in other, equally discreet, ways, say as funders of party activities. (Think back to the multiple campaigns going on within the PNP during the general election. Wasn’t that political power being exercised in ways as powerful, or more so, than the vote?)

Politicians who forget what representing the people means often end up in the same place, and it’s called ‘out of office’. Fine, if you have other skills, and have built up possible alternative work. But, ‘retired MP’ on a resume has a funky ring. Of course, some lose their position for the very reason they were elected, and that tells you that something is indeed “rotten in the town (sic) of Denmark” (to repeat a poignantly misstated remark).

Finally, the buck has a nasty way of stopping where it should. If you want to be a politician who dissembles and tries to sell the image of a ‘Nirvana-like’ state that you have created, yet people can see and smell and taste and wade through the squalour that really exist, then I suggest you find yourself auditioning as a stand-up comic. In that case, if the laughter stops, don’t be surprised by where people find the supply of rotten fruit and vegetables to throw.

 

Some takeaways from Jamaica’s local government elections

The votes have barely been fully counted, but there are many take-aways from yesterday’s local government elections, and many of them do not need much data to be clear. Here goes:

General take-aways from local government elections

  • The current Opposition, PNP, was in disarray for the national elections, played around for a few months after that doing so-called internal reflections, did little to change themselves or their message, and got a royal raspberry yesterday, losing overall control of parish councils, including plum locations like Kingston and St. Andrews. If Nero were wearing an orange toga, it would be clear what was going on, and that the party leader had her finger on the right button saying there’s”something rotten in the town (sic) of Denmark”.
  • Jamaican local government politics is a mere fig leaf for people’s notions of national electoral issues.
  • Those involved in local government are not going to advocate for change, as that is likely to make their political lives worse, not better.
  • Money matters, and those with control of national budgets should have the upper hand with regard to local government issues, and also the upper hand when it comes to guiding local government election outcomes. Only a blinkered mole would not see J$600 million spent ahead of elections as anything but thinly disguised vote-buying. Call a bushwhacker a bushwhacker! The gem this time was calling the elections in the period just before Christmas, when it could feasibly be argued that this was normal seasonal work. But, give my ailing brain a break with that empty rhetoric!
  • Local government has been serially denuded of real power over local outcomes as many implementing agencies are national and handle local issues as part of their logical geographical division of operations.
  • Local government needs a substantial base for raising local taxes to address local issues. I’m not sure that the national appetite for more fiscal burdens exist at this time, and also past performance gives little confidence that parish councillors are not money grabbing weasels, in general…with due respect to those who are merely rats sniffing out cheese–and we know the allure of cheese.screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-9-26-56-am
  • Turnout was low: preliminary figures indicate that about 30 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. But, that was no surprise, especially as indications are that the debates made many people less likely to vote.

Some thoughts on voting turnout

It would be nice for many reasons to see higher turnouts, but that won’t necessarily change things in Jamaican politics. One of our burdens is sticking with a first-past-the-post system, in a country where many people may live in so-called ‘garrison’ constituencies, ie one party has a virtual lock on certain seats, so voting against that party is often a wasted vote in term of results in that constituency. Winning by one vote with a 100% turnout isn’t different from winning by one vote with, say a 45% turnout. In fact, the first situation may be terrible, because it means that say 49.99% of voters do not get their choice, which is worse when that percentage represents a large absolute number of people.

However, if some forms of proportional representation were in place, votes would mean much more. Those who are really looking for independent candidates would have more reason for casting votes for such people if they knew that their aggregate voting could matter. Likewise, and more obvious, if you were in favour of the minority party in a garrison, but knew that your party’s aggregate voting was important, then voting behaviour ought to change.

I’ve said before that low turnout is not necessarily reflective of voter indifference, but possibly a large amount of voter antipathy. People see much wrong with political processes, including candidate selection at one end and what politicians do ‘in the name of the people’, much of which is shameful, if we are brutally honest. Many people do not want to be associated with that shamefulness. 

One of the pieces of theatre during the local government debates was really on point, when one candidate rolled out a ‘scandal list’. Imagine that capturing the imagination of people more than an ‘achievements list’.

Sadly, the latest election is another page of Jamaican politics which is really about scraping the bottom of the barrel. Politics is not to where our brightest aspire. We also suffer from the limited talent pool that exists, not just in politics, but in management and decision-making in general. Our decades of talent drain has taken its toll on our output quantity and quality, and our productivity, and politics has not been spared in that ‘race to the bottom’.

I’ve been saying it (Jamaica) must get better, soon. That’s not because I’m impatient, but because all things become habits, if done long enough. Mediocrity in politics is no exception.

Jamaica’s upcoming local government elections: tracing and comedy trump policy issues in first debate.

If our local political strategists are on point, they have whetted our appetites by serving up just the kind of thing Jamaicans love in politics–tracing matches. People are highly partisan and really don’t have much real interest in substantive issues of policy, when politicians are in direct discussions: keep all of that for seminars and conferences. Instead, give them the stand up, knock down, insulting, belittling exchanges that who is bull or cock chicken or wildest Amazon. This comment on Twitter summed it up: 
Moreover, when it comes to policies, politicians and supporters want to associate all successes, so, many of the exchanges are like when two children speak: ‘I’m the best, stuff the rest! I did this, not you, nah, nah, nah!’ Debating isn’t what they do–take it from one who knows more about public arguments than most, presenter Dionne Jackson-Miller. Instead, it’s debasing each other that counts.

Well, we got this last night during the first local government elections debate, which was televised lived. 

I had expressed reservations why a nationally elected politician, who’s also the minister of local government–Desmond McKenzie, who has been also a Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew–was included in the team of the ruling national party. Silly boy! Local government isn’t important in the lives of Jamaicans, except in its absence of positive influence. With that in mind, it was appropriate to bring out first the big guns. For that reason, the Opposition had to bring out its biggish guns, in the form of a local politician who is also on the national stage, namely a PNP National Executive Vice President, Angela Brown-Burke. So, I understand better the positioning for the first debate, which was about the relevance of local government.

What that meant was that little of substance came from the non-debate. But, we got some super sound bites (no pun intended with that which was most captivating): the most notable is currently about whether mosquitoes have bitten you: https://twitter.com/bdff/status/799089272225722368, uttered by a young JLP candidate, Keneisha Allen, who took on Mrs. Brown-Burke, and got under her skin do much that she was dismissed as being “too young to understand”–a remark that deals with no arguments but says so much about certain attitudes and mentality towards opposing views. 

Honestly, I wasn’t gripped by the exchanges and think most watchers felt the same. So, let’s hope that things are set up better for the second debate, next week. I would give the edge to the JLP after the debate, not least because they have the national reins, which have good economic things to show (even though an honest assessment would say these are largely the results of the defeated PNP’s economic management). I would also say that Kingston’s mayor doesn’t stand as a paragon of good municipal management of a space showing so many signs of decay and dysfunctional existence, even if large parts of this cannot be fixed by local initiatives. In that regard, it might have been a mistake to have her lead the opposition charge, but she had a good mix of municipal and national relevance, so probably seemed well-suited. 

So, onto the second and last debate on November 23.

Ambassadorial duties: A visit to Jamaica’s west

I’m lucky that I get to sample occasionally some of Jamaica’s offerings to tourists. I’m having a few days around Montego Bay, chilling and thinking. I wrote about the exchange rate the other day, and tourism is one part of the other side of the coin that many Jamaicans may not see, but matters. Simply, our declining J$ means that foreign visitors should find it cheaper to come to spend their money on our shores. Whether they spend more in local terms will always be a matter of debate, but the falling exchange rate offers them more chance of thinking they are getting ‘value for money’. Anyway, most of the foreign visitors I meet are so happy to be in Jamaica that I think they don’t factor in the exchange rate much. 

But, meeting them opens doors. I was trying to grab a very the makings of an early breakfast yesterday–a few sandwiches and fruit–ahead of a dawn round of golf, and met a family from Canada, with two lovely girls, who were too shy to speak to a stranger. Anyway, I complimented them on their straw-style hats, which I told them looked very Jamaican. As luck had it, the family sat adjacent to me this morning, when I was having my breakfast, so I renewed my conversation. The girls were still shy but I pointed out some things that I thought would make their visit a bit more interesting. 

I’d been joined by a small lizard while waiting to hit a shot yesterday, and as is my wont, I grabbed its picture, which I showed to the girls: nature is less intimidating in this way, and they looked fascinated.

“I’d stick with the driver, down the left side…” (Thanks to my new caddy.)
I talked to them about Jamaican fruit, which I hoped they’d tried: guavas (both pink and white) were on offer.
My lovely fruit plate for breakfast and ‘teaching moment’
Their mother knew guavas from a restaurant in their home in Toronto. I then got talking about golf courses, because the parents were interested, and I outlined what was nearby and worth trying out. They didn’t take much persuading. They planned to visit Dunn’s River Falls during their week-long stay. They asked about buying coffee: the mother said she needed to get for 70 people in her office. Buy, buy, buy! I pointed out that the Shoppes at Rose Hall had Blue Mountain coffee on sale, or the airport shops should also have. They were set for the day, and maybe the rest of their vacation.

Before that, I had been talking to a man, originally from Honduras, now living in Chicago, having migrated in his early teens, who’d asked me where I was from, and after that asked me about the language people spoke in Jamaica. I explained as best I could how Patois has an English base, but that wouldn’t really help understanding locals. He agreed, after overhearing conversations yesterday. I asked some of the waiting staff to give some examples of how Jamaicans would say “Good morning.” One young man said “Wha’ pree?” His female colleague said “Mawnin’!” I gave the Honduran a little insight to some other phrases that are not so hard to connect to English, but he understood that he needed to hang with a few Jamaicans for a while before getting very far. 

Both chance meetings settled on one point of agreement: this is a lovely island. That’s our selling point. 

But, contrast that to the surroundings, not far from the rarified world of the major hotels.

Last night, I went to visit a relative who lives in Montego Bay. I don’t know the city well, but never have much desire to get to know it, for all it’s constant mayhem, choked streets, and constant candidacy for ‘grimiest place on the island’.

The wildness of the west
Frankly, Montego Bay is an utter disgrace, given that it sits as a possible showcase for visitors to Jamaica. But, it’s a classic case of bad things Jamaican–unplanned, unruly, unkept, unloved.

As we drove through the city to do a school pick-up, a group of armed JDF soldiers was crossing the street, machine guns in hands.

Trying to control the uncontrallable?
This is part of the ‘boots on the ground’ approach to some of the escalating crime that has afflicted the area. Everyone was going about their own business: taxis loading and unloading, at will; pedestrians striding through traffic to make their way to wherever; hustlers with handcarts and just armed with cell phones jostling for space in and on the streets. Eventually, I got to my destination, one of the hills overlooking the harbour. I sat and chatted with my aunt, whom I’d not seen for too many years. She’s in her mid-80s and still in great health. We looked out at their neighbourhood. She spoke about the many small things that made life harder than it need be:

  • The scammers living adjacent, who could be heard making their ‘calls’ all day long, their being raided and taken by police, being bailed, resuming ‘business’, moving away. 
  • The commercial activities going on in plain sight in the middle of a residential area: sand and gravel works as your daily view is inexcusable. (But, the parish council friends of the sandman, sandbag the citizens.)
  • The potholed streets: taxis came and went, and people walked to their homes, dodging the craters that were all over the place.
  • The JPS light that works intermittently: we watched it go on and off at will. 

But, we tried to enjoy the setting sun as we looked west. It’s a beautiful island, sadly run by some less-than beautiful people who dont care enough to make life as nice as possible for citizens as they do for visitors. 

Can Jamaica stop being a ‘pothole’ (patch over problems) society?–‘As I See It’ Facebook Live chat

I spoke more fully on this topic and was able to expand some more on the basic ideas and examples. Watch and listen, at your leisure: https://www.facebook.com/dennisjonesasiseeit/posts/1155926584500234

As I See It: Facebook Live Chats taking shape

I’ve become quite the video blog maven. Hurricane Matthew gave opportunities to do more frequent chats and updating on a regular basis proved useful and comforting for family and friends near and far. But, daily ‘shows’ isn’t my plan, for the moment, so I’m getting back to my schedule of three times a week. My latest today is here:

But, my social media branding guru friend tells me to tighten up my act. 😊👍🏾 

So, now I have a thematic name for the Facebook page, ‘As I See It’, and I’ll tweak that as time goes. So, check the latest video and previous ones. 

“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.