Politics a view from the outside world


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Category: Trinidad Politics 03 May 15

The polls show unsurprisingly that it’s going to be a close election between the UNC alliances and the PNM. The campaign has begun. As usual, the people are being entertained with ‘gallery’—something spicy here, a scandal there, someone calling someone a son of rape, someone buying votes with laptops that children will use to watch porn.

Nobody is hotly debating the way they do in developed countries. Nobody is talking of the UN indicators of a developed, safe country. Nobody is saying: “No, THIS is how we tackle our 500,000 strong illiterate. We disagree with your education plan.”

Nobody is saying “No, our health plan is better than yours.” Nobody is saying it, but the REAL issue is not Keith vs Kamla, it’s crime, lawlessness, its attendant issues, the effectiveness of the police force, the backlog in our courts.

I am continually surprised when I open up the papers in the UK in the run-up to the May 7 election. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a proper election in a proper country, which is why I’m writing about it. The two major parties running for the election are the Conservative Party, led by the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband. Other contenders are the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg.

The wild card is Nigel Farage’s UKIP from the 2014 European elections. Other forces are the Scottish National Party, the Plaid Cymru, and the Northern Ireland Parties (DUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin, UUP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland). As a country that spawned our Westminster system prepares to go to the polls, I interviewed a businessman who has spent enough time in Trinidad to compare our two countries.

Q: Is this a presidential-style contest between David Cameron and Ed Miliband?

A: It’s about what they represent. The conservatives are seen as competence without heart. They are trying to make Scotland the issue which reprises divisiveness that could blow up in their faces. Labour is making it about how much they care, and how the conservatives will cut the budget.

We used to have a two-way political system and every election this could switch. Now, British politics is broken up into four parties. This is a complete realignment of British politics. In the ’50s, over 90 per cent of the votes was divided between two parties. Now, two main parties are lucky if they get 70 per cent of the votes between them. Thirty per cent of the votes will go to fringe parties.

There may be a minority kingmaker. Both leaders would like it to be a presidential election. Cameron is better at the presidential style. He looks the part. Miliband doesn’t. What’s interesting now is that the more they see of Miliband, the more they like him. He’s hardworking, committed, honest. People like that.

Clegg, Cameron and Miliband are still young, middle-aged men, vaguely photogenic. They are in the shadow of Tony Blair who created a charismatic archetype which everyone is trying to ape.

Who are you placing your bets on?

It is likely labour will get into power despite a risk of the party...and I predict a labour minority government. The conservatives inherited an economic crisis, and labour will have it easier.

Labour has also ruled out a referendum on the EU. The conservatives are predicting labour will mess up the economic, so there will be a huge pressure on labour to prove everyone wrong and get the economy on the right track.

What are some of the major issues being debated?

The economy, the health sector, unemployment, foreign policy, education, immigration, the Scottish question, and our involvement in the European Union.

What are your thoughts on immigration, is there a better way to deal with it than what Cameron has done so far?

What you see on the streets is different to what you read in newspapers, which portrays us like a small island in the middle of the Atlantic that doesn’t want foreigners. There are minor skirmishes but on the whole, immigrants have been actively and thoroughly integrated into this society. There is a poster campaign in London now that shows immigrants from everywhere including Australia and America showing what they do. Some are nurses, others IT specialists, others engineers and so on. In the past, immigration was associated with Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. Now it’s also about Europe, Australia and America. There is talk of tightening visa fees, making it harder for students to work here, as there is talk of leaving the European Union. So the question of immigration is a mixed bag but as a nation, we know we benefit from immigration.

You’ve witnessed an election in Trinidad...your thoughts?

In Trinidad pre-election campaign amounts to this project, that ribbon cutting, this giveaway. People need to know what direction the country is being taken in, not ‘did you give me a laptop this week.’ Who is talking long-term economic state of health, national debt, deficit, security education or health sector? The lack of interest in issues of public concern is puzzling.

How do you see the role of journalists in an election campaign?

Here, politicians are put on the spot regularly on television, in one-on-one hard-hitting interviews. When was the last time Persad-Bissessar or Rowley were put on the spot? Trinidadian politicians strut around with protocol.

They act and are treated like royalty. When they are put on the spot they either respond with an “how-dare-you” attitude or threaten legal action. They don’t respect this as a democratic process, so they are not sufficiently tested in news conferences or nightly and daily shows. Is it really necessary to have a state run TV channel to screen propaganda on the Government’s achievements?

So, that’s the view from the outside world. Take from it what you will.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur