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