English novelist George Orwell perhaps said it best, when he suggested that there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. He opined that all issues are political issues and that politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
This has been found to be true in most, if not all jurisdictions. And in small locales such as Barbados, these circumstances are often most glaring, especially the folly and the schizophrenia. What is particularly distressing or comical – depending on one’s sensibilities – is that our citizens often allow themselves to be lulled or lured into the tomfoolery, doublespeak, banality and the blather of politicians. As Orwell said there is no such thing as keeping out of politics and politicians, knowing this, play suppliant human beings like a pied piper marching mice into the sea.
In Barbados, a cursory look at manifestos over the past 35 or more years, or reference to documented political speeches, will reveal similarities in unfulfilled promises, political smear and intentional folly. Whether the promises are to be fulfilled within six weeks, six months or six hours of ascension to the seat of power, one common thread has prevailed across both the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Labour Party – expediency. Tell the people what you think they want to hear and what best serves your political purpose. And being spawns of the society they seek to coerce, our politicians are acutely aware that their hollowness will transfer into weight.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that our politicians and by extension our political parties have not and do not at some stage function. After all, at some juncture teachers teach, farmers farm and preachers preach. But their fate is in their own hands, whether it is to ensure their earthly livelihoods or safeguard a place in the land of milk and honey. But the politicians’ fate is not primarily in their own hands. Theirs are high stakes, dependent on the succour and support of the good, the bad, the ignorant, the weak, the rich and the poor. Therefore, if politicians are to control the corridors of power they must be attractive to the majority and in these Caribbean islands that majority is not the rich.
The late patriot, Sir Frederick Smith, once debunked the convenient refrain from politicians that they enter into public life out of some innately deep desire to serve country and fellowman. Speaking on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) television station he said the life of a parliamentarian was one of power, advantage and privilege. He described it as the good life that offered the opportunity to serve. His tacit suggestion was that the raison d’être of those seeking political power was very much self-serving. Thus the politician is not averse to being a snake oil salesman and the masses are always available to be smeared.
In Barbados we were promised an EduTech revolution that – millions of dollars later – came to nothing. We were promised a solution to our waste management problems that – millions of dollars later – came to nothing. We were promised a revolution in the tourism sector with Government’s direct participation as an owner/facilitator. But, countless millions later, that has come to nothing. We were promised a poverty alleviation programme that was supposed to drastically reduce the poverty index. But, millions of dollars later, and with the enrichment of a number of non-governmental organizations and their leaders, the poverty index is not reflective of the money dispensed. We have been promised integrity legislation. We have been promised legislation to mandate declaration of assets of parliamentarians. We have been promised an enhanced road rehabilitation programme. And these promises have been made across the political divide and often by the same personalities who seem to forget which side of the floor they sat when they made the promises.
A former Government minister, now Opposition spokesman, recently berated the CBC for its seeming bias against the Opposition. He threatened that a change in Government would see an institutional change at the corporation. Since there was no cue for persons to laugh and no suggestion that it was part of a script for Laff-It-Off, we will assume that his ‘threat’ was not said in jest. But suffice to say that CBC is not nine years old and that the Opposition spokesman was once on the side receiving that same threat.
Of course, the politician’s desire is made that much easier by those who do not sit in the actual corridors of power, but for quite a few pieces of silver, spin yarn from the halls of academia as well as commerce and industry, in the hope that they curry future favour until their grave beckons. And at the end of the day with a few exceptions, the good remain good, the bad remain bad, the ignorant stay ignorant, the poor become poorer, the weak die and the rich get richer.
The Dutch Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus, when faced with philosophers protesting that it had to be misery to live in folly, illusion, deception and ignorance, is said to have responded: “No, it isn’t, it’s human.” It is perhaps on this basis that we the people are prone by circumstance, not to look inward at how we can help ourselves, but are easily cajoled into feasting on the folly of our politicians.