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Political luncheon attracts movers and shakers

Ben Meade, Errol Stephens, Barrie Quappe, The Honorable David M Walker, Dr Livingston Smith

By Lindsey Turnbull

In the run up to Cayman’s elections, political culture would be greatly enhanced by giving a stronger voice to independent political candidates who would be free of the binds of a political party affiliation that may make them seek to serve the party before the people. Independents would thereby better represent the people of the country, who, at the end of the day, had elected politicians to serve them. This is the view of three speakers at a lunch conference held at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa last Friday, March 10. It was mediated by Ben Meade and Barrie Quappe.

The “Enhancing Cayman’s Political Culture” luncheon was organised by Dr Steve Tomlinson, who said the time had come to elect leaders who were problem solvers, willing to work together in the interest of all.

“There is a fast-growing number of voters who are tired of the blatant disrespect our leaders have for one another, the lack of willingness to work together and the reluctance to embrace and analyse suggestions and ideas from perceived opponents,” he said.

Having first outlined the evolution of political parties in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, Professor Smith, Associate Professor at the UCCI, said that there was an urgent need for party political renewal in the Cayman Islands, with an electorate that was disillusioned and distrusting of the political system.

Engaging
These reforms ought to include a move by parties not only to win and retain governmental power, but also to embrace an active and permanent identity in the community by engaging in education and training, and routinely forging strong crossparty networks and discussions.

He also urged campaign funding reform, an issue that he said was “beyond urgent” to eliminate political favours granted to party donors, rid parties of corruption and prevent parties becoming beholden to “big money” party donors.

Dr Livingston also called for more women in politics. Women were under-represented in political leadership positions and in the Americas only 21.8 percent of parliamentary seats were occupied by women.

“This has to change,” he said. “It is well known that when women are in the political system they are likely to improve the plight of other women.”

When it came to political parties, there was also concern over the practice of politicians discrediting one another rather than working for the good of the country as a whole. This was another area that must change, he said, urging political parties to work together to seek sustained partnerships for the betterment of the country.

Political campaign election manager Errol Stephens queried who it actually was that Cayman’s politicians were serving – themselves or the electorate. Stephens had harsh words for Cayman’s political set up, stating that compromise within the islands’ current political system was a bad word, with all opponents to their party considered the enemy. Party members, he said, were unable to have individual thoughts and simply regurgitated the views of the party leaders.

Polarising
“The party system has become too polarising to be any good to the country,” he said. “Members are reduced to the intelligence of a crash test dummy,” he added, stating that in saying that he was doing a disservice to crash test dummies.

Stephens warned those present to heed the mistakes of Jamaica (of which he holds dual nationality). Jamaica was once the “pearl of the Caribbean”, rich in industry and natural resources, but it had been reduced to rubble over the years by the warring factions of political parties.

Instead, he urged the audience to rise up and speak up for a better Cayman and vote for independent-minded candidates.

Key note speaker for the day was the Hon. David M. Walker, who has had an illustrious career within the American political system, a Certified Public Accountant who had served as the Comptroller General of the United States and CEO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, among other prestigious appointments.

Speaking from his experiences within the U.S. political system, he said that both political parties had failed the American electorate in their recent election, with each political party putting up a “flawed” candidate for presidency, suggesting that many Americans would have preferred to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

The U.S. was suffering from a duopoly of political parties whereby it was difficult for independent parties to even get on the ballot in the first place, he said. The first American President, George Washington, had worried that the advent of political parties would mean a loyalty to party overriding a loyalty to country, a worry that was becoming a reality within American politics.

The Cayman Islands had the benefit of scale versus the U.S. when it came to political reform, Walker said, and therefore had the opportunity to improve the political system.

“We have 320 million citizens in 50 states, 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate. You have 60,000 people and soon 19 elected representatives to represent those 60,000 people. That scale is dramatically different and it means that you actually have some opportunities that can work here that might not work in the United States,” he said.

Walker said he felt the best way for a political system was “you state what you believe in, you do what you think is right and neither political party has a monopoly on the best people on the and neither political party has a monopoly on the best ideas. It’s more merit-based that is based on the character of the individual and the beliefs of the individual.”

About Ron Shillingford

Ron is a former Cayman based sports editor. He is a best-selling author and novelist, and has worked as a sub-editor on some of the U.K.’s leading national newspapers. He is a certified tutor in English, writing assignments for various publications and websites and ghostwriting memoirs for the London-based publishers Story Terrace. A veteran journalist of more than 30 years standing, Ron’s area of expertise includes sports, human interest and local news reporting.

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