Material things don't secure an electorate's vote ...all the time


Thursday, July 19, 2018

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Now that the World Cup is over the electorate will no doubt focus more on the Petrojam affair. The list of scandals — de-bushing, phone bill, Mombassa grass, travel bill — are increasing in number and some of the defences offered by the Government suggest that they are worried about the result of the next election.

“When people are aroused they do not have a mind, but a mood,” said Michael Manley. To say that the other side did it when in power never works among voters. Prior to the 1972 General Election, when the People's National Party was in Opposition, anyone who spoke against Norman Manley would be told, “That was then, let us give his son Michael a try. He is different from his father”. The People's National Party (PNP) won in 1972.

As the 1980 election approached when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was in Opposition, whenever someone spoke against Hugh Shearer they were told, “That was then, the JLP has a new leader now, let us give Maas Eddie [Edward Seaga] a try. He is different from Shearer.” Telling them that Seaga was in the same Cabinet meant nothing to them. The JLP won in 1980.

In 1989, the PNP, led by Michael Manley, returned to power. In 1992, P J Patterson succeeded Michael Manley. Patterson will go down in history as the 'infrastructure' prime minister, but his electoral successes were mainly because the JLP was divided as some within the party wanted to remove Seaga from the leadership.

Bruce Golding succeeded Seaga in 2005 as party president, and leader of the Opposition, having returned to the JLP in 2002. A year later, in 2006, P J Patterson stepped down as prime minister and PNP president and was succeeded by Portia Simpson Miller.

While Simpson Miller was popular, the people of Jamaica felt that the PNP had been in power too long. Telling people about Seaga meant little to voters intent on voting JLP. They said, “Golding is different from Seaga.” The fact that Golding was in the Cabinet in the 1980s was brushed off.

Bruce Golding resigned in 2011 and engineered his successor Andrew Holness into office. Golding did this by telling possible contenders that they should make way for the younger generation. Nevertheless, in December 2011 there was a return of the PNP led by Portia Simpson Miller.

Andrew Holness led the JLP to victory in 2016. In 2017 Portia Simpson Miller stepped down as PNP president and Opposition leader and was succeeded by Dr Peter Phillips. But all the cries that he is too old are dissipating. And the argument that he was a part of the Simpson Miller Cabinet is being increasingly drowned by the cry that he should be given a chance. This is even more so in light of the recent Petrojam affair.

When will voters learn that changing governments will not end their high stress levels unless society is seriously re-ordered? The main problems that cause deep unhappiness in our society are due to stress. And stress is not only caused by the amount of crime and violence around us, and it is not only those who live in poverty who have stress.

Indeed, the amount of poverty that existed when I was a child no longer exists in Jamaica. Yes, the economy was booming according to the statistics in the 1950s and 1960s, but none of that boom was passed on to the poverty-stricken masses. Housing was deplorable, clothing was unaffordable to the masses, children were barefooted, and malnutrition abounded.

Most stress today is caused by the inability to repay loans from financial institutions. This results in persons holding on to jobs that they do not want just to pay off loans. Most people do it for their families. And most loans have been motivated by advertising, which appeals to women who urge their husbands to take out loans for consumer items whether singly or jointly.

Jamaicans have never had as many materials things as we have today. Politicians on both sides of the political divide will claim credit for these so called advancements and say whether truthfully or falsely, that these things came about when they were in power. Yet never have we ever been so unhappy as a people because of the high levels of stress in our society, especially when so many are hypnotised by advertisements.

And politicians will never learn that material things alone will not make the electorate happy forever. When the PNP, led by Norman Manley, won power in the election of Wednesday, January 12, 1955, Alexander Bustamante, who had just finished 10 years in office as head of the Government, called Jamaica a “Judas island”, and said the people were ungrateful. He thought that all the material things he did while in power was enough to keep him in power forever.

A few years before he stepped down as prime minister, P J Patterson complained that Jamaicans were not grateful for the houses, cars, highways, cheaper food, cheaper clothing, and telephones — words to the effect that with so many cellphones around 'nuff man have gal' — that his Government provided us with.

The point that I am making is that happiness is not caused by having material things, particularly when people are under stress for one reason or another, but perhaps mainly due to outstanding loans for the car, the house, the furniture or whatever.

I have argued that the answer to this is for workers to come together in co-operatives while keeping their jobs. And since tourism is at the commanding heights of the Jamaican economy the co-operatives should be tourism-related.

The trade unions should negotiate an option for workers to have a four-day or even three-day workweek, so that they can also work in their co-operatives and use the income from the co-operatives to pay off their loans. Co-operatives in these days must be the social and preventative medicine for stress. But we have to learn to live together for co-operatives to work.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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