Politicians should collaborate across the aisle for the common good


Published on Wired868, Wednesday 27 January 2021

A friend recently lamented the advantages people who live in the north of our island have over people who live in the south. My impatient response showed my disgust with these silly discussions about north v south, Indo v Afro, prestige v secondary schools, Westmoorings v Beetham and the full range of divisive discussions we have about a number of topics.

The futility of these binary discussions came to mind as I reflected on the deep wound inflicted by the people of Tobago on the leader of the 65-year-old People’s National Movement via the tied results of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

Photo: PNM Tobago Council political leader, Tracy Davidson-Celestine shows off her ink-stained finger after voting in the THA elections (via Facebook)

The fact that 50% of the population rejected the leadership provided by their own homeboy or ‘ah we buoy’, as they say, it sends a powerful message of discontent.

Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ This provides the opportunity for the spotlight to shine on our leaders and beckon them to show their minions, and all the world, that we don’t have to like or agree with each other to work towards the common good.

Here is an opportunity for collaboration in the best interest of Tobago, but it will take maturity and commonality of purpose for egos to be set aside and a common agenda and road map to be established. Such an outcome will change the ‘winner takes all’ strategy that has over many years resulted in wastage of resources and animosity in political discourse.

It will break the facade of the public hate that our politicians display, while they privately share a beverage or two. It will signal that once the elections are over, the vitriol should end, and politicians will collaborate across the aisle in the interest of the citizens of our country.

Photo: Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and her successor, Prime Minister Keith Rowley, share a cupcake.
(Copyright Marcus Gonzales/Trinidad Guardian)

This idea that opponents can achieve a common purpose is informed by the work of author, academic and peace negotiator Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and the University of Oxford. For two decades they have successfully worked on troubling global issues like democracy and climate change and Kahane has concluded that ‘to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.’

We hasten to reject ideas from other cultures and talk about our unique culture, but it is worth remembering that culture is learned behaviour and can be unlearned. If our population sees our leaders working towards a common good, the behaviour and ideas may trickle down and positively impact all, including trade unions, civil servants, gang leaders and every person who holds leadership positions at every level of our society.

Maybe this is the game-changing opportunity our society needs to wake up and reinvent ourselves with renewed vigour and vitality. Here is an opportunity for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to signal the very positive message that we can work together even if we disagree.

Does he have the courage to dare to be different? To quote young American poet Amanda Gorman: “To put our future first, we must put our differences aside.”

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