THE debate (which barely met that definition) during last week's no-confidence motion in Stuart Young was nothing short of infuriating.
Both the PNM and UNC played fast and loose with our expensive time and attention. This they did with presentations that were in poor taste, egregiously sub-par, and predictably awful. In fact, the idea that this was a debate at all is risible. The real loser of that rumshop parliament debacle was not the UNC but us. At any rate, few citizens understood the point of the motion in the first place.
That it would fail was a mathematical certainty. All our parliamentarians can do is bend over and show their party lines. No member of the government would vote against the hand that feeds it. The real purpose of the motion was to force a national reckoning with a subject of tremendous national importance – the competence of Minister Young.
Debates are the DNA of democratic societies. The discourse, when done right, can help push us to consider other dimensions of issues. Of course, the very premise of a debate is a clash of perspectives. If done in a healthy, robust manner though, debates create an environment from which workable ideas can spring.
Additionally, TT is a highly polarised society, which makes responsible and considered debate all the more important. Intelligent discussion is the only counterpoint to corrosive race-driven partisanship.
With debate comes more open, transparent, and accountable governance. These are usually precursors to better public service delivery. For the Government, openness to dissenting views can forge public policies that are better informed, more holistic, and consequently effective.
Naturally, it isn't possible to please everyone. At the very least, however, sincere debate can lead to enhanced consensus. For the opposition, a debate is a platform to speak on behalf of the voiceless in society – the hundreds of thousands who have no influence over a government's decision-making processes.
One of the golden rules of effective communication is this: the communicator must first identify the goal. What is the objective of your presentation? Do you mean to convince, dissuade, enlighten, or prompt action? If we lay this over what happened in our rumshop parliament last week, was the goal of the Opposition to brawl with Young and his cronies?
Or was the mission to present the nation with an evidence-based catalogue and chronicle of Young's failures as seen from the Opposition's perspective?
Was the objective to illuminate elements of the torturous and tortuous exemption process for stranded nationals? If the goal was the latter, then the case should have been presented without the limp political sparring and passive-aggressive posturing. Facts, figures, stories, and examples should have been allowed to speak for themselves.
This is crucially important where speakers lack powerful oratory skills intoned with a convincing cadence that moves and inspires audiences – this describes everyone in the Parliament, by the way.
The Opposition should know the population wouldn't be receptive when they go in with the typical "gih dem!" offensive. Political communications 101: Are you speaking exclusively to those who voted for you? Are you speaking solely to Stuart Young and Co.?
If you mean to reach a wider cross-section of the population, your message must eschew adversarial politics and ply audiences with facts unencumbered by one-upmanship; more dialectics, less diatribe.
For government supporters, to attack Young is to attack them. That's how the faithfully blind see it. To get to them or others who may not support Young, but sure as hell don't support you, only unassailable facts will do the trick.
Now, both the Government and Opposition represented themselves so poorly in that debate it was a national embarrassment. If what we saw in the Parliament chamber(pot) is meant to be the best of us, what the hell does that say about the rest of us?
On neither side was there any glaring evidence of preparation, research, or erudition in the contributions. As a parliamentarian, one of your primary responsibilities is speaking, yet precious few MPs demonstrated any inkling of this. The only "contribution" both Government and Opposition are making is to the proliferation of greenhouse gases.
All the public learned from that no-confidence motion was this: most politicians are committed to their own narrow party and self-interest. They aren't even bothered to acquire the eloquence to bamboozle us with flair. The result wasn't an eye/mind-opening exchange, but a routine parliamentary cockfight.