Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cayman’s politics of exclusion

An old chum from my school days in the bush went into politics later, and for ten years represented our local electorate in the Australian Federal Parliament. It was a safe Country Party seat, and it was no big deal for him to win 60% of the 100,000 votes cast each time.

The electorate’s area was unusually large, even for Australia – slightly larger than the State of Texas, if you can believe that, and twice the size of the entire British Isles. (Wikipedia’s entry for “Division of Maranoa” shows its size in relation to the State of Queensland.)

Of course Australia is a big place, and Queensland alone dwarfs all but a few dozen of the world’s nations. But what was (and is) remarkable is that all the candidates standing for this huge constituency visited every homestead, settlement, drovers’ camp and railway-gangers’ hut, before every Federal election. Every voter needed to be assured of his or her importance.

What brought Maranoa to my mind is the spectacle of our local candidates in Grand Cayman striving desperately for the attention of 16,000 voters spread over a bare eighty square miles. Sixteen of them will be elected, each with a responsibility (on average) of five square miles. Oh, the hustle! Oh, the bustle! Talk about a scramble for a slice of the pie, in this fabulously rich little island.

My parents never actually voted for my mate Ian, because by 1980 we were long gone from the district. Our whole family would have done, if we’d had the chance. Sentiment is such a strong factor in politics. Dad once told me – I was fourteen at the time – “You know, I really ought to vote for the Labor Party. They’ve always done more for me than the Country Party has.” But he never did.

The Country Party was the self-appointed party of landowners big and small, and Labor represented the working class. Cultural loyalty usually does trump personal-interest loyalty, wherever the two conflict. Look at Cayman. Bloodline Caymanians (on the whole) would never vote for immigrant candidates, even if the law allowed; and they (the bloodliners) have always made damn sure the law does not allow.

Never mind how incompetent and dishonest a bloodline candidate might be, he would generally be preferred (by his fellow-Caymanians) over a competent and honest immigrant candidate. We expat voters – probably half of all voters, these days – are having a hard time choosing from among the 56 Caymanians standing in the next election. They all practice the politics of exclusion, quite without embarrassment.

Some of the candidates are too corrupt for our delicate sensibilities, and some are too openly anti-immigrant. And none of them have committed themselves to a specific course of action in the event of their election.

Not one candidate – even among the independents – has made a credible promise to reduce Import Duty (the main cause of our high cost of living), or to set aside a portion of Public Revenue each year to pay off the huge loan that falls due in 2019. Cayman’s failure to elect someone with the necessary skill and guts will cost us dearly over the next four years, and the four after that.

In theory, what political parties are good for is to present agendas of what they will and won’t do if elected. My friend Ian made his Texas-size pilgrimages just to show his face and that’s all; the voters already knew what his Party’s policies and promises were. If Cayman’s pretend-parties had any sense they would do the same, instead of requiring their candidates to get by on charm alone. The first of our parties to devise a full and detailed set of policies might sweep the polls.

Many of us expats would vote for a Party that promised to sell the Turtle Farm, Pedro’s Castle and Cayman Airways, and to close down the Protocol Office – never mind who the Party put up.