Speakers at a luncheon to “enhance Cayman’s political culture” criticized the adversarial two-party system and encouraged the electorate to vote for independently minded candidates.
The event, hosted by Dr. Steve Tomlinson, focused on political parties and whether they need to be reformed or replaced by other approaches to political organization.
The three featured speakers pointed to Jamaica and the United States as negative examples of political culture and political parties.
Errol Stephens, a former election campaign manager in Jamaica and Cayman, said the party system has become too polarized, making compromise impossible. Jamaica should serve as a warning for the Cayman Islands “to where we should not be going in this country.”
Most politicians serve special interests or political parties, he said, whereas few serve their country. Those who do are typically independent from political parties, Mr. Stephens claimed, given that “party members are often forbidden to have independent thoughts and ideas”; they rarely do more than “regurgitate the party leader’s ideas”; and they vote along party lines.
Moreover, political parties tend to scrap projects started by the other party once they have swapped power, to the detriment of the country, he said.
The electorate should “vote for independent-minded candidates, who don’t carry the millstone of party membership around their necks,” he argued.
Livingston Smith, professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands, said the adversarial political culture, negative campaigning and partisanship focuses political actors on ousting and discrediting each other rather than developing forward-looking policies in the best interest of the community.
Political discourse should be based on “consensus building and more careful and deliberate attention to the business of the people,” he said.
Mr. Smith also noted that Jamaica’s remarkable period of success after gaining independence was followed by an even more remarkable period of contraction as a result of the decline of the political culture that prompted the erosion of moral and social values.
He called on political parties to not just aim to win power, but to embrace an active identity in the community through civic education, regular dialogue and strong cross-party networks and discussions.
“The search for consensus and the need to meaningfully embrace the input of all parties is critical, especially in small face-to-face societies like the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Smith said.
Keynote speaker David M. Walker, who served as U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008, said the political parties in the United States failed America in the last election by producing two candidates that the public considered “flawed.” The majority of Americans would have preferred to vote for somebody else, he said.
Mr. Walker, who has been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent, told the approximately 150 invited guests that because Cayman’s scale is dramatically different, voters have the opportunity to get to know the candidates.
While political parties help people identify with political ideas and they have economies of scale, they are overly simplistic, he said, because “the duty of loyalty to party” often trumps “the duty of loyalty to country.”
As a result, the current systems in the United States is in need of reform because it is “not representative of and responsive to the public.”
Politics should be about “progress over partisanship and results over rhetoric,” Mr. Walker said, referencing the motto of “No Labels,” an organization that aims to give a voice to Americans who favor neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party.
He said, “Neither political party has a monopoly on the best people and neither political party has a monopoly on the best ideas.”
Mr. Walker told Caymanian voters that politics should be a merit-based business. “You should be picking people who are qualified, who have the integrity and the ability to do what is right irrespective of their political affiliation, if any,” he said. “Cayman has the size and scale to do it without political parties.”
The host of the debate, Dr. Tomlinson, said the event under the label “2017 One Cayman” was not about him, but about improving Cayman’s political culture. He said we are living “in a blessed Cayman Islands” but things “can be better” and that the political discourse can be enhanced.