When Cayman Islands politics begin to veer into “silly” (or even dangerous) territory – for example, when lawmakers talk about shutting off work permits, flirt with the idea of independence or make accusations about being “tailed” by law firms – we are usually able to soothe our nerves with the thought that, ultimately, it is the United Kingdom who is behind the steering wheel, and we in Cayman are in the backseat, enjoying the ride.
But what is a loyal crown colony supposed to do, if it looks like Mother Dearest, herself, may be going a bit daft?
Last week’s snap election in the U.K. demonstrates that British voters (and lawmakers) don’t seem to be entirely certain of their political bearings. Next to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – whose party exceeded expectations and deprived the Conservatives of an outright majority in Parliament – the person most pleased (albeit privately) with the results from Thursday’s vote might be former Prime Minister David Cameron.
As readers will recall, Mr. Cameron’s tenure on Downing Street was brought to an abrupt end by his historic political miscalculation of calling for a referendum on Brexit in 2016 – a proposal he opposed but, as it turned out, U.K. voters supported. Following the self-inflicted humiliation of his successor at the polls, at least now Mr. Cameron has a contemporaneous commiserator.
Ignoring the lessons from Mr. Cameron’s grand Brexit blunder, Primer Minister Theresa May marched head on into a similar political crevice. When she called for the national election, her apparent intent was to consolidate further the Conservatives’ hold on power, to coalesce the country behind the Brexit decision and to deal a decisive blow to the then-reeling Labour Party and its quirky, hard left leader Mr. Corbyn.
So much for Mrs. May’s “best laid schemes.”
As we are writing this, Prime Minister May is attempting to broker a deal to salvage a Conservatives-led coalition government (while the specter of an internal party coup by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson looms in the background). If those discussions go awry, then Labour will have the chance to form its own government. If not now, Mr. Corbyn also has his sights trained on the middle term, in the expectation that Prime Minister May will be unable to keep permanent any government she does manage to cobble together.
Mr. Corbyn said, “I can still be prime minister. This is still on.”
If any of the above sounds familiar, it should. The mixed results in Britain, and the ensuing wrangling for power behind closed doors, is not unlike what happened during the May elections in Cayman, although on a much larger stage.
Much of that has to do with the nature of the parliamentary system of governance bequeathed to us from the U.K., and also human nature inherited from birth.
Where many politicians, pollsters and professional prognosticators (including Prime Ministers Cameron and May) go wrong is in their belief that they can not only gauge accurately the prevailing pulse of public opinion, but can predict with confidence how individuals will act weeks or months in the future.
Part of the difficulty is that before the future gets here, events intervene – brutal acts of terrorism, political misstatements, the weather on election day, what voters had for breakfast, etc. – that can tilt narrow electoral margins one way or the other.
Most people, including voters, don’t act according to how they “think.” They act according to how they “feel” at a given moment. “The next election” is never a safe bet for an incumbent politician because, even in times of relative prosperity, the impulse of many voters is to “throw the bums out of office” … regardless of who those bums are, what they’ve actually done, or how long they’ve been there.
Often in our little islands, we look to the U.K. for wisdom, impartial expertise and calm steadying guidance. Our first instinct should be, rather, to appeal to ourselves for accountability and self-reliance.
Put another way, Mother may know best … but not always.