Former Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking at a press conference at which the Progressives announced the make-up of its shadow Cabinet today (13 May), said his party had been “blindsided” by independents who joined the PACT government after apparently giving undertakings to form an alliance government with the Progressives.
In response to a media question about reports of pressure being put on successful candidates by political donors, McLaughlin said he was surprised that there was an inference that such pressure was coming from the Progressives’ side.
“In fact, we know the converse to be true,” he said. “We had arrangements with… four independents; we assisted them, some of them financially, we assisted them with political advice, and we assisted them by endorsements, so something transpired in the last week or so of the election campaign because what occurred on election night, with most of the independents going into a meeting with Mr. [Wayne] Panton. That thought was not hatched that night. We were blindsided in that respect.”
McLaughlin said that “of course” people who gave financial or other support during an election campaign would say, “‘This is the condition on which I supported you… You said you were going to work with this group or not going to work with that person, you’ve gone back on your word’, and I’m sure a lot of that went on on both sides.”
He also took aim at Cayman Marl Road for what he described as “bullying” of candidates following the election, “in fact, going as far as to go to Isaac Rankine’s house in East End and taunt and threaten him”.
“I’ve never see that level of intimidation, particularly by some,” he said, adding that he believed such conduct had impinged on the choices of elected representatives.
He said he knew two independent candidates had expressed “fear that something bad would happen to them if they did not do what Marl Road and others were advocating they should do – that is, become part of a government of independents rather than join the Progressives”.
Shadow Cabinet positions
McLaughlin, who was Cayman’s premier from 2013 until last month, is taking on the role of shadow Cabinet minister for financial services, international trade and investment, and agriculture.
Other shadow Cabinet members include Roy McTaggart, leader of the opposition, who is taking on finance, economic development and infrastructure; Joey Hew, deputy leader of the opposition, who is the shadow minister for commerce, environment, transport, planning and lands; and Moses Kirkconnell, whose portfolio includes tourism, district administration, e-government and innovation.
Dwayne Seymour is shadow minister for health, housing, culture, heritage and home affairs; Barbara Conolly is shadow minister for education and social development; and David Wight is shadow minister for youth, sport and labour.
McTaggart said the Progressives planned to build up and strengthen the party during their time in opposition, and would aim to run a full slate of candidates in all districts in the next election, rather than rely, as they had in the April polls, on alliances with independents to make up enough numbers to form a majority government.
In response to a media question, McTaggart said Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who ran with the Progressives but joined the PACT government just hours before the new administration was sworn in last month, had not yet resigned from the party.
The shadow Cabinet members at today’s briefing were asked if their failure to form a government was an indicator that party politics was not working in Cayman. In response, McLaughlin cast doubt on the cohesiveness of a government made up of a group of individuals who ran on different platforms and manifestos.
“The jury was very much out on whether this government can last,” he said. “I certainly do not wish them not to, because that sort of uncertainty is not good for our economy, and we’re going through enough challenges as it is.”
But he pointed out that when he was first elected in 2000, “the government that was cobbled together lasted one year before it fell apart”.
He added, “It is very difficult to keep a group of politicians together, particularly as is the case with the PACT government, where they have no common platform, no cohesive set of policies or programmes, and most of them are highly inexperienced.”
Border reopening concerns
McTaggart said the Opposition was pleased to see that new government ministers who had not been vaccinated had now received their jabs, and was heartened that the government intended “to follow, at least for the time being, the sensible border reopening policies that we established when we were in government”.
However, he said his party believed that the government needed to ensure that 75-80% of the population was vaccinated before the borders reopened. Panton has said that a 70% target was “more doable”, but that his government hoped to surpass that figure. As of today, 52% of the population had received both doses of the vaccine.
“Certainly 80% is preferable. The concern we have is the new strains of the virus that we see developing in different parts of the world and the need to tread carefully so we avoid the pitfalls that have occurred in other places that have had to reintroduce lockdowns and social distancing. We shall watch carefully what the government does, going forward.”
He added that “we are hearing more and more that there will be a reopening, but what seems to be lacking now are the real plan, what steps do we take… in order to make that happen”.
The Bush situation
McLaughlin also weighed in on what he described as the “greatest political irony” he had seen, which was McKeeva Bush allying with PACT and returning as Speaker of the House after Panton had resigned from the Progressives last year over the party’s failure to remove Bush following assault allegations.
McLaughlin said he had received a long message on his phone from Panton at the time, which he would “keep forever”, in which Panton said Bush should have been fired.
Bush was convicted of common assault in December last year, leading to calls from the then-Opposition and some members of the public for him to be removed as Speaker. The Progressives opted not to remove him because McLaughlin said that such action was likely to lead to the collapse of government and early elections at a time when the government was still dealing with COVID-related issues.
However, in February, McLaughlin did opt for early elections, thus preventing the then-Opposition from bringing a resolution of no confidence in Bush.
McLaughlin said at today’s briefing, “The elections were called because of the controversy around Mr. Bush’s assault conviction,” adding that the Progressives, after the election, had taken a “principled position… that we would not go back into government with Mr. Bush”.
He said they had sought repeatedly to put together a coalition with the PACT group in the aftermath of the election, but “none of that came to fruition because Mr. Panton took the view that the prize of the premiership was worth him going back on everything he had said and done previously, and, lo and behold, we now have Mr. Bush back as Speaker of the House, this time as part of the PACT administration”.
He added, “What is amazing to me is the hypocrisy that has been demonstrated by many, including some in the media about this, because what Mr. Bush had done was so despicable that he ought to have been ejected from the Speaker’s chair, but now that the Progressives alliance decided not to go back into government with him, it’s seemingly perfectly acceptable for him to be back in the chair, to prop up the PACT administration. If that’s not hypocritical, then I don’t know what could possibly be.”
Despite his comments at the briefing, McLaughlin insisted there were no “sour grapes”, adding, “They outsmarted us this time.”