Why Prime Minister Skerrit will not debate and what about the originality of ideas
"All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients"- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit provided a rather unsatisfactory excuse for his refusal to accept the challenge of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) to debate with its leader Lennox Linton, during the current general elections campaign.
On "Focus on Government and Development", the government's radio programme broadcasted on the state-owned DBS radio on Saturday 18th September 2014, Prime Minister Skerrit opined that debating Linton would be a waste of time because, he believed, Linton had nothing original to say. Here's what Mr Skerrit said:
"Whose ideas would I be debating if all the major speeches that you have given are other people's ideas and their vision and their philosophy and their ideology? Whose ideas would we be debating? When you hear me articulating a vision for the country, this vision comes from the Labour Party and from the leadership of the Labour Party. As far as I am concerned we can go to the Registry and patent it.
"The man has been stealing people's words and ideas and philosophy and vision. I would be debating Chastanet's ideas from St. Lucia. The man has not read a serious book about Dominica; he's not taken time to read the IMF records or the ECCB reports, he has not engaged himself in any serious, honest discussion.
"I don't see myself engaging in discussion with Lennox Linton about Dominica because he has not demonstrated, in my respectful view, any ability to articulate his own words and the most recent revelations from all his speeches… I don't think he can pen it because he's a lazy fella. I don't think I will want to sit down and debate Lennox Linton on any issue."
It is unfortunate that Mr. Skerrit is of the view that Mr. Linton lacks originality in thought, word and deed. In our opinion, the Prime Minister was merely expressing the modus operandi of his ruling party; that is, to marginalise and denigrate Mr. Linton at every opportunity, to make him into a 'non-person', to paint him as one who is lazy and inexperienced. If this was the sport of boxing, the DLP would want spectators to see Mr. Linton as a feather-weight boxer who has the audacity to fight in the arena of world heavy-weight champions.
But it would seem that, the Linton-bashing game plan is apparently backfiring, as UWP supporters have coalesced behind their party leader despite his alleged limitations. Linton, the self-proclaimed political novice has nonetheless revitalised the opposition into a group that the ruling party has perceived as a real threat.
Significantly, while Prime Minister Skerrit describes Mr. Linton as a serial plagiarist, one whose words are as original as the utterances of a parrot, the ruling government could also be guilty of the same charge.
Here are a few examples that may illustrate the point. In the sphere of foreign policy, over the past few years, we have heard Mr. Skerrit repeatedly use the expression: "Friends of all, satellites of none." Well, this concept was appropriated from Errol Barrow, the first Prime Minister of Barbados.
These were Barrow's words: "But as terrorism becomes more global, international criminal cartels bolder, and unilateralism more pervasive, Barbadians now might revise their foreign policy standard to give notice to the world that we remain friends of all who are friendly, but still satellites of none," Note that the late Barbados Prime Minister and national hero made the statement in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1966.
Here's another example: in the field of education, Mr. Skerrit has announced that he envisages every household in Dominica having a university graduate at some unspecified period in the future. But we learnt in a recent article in the "Barbados Today" newspaper entitled: "It's not madness, it's common sense! Sir Hilary Beckles defends his vision of one graduate per household."
"Almost five years after he unveiled his vision of one tertiary level graduate per household in Barbados by 2020, principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus Sir Hilary Beckles is sticking to his guns. Describing those who criticize the concept as unintelligent, Sir Hilary said having a tertiary graduate per household in Barbados was one way of ensuring the issue of poverty was addressed," the paper stated.
Now, did Sir Hillary "steal" that vision from Mr. Skerrit's DLP?
And what about the Dominican government's policy, which was commended by many, entitled: "No child left behind"? The Ministry of Education in Dominica has adopted and repeats this tagline quite frequently? According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, the "No Child Left Behind Act" was signed by President Bush in Hamilton, Ohio in 2001. That Act aims at closing "the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind".
The point we need to stress here is that few ideas are as original as politicians want to make us believe; people of all races, classes and creeds obtain ideas from various sources. If we are to borrow a phrase from French Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard: "It's not where you take things from — it's where you take them to" that matters.
Returning to the original issue of the proposed political debate, Mr Skerrit will not be the last Prime Minister who declines an invitation to debate during an election campaign. But he should not have used the silly excuse that he was declining because Mr. Linton does not have original ideas. It occurs to us, that a more logical and justifiable reason for declining this debate would be one of self-preservation, Mr. Skerrit.