A constitution for the common man

| 22/09/2008

When it comes to the details of politics, most people in the street are considerably less interested than those who take up office and throw themselves into the political arena, who in turn find it hard to appreciate that others couldn’t care less.

While people are certainly interested in the society they live in and the broad rules that govern them, few are really interested in the minutiae of the details that form a country’s political make-up.

This may go some way to explaining why, throughout the public discussion and education campaign on the constitutional modernisation process, the people have not been as enthusiastic as our local politicians would’ve liked. In fact, with the notable exception of the meeting convened purely to discuss human rights, the meetings were poorly attend, and it has to be said that people found them dull. This has no bearing on the skills of the presenters, who worked hard to try to help the people of Cayman understand the constitutional proposals. Unfortunately, the people were just not desperately engaged with the process, which is perfectly understandable.

Most ordinary people are too busy worrying about the normal and immediate things in their lives, such as how the kids are doing in school, what’s happening at their work, what coverage they have on their health care, where the next hurricane’s coming from and the price of gas. Trying to get their heads around whether the Attorney General should be inside or outside Cabinet, if the Speaker of the house should be elected from within or outside the Legislative Assembly, or whether there should be single-member constituencies with one-person-one-vote in the Sister Islands is just not something they prioritise.

Moreover, many simply don’t know how they feel about such issues because they don’t fully understand the implications. And why should they? In the same way that politicians don’t understand subjects outside their remit (helicopters, for example), why should the man in the street understand the implications of constitutional law?

While most people will agree that the revision of the constitution is important, what they want are broad ideas which they can understand and agree or disagree with. Most people are not interested in the details. By and large the constitutional discussion period and educational campaign was not a great success and, in hindsight, was probably a waste of time and money. A number of people who persistently demonstrated a real interest in the forthcoming constitution were religious in their attendance, and in each district a handful of new faces would appear, but by and large no more than a few hundred people actually engaged in any type of real constitutional discussion during the educational phase.

Whether it is the fault of the government, the opposition or just plain lack of interest on the part of the people is less important than the lessons that need to be learned. As the discussions begin with the UK and as a potential draft constitution takes shape, the resulting document needs to be sold in much simpler terms. The politicians and NGOs involved need to spell out the big issues and the changes that will actually have an impact on people’s lives. In short, they need to present the constitution for the common man.

Despite its best efforts, the government failed to engage the people to either agree or disagree with their proposals. Whether the UDP’s scare tactics added fuel to the fire is less apparent than the wide-scale apathy and, in some cases, total incomprehension over what the constitutional document contained and, more important, what it would mean to their lives. The government cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

While the Leader of the Opposition has certainly used the situation to his advantage to ensure that the constitution is not established until he can take up the mantle of leadership again, his observation that the people are not ready is probably right. However, many of the people will probably never be ready because they just don’t understand the issues. Consequently, what is called for is real political leadership.  And as the referendum will take place during the election campaign, it is the perfect opportunity for both sides to take ownership and pin the constitution to their political masts in simply political campaign terms, by agreeing or disagreeing with the document and spelling out why — it is, after all, what politicians are supposed to do.

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Category: Viewpoint

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Vote for Moses because of who he is!!!!!!!!! Whats that supposed to mean – who exactly is Moses? What good job is he doing or done?? He gets paid enough and should be doing something. Lets not count our chickens before they are hatched

  2. Chris Randall says:

    I agree that to combine a vote upon a new constitution with a general election is a mistake.  It is my impression that whilst most people on the Brac think Moses is doing a good job, very few are in favour of radical changes to the constitution.  In the polling booth this will probably translate as a vote for Moses because of who he is, and a vote against the proposed new constitution.  I doubt that this dichotomy will carry in Grand Cayman where it may well be that voters will feel obliged to reject both the new constitution and the candidates from the party which proposed it.

  3. Claudette Upton says:

    If you look back at Cayman Islands history, you will see that there have been several constitutional-modernisation campaigns, and in none of them did the general population become engaged with the issues. You’re probably right that most people aren’t interested in the minutiae of constitutional development, but I think making the contents of the constitution a campaign issue is a big mistake. It’s already been politicised by the Leader of the Opposition, which has done more harm than good, as his arguments and those of his supporters feed into people’s irrational fears. It’s always easier to scare people than it is to educate them. Making the constitution an election issue is almost certain to result in a constitution that the UK will not–and should not–accept.

    • Anonymous says:

      As if Kurt et al as NOT politicised it?…I know wewill never see the $$$ spent on this contitutional debacle, while the majority of us are literally starving to death. But I at least can calculate my overdraft with a nifty constitutional pen and notepad, while wearing my constitutional t-shirt.. And listening to the catchy propaganda on the radio and TV all paid for by WE THE PEOPLE!!

      Kurt is worried about looking like idiots when the FCO comes? If the shoe fits…..