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Same Old Khaki Pants

I told a friend the other day that the political economy of St. Kitts is primitive. He looked at me with disbelief. He could not understand how I could arrive at that dismal conclusion. We Kittitians are so uppity; we think that we are so modern. My friend was even more upset when I added that it was under-civilized. I could see that he was straining to keep his temper under control so I hastened to explain what I meant. Some of our educated people who think they know a lot about the political systems of the world, like to refer to our system as the Westminster system, derived from Britain, our Mother Country. And some of them think the we were wrong to try to copy this system from our former colonial masters. When Thomas Warner came to the Caribbean in 1623, he brought the Westminster model with him. After a period of running the islands like business units called plantations, he bowed to the British command to establish British Government units in the islands. The British Government model was King, Commoners and Lords. We copied it to show Governor, Assembly and Council. This arrangement, known By present-day historians as the old representative system, lasted for many years and even outlasted the system from which it was copied. I will return to this irony; but what I have to note about this old representative system is that it reflected the British manorial system which was one of the tangents of British feudalism. Feudalism was a system contrived By the English Kings and their nobles to settle matters of state. When William of Normandy invaded England in 1066, he became King of England. For William it was a pleasure being King of England, but he had a big problem. He did not trust the English barons and had to find a way to deal with them to prevent his overthrow By them. The barons were warlords, who ruled over certain domains and waged wars and sieges against each other With their men at arms and the tenants who lived on their domains they could rebel against the King, wage war on him and overthrow the dynasty. King William the Conqueror faced this dangerous reality and contrived a system to deal with it. He claimed all the land as his possession and would allow the barons to hold on to their domains only if they served an oath of allegiance to him and promised to fight for him against his enemies. Thus the King imposed the same conditions on his barons as the barons did on the ordinary people who lived on their domains. He became a superior feudal lord and prepared to carry out feuds against any dissident lords who were bold enough to challenge his authority. I believe feudalism reached its high point in the War of the Roses which raged between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Roses, a white rose for one, a red rose for the other, distinguished the Houses and they fought their battles off and on for many years. They fought for the crown and each house had a champion who wanted to be the king and wear the crown. It resembled the PAM and Labour saga to which our island is subjected. The PAM whose colour is yellow struggles against Labour whose colour is red. PAM’s champion is Lindsay Grant, Labour’s champion is Denzil Douglas, not really much different from ancient times. Whoever wins, the leader wears the crown, his vassals rally round him, swear loyalty to him and guard him closely from all outside the tight circle. The ordinary people, the foot soldiers who get caught up in the conflict, fight against one another in defense of their chosen champion. That’s what it’s all about – choosing a champion to wear the crown. It was an institution of dependency and hero worship. In olden times, the ordinary people were called serfs, another name for slaves. They were the villagers. These villagers were simple folk who lived short, miserable lives on the landlord’s manor. There they toiled from dawn to dusk for the master and when wars broke out the men had to abandon their women and children and go out to fight to defend both their Lord and their King. I tried to show my friend the similarity. Our general elections are battles in the War of the Roses. The colours are red or yellow shirts, shoes, bags, some even paint their houses. The modern serfs or villagers are called the people and the feud is fought between the two warlords also known as party leaders. As in feudal times, the serfs/villagers/people, do not have any say in their own lives. The warlords and their vassals tell the people what is good for them and the people rally around them, not for anything they can get but just for the excitement of backing the colour of their choice and the leader of their choice. British feudalism began to decline when Henry VII became King and established the House of Tudor. The political system of Westminster has evolved from the times of Henry Tudor and is still evolving. Feudal lords and autocratic kings have long been banished from Westminster and Westminster carefully follows the rule that a Prime Minister is but first among equals in the Cabinet. In St Kitts, we are still fighting the War of the Roses. Our Prime Minister is an autocratic warlord whose primary interest is in wearing the crown. His Cabinet is packed with spineless worms, who look after themselves rather than the welfare of the people who elected them to their high offices. Although these Cabinet members won their seats in an election, they still behave as if they are beholden to the patronage of the Prime Minister. They function as his vassals and close ranks around the Prime Minister instead of marching at the front of the people who elect them to office. Instead of leading their people out of serfdom they seem content to keeping them in the benighted era of feudalism. Political patronage has long been outlawed at Westminster and any attempt to indulge in this sordid practice results in scorn and public disgrace. The bottom line is that those who contend that the flaws in our political system are caused By our adoption of the Westminster system are wrong It is closer to the truth that our politics has stagnated at the feudal level. This stagnation was deliberate. The successors of our colonial masters saw a great personal advantage in winning tribal wars which would ensure them the unquestioning loyalty of an uninformed mass of serfs. In addition to the Cabinet members who betray democracy in the interest of autocracy, there is the cadre known as civil servants. These are supposed to be professionals who provide permanency to the political system when the government changes hands. They were trained By the British to be a buffer between the powerless people and their empowered politicians. In other words they were expected to cat as guardians of democracy. Unhappily however these educated people have betrayed their sacred trust and have made themselves into minions instead. Like their Cabinet counterparts, they too have sacrificed their pride for autocratic patronage. These minions crowd the senior civil service where, without shame or compunction some of them blink their eyes in defense of deeds which even the Prime Minister himself knows are wrong. It is difficult to understand how these professional misfits sleep at night. The public wonders if these elite men and women have consciences and if they do, how do they keep their consciences quiet when they see injustice being done and fail to do their duty to end it? The answer might be that our civil servants are functioning at the feudal level. I am not certain whether my friend agreed with me or even understood me .But there is one thing I am certain about. Nothing will change for us, Autocracy will not end for us and tribalism will not go away unless WE the PEOPLE take positive actions to usher true democracy to our little nation.

Editor :