Foot in mouth
The late Prime Minister David Thompson, the late Sir Harold Bernard St. John and Dame Billie Miller are at least three who are on record, while on the floor of the Lower House of Parliament, as having stressed repeatedly that no member should ever enter that esteemed Chamber for debate unless he or she was fully prepared to do so.
It is advice that each individual has previously given new or young entrants to political life on both sides of the party divide. If debates over the years are to be taken as the gauge, then not all of our parliamentarians have taken this excellent advice to heart.
However, political preparation should be extended beyond Parliament and ought to be a feature of public speaking on the campaign platforms and at other official occasions. Our politicians are always in the spotlight and our young people especially, are frequently influenced by what emanates from within their mouths.
Not every public speaker has the same proficiency or fluency with the English language. Not every politician is blessed with the rich, natural tone of Christ Church South incumbent John Boyce. Not every public speaker is blessed with the witty, verbal dexterity of St. Peter MP Owen Arthur. Not every politician is blessed with the historical reservoir and vocabulary of St. Michael South MP Freundel Stuart. We would be foolhardy to expect such.
But what we do expect is that given the nature of the calling that they have chosen, that our politicians work on their language deficiencies, practise their public speaking and look to raise their standards as part of their desired intention to serve John Public. Communication in politics is paramount.
Of course, this has nothing to do with academics. Some of our best public speakers gained that reputation through hard practise, not academic qualifications. It was a situation where they decided that in the interest of the people they served and the Parliament that honoured them, they would seek not to do harm to the Queen’s English.
Our nightly travels around Barbados on the 2013 campaign trail have thrown up scenarios where the language of the realm has been threatened most violently, and we dare say, often without the knowledge of those occasioning it grievous harm.
One politician this week, in attempting to demonstrate that another politician had sought peace with another, said one politician had extended the “oliver blossom” to the other. We are sure, within the context of what he was saying that he meant “olive branch” but his subsequent repetition of “oliver blossom” confirmed there was a language deficiency in that professional.
Last week at another meeting a relatively seasoned politician spoke with a certain degree of conviction about a political foe casting “aspirations” on his integrity. He repeated his charge on two further occasions but by his own unwitting admission, no wrong had been done him since no “aspersions” had been cast.
We elect our political leaders to serve us in practical, nation-building ways. We do not elect them primarily to be “good talkers” but as leaders we want to be proud of them when they represent our interests locally, regionally and internationally. We want our children to be able to listen to their debates and draw inspiration, information and instruction from what they have to say about the process of governance. Therefore, it is difficult to accept below minimum standards, especially in circumstances where diligent practice can bring positive, personal improvements.
Our Parliament has been blessed with personalities from all walks of life, whether lawyers, seamen, doctors, labourers or teachers. Some of the most gifted orators have not been academics. They practised their trade in as much as a cricketer goes into the nets and works on flawed technique.
In this the 21st Century, a developing nation such as Barbados can only demand that our political leaders seek to improve their personal standards. We as part of the media collective often do not highlight these gross deficiencies.
This is not to cast aspersions on anyone. We simply extend an olive branch.