Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 10th 2013 Contents A29
November 10, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Idon t usually write about
Trinidad (still less Tobago),
but this week it seems crazy not
to. So, what s to say?
Two things Jack got right.
One. After a four-month break,
we re back in ethnic politics.
And two, it was a very low poll.
Barely half the electorate turned
out to vote.
One thing Jack got wrong. The
ILP isn t likely to pull through and
win another day. From 69 per cent
in Chaguanas West, to 24 per cent
nationally three weeks ago, to 14
per cent in St Joseph does not look
good. Jack splashed out plenty
money in the run-up to the locals.
He won t want to keep spending.
Strong potential candidates won t
work hard for grassroots support in
seats they are bound to lose. The
ILP may survive in some form. But
it broke way too early.
The split vote ads quite likely
worked. After the locals, the ILP
did not look like a seat winner.
The "wasted vote" idea found
So there is no evidence that
Jack hurt the UNC more than
the PNM. The split vote ads
pulled UNC leaning voters away
from the ILP. So who was left?
If there had been no Om to go
to, some would not have voted
at all. Others would have gone
PNM, UNC--or indeed, Errol
The UNC needs to worry.
Their score was more than
5,000 down on 2010. Almost
half their former voters stayed
home, or picked other parties.
The "split vote" is no excuse.
Even if all the ILP-ers would
otherwise have picked the
UNC---a massively heroic
assumption---that still leaves
more than 3,000 missing votes.
The PNM needs to worry. They,
too, scored fewer votes than in 2010,
by around 1,500. Some, no doubt,
went to the ILP, others stayed home.
But the PNM s share of the poll
barely edged up, from 42 per cent
to 45 per cent.
Eight PP Trinidad seats are
more vulnerable than St Joseph.
Herbert Volney took 58 per cent
of the St Joseph votes in 2010.
The PP won eight other seats by
a smaller majority, with less than
58 per cent. All of those now
look marginal. So, since January,
do the two Tobago seats. Win-
ning every single one of those
eight seats, plus two in Tobago,
plus St Joseph would give Keith
Rowley 23 seats. A 23-18 result
would be a comfortable majority.
But two missed shots from that
list, and it s 21-20. Three and it s
back to opposition.
After that, there are no easy tar-
gets. In the next six seats, the PNM
took from 35 per cent to 39 per cent
of the votes in 2010; it would be a
tough task to push these scores to
50 per cent or more. And in the 12
PP fortresses, the PNM scored less
than 28 per cent.
The UNC has learnt from Jack
Warner. Jack scored his Chag
West landslide because he did
favours for voters. Ian Alleyne
tried a Warner look-alike cam-
paign in St Joseph. He now has
all the right phone numbers on
speed dial and 18 months to use
them. If voters see him as the
go-to problem solver, he has a
fair chance of winning in 2015.
Judicious use of state resources
could, meanwhile, bring Chagua-
nas West back to the UNC and
hold a few other marginals.
The opinion polls got it wrong.
Guardian Media, October 20:
PP 36 per cent
ILP 28 per cent
PNM 36 per cent.
Solution by Simulation, October
PP 31 per cent
ILP 23 per cent
PNM 46 per cent
Guardian Media, October 27:
UNC 30 per cent
ILP 34 per cent
PNM 35 per cent
Nacta, October 27:
UNC 34 per cent
ILP 28 per cent
PNM 38 per cent
Nacta, November 3:
UNC 34 per cent
ILP 26 per cent
PNM 40 per cent.
UNC 39 per cent
ILP 14 per cent
PNM 45 per cent
All the polls understated UNC/PP
support and bumped up the ILP.
Most understated the PNM--the
exception was Solution by Simula-
tion, which got the PNM score pret-
ty much spot on.
In each case, numbers have been
adjusted so that the score for the
three main parties adds up to 100
per cent. The date is publication;
interviewing was a few days earlier.
The stated margin of error was four
per cent, or (for SS) six per cent.
So what went wrong with the
polls? Countries like Britain have
perhaps ten polls a week, year round.
Most weeks, no two give the same
results. UK pollsters got burnt in
the 1992 election, after decades of
practice. Nearly all called it (wrongly)
for Labour. All rejigged their meth-
What can go wrong? Plenty. Fine-
tuning the question or the sampling
method can make a big difference.
So can failing to discount respon-
dents who say they are less likely
The T&T electorate is a set of
sub-samples, not one big mass.
Pollsters are called out once or twice
a year. They don t get the chance
to test and calibrate their methods.
Clients pay only for a small sample
with a consequently wide margin
But the polls may have been right
at the time of interviewing. There
may in fact have been a big last
minute swing away from the ILP.
The poll which counts is in 2015.
At a recent "official event," a
government minister s
plumed self-important, inter-
minable speech surpassed the
usual expectation of boredom.
People were shifting their
weight from foot to foot, practi-
cally weeping into their wine, as
the honourable minister struggled
with pronouncing "fact" and
words ending in G:
"ComIN...GoIN...HavIN," and so
on.I got comic relief in the form
of an anecdote about another
government minister from my
witty friend X, who has mastered
the art of speaking in asides with
an elegant "lean-in" in low, clear
The minister, she said, was
speaking at the opening of an
exhibition on VS Naipaul. Aca-
demics, readers, writers, artists,
diplomats and similar grown-up
people attended. He began his
speech with "Good evenin ."
The audience politely waited
for him to carry on.
Apparently the minister, blithe-
ly unaware of the difference
between a speech and conversa-
tion, repeated, "Good evenIN."
The audience waited politely still.
To the alarm of this tiny liter-
ary audience, the incensed minis-
ter excoriated them, saying that
for three years he had been start-
ing all his speeches with "Good
evenIN ... with NO response,"
which forced him to deduce that
"THIS was the root of all the
trouble in T&T."
When he calmed down suffi-
ciently to read his speech, he
made many references to "otters"
that confused his audience, who
must have wondered if this was
an allegory for something pro-
found that they didn t get.
This reference went on for a
while, until someone figured out
that he meant "authors" and not
The story was too good not to
repeat to fellow journos at an
informal wake for our late col-
league, journalist Anthony Milne.
Our friend Anthony, who stud-
ied literature at UWI, would have
appreciated the story of otters. I
know this because in 1982 he
interviewed poet laureate Derek
Walcott and asked him why the
way we speak is important. This
is what Walcott told Anthony
"If you live in a society in
which bad language (by bad I
don t mean immoral but ill-
expressed language) is acceptable
expression of patriotism (so ...
you become an enemy of the
people [if you speak well]
because the people don t talk
that way), you get a deterioration
of syntax. A deterioration of syn-
tax is related to the threat of
deterioration in a society. Because
the next thing that happens is
that anyone with any talent or
ambition is called a show-off;
there is an attempt to force that
person to become democratic .
"But art is not democratic; art
is hierarchical, and all artists
know that. They know that it
takes all your life to achieve some
level where you can be among
your peers. But if people feel
self-expression is without craft,
then the society is in danger. It is
in more danger than it is from
terrorists or revolutionaries."
Although the generalised illiter-
acy of our politicians can be a
source of mirth, it is actually
cynical and Machiavellian; a
developed intellect and moral
compass actually hampers a
maximum leader, and hamstrings
An MP or an honourable min-
ister is not required to have a
vision. He or she is required to
play to the gallery to wield the
twin tools of race and dependen-
cy to retain or gain power; to be
a master puppeteer to a massive-
ly functionally illiterate popula-
The politics of the simpleton
leaves us permanently rooted in a
kind of simple village standpipe
rule, and politics as a crudely
constructed spectator sport.
That s why goats are trotted
out to the stage. That s why par-
ties are not differentiated by pol-
icy or ideology (there is none).
The cancer of leadership by pap-
pyshow has permeated every pore
of every institution.
Cathal Healey-Singh, an envi-
ronmental engineer, recently
summed up the condition of our
small islands near-perfectly in a
blog post: "In T&T the poor ---
80 per cent-plus of the popula-
tion---are not represented and
have never got a fair, sustainable
share of the oil/gas pie. In our
own culturally distinct Trini way,
we have soft state fascism and
soft social anarchy, evidenced by
galloping crime, corruption,
poverty and pollution---top to
bottom. Soft, because we tend
to fight directionless for every-
thing except our rights. Plus
there is puncheon and beer,
which staggers a staggering num-
ber in weekly cycles, making
them pliant fodder."
Imagine the feeling you have
when you drive around the
Savannah at Easter time, blos-
soms brightening the range,
skirting the grass, your pleasure
at the Magnificent Seven.
It takes a culture (hopefully not
pronounced cul-tiere, and not
confined to chutney, soca, fetes,
doubles, carnival and cricket) of
reverence---for education, the
arts, excellence in sciences, order,
innovation, philosophy, aesthetics
of architecture and open spaces,
unending longing for knowl-
edge---to build a civilisation.
But how can a people think of
beauty, humanity, or civility,
when 80 per cent of the people
among us live on scraps flung
from the gallery, just enough to
keep us from biting?
The real terror, as Walcott
knew long ago, is within.
SCRAPS FLUNG FROM THE GALLERY
EIGHT BATTLEGROUND SEATS
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