Demming: Bring back graciousness and civility to Parliament, Annisette-George can lead the way

Don’t let the young cricketer look at the ‘unorthodoxy’ of Richie Richardson, until he has been exposed to orthodox form of a master batsman like Desmond Haynes. 

This was the advice my husband got from the Harvard cricket coach Dwight Day when our sons were introduced to Sunday morning cricket. What Dwight meant was that they needed to master the classic form of the game before experimenting with unorthodox methods. It’s a life lesson I have taken seriously.

Photo: West Indies cricket legend Sir Desmond Haynes had flawless batting technique.
(Copyright Wisden)

In an earlier time, the behaviour in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago was seen as the classic model for behaviour that was gracious and dignified. Not so today! We have totally abandoned any form of classic structured, civil behaviour. 

When I look at the Parliament Channel I feel ashamed for both sides—for men and women, for leaders and the led. I wonder who the behaviour models are for our aspiring young politicians. Indeed, what kind of tone is the Parliament setting for our citizens?

Maybe the early statement from a government minister in Parliament, ‘…we in charge now, so deal with it!’ set the stage. Or maybe the perception of bias by the previous Speaker of the House has encouraged an over-compensatory response by the current Speaker.

Whatever the reason, the current Parliament Channel brings to citizens a parade of indecency, crudeness and lack of dignity.

Photo: UNC Senator Anil Roberts.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

While the position that the Parliament is merely a reflection of the society may not be easily refuted, I wish to counter that leadership has a critical role and people take their cues from our leaders. There is a great responsibility on the part of the persons who sit in the Parliament to signal a change in tone, communicating that we should act with grace and dignity.  

The emptiness of the terms ‘Madam Speaker’ and the ‘honourable member’ are often followed by sarcasm and rancour.

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George has an opportunity to change the tone and craft a different mode of behaviour amongst her colleagues.  She has the power to host a private dialogue with the 41 members of Parliament aimed at transforming the tone of their parliamentary dialogue. It will not be an easy conversation but it is a necessary one for the good of the country.

What a legacy Speaker Annisette-George would leave if she leads the transformation of our Parliament to one where verbal expression and dialogue can occur with dignity and respect!  

Photo: Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George on her legs in Parliament on 31 June 2021.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament

As a long shot, when this behaviour change is successful it will seep into our day to day interactions and even notch down the aggression and verbal abuse which is becoming the norm.

Former Speaker Arnold Thomasos is recalled as the longest serving Speaker of the House for his service from 1961-1981.  My bold wish is for Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George to be remembered as the female game changer who brought back dignity and civility to our House of Parliament.  

No one else has the credibility to do that job in the current configuration.

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