Getting things done in Opposition politics
By Marlene Hassan Nahon
At the end of my first year as a parliamentarian, I am increasingly perceiving a growing disenchantment with local politics, particularly regarding the working relationship between both sides of the House. Sadly, the form of politics that consists mainly of ping-pong, back-and-forth mud-slinging matches among politicians has become an almost ingrained part of local parliamentary culture. We have become too used to partisan cries that reflect a blinded, cult-like devotion to entrenched party views, to the point that purposeful debate becomes a rarity. Passive-aggressive insinuation and the regurgitation of long-held grudges tend to take the place of productive parliamentary business, and flying one’s party’s flag usually takes priority. This tribalism divides the political class into two, and alienates those who do not care much for the Punch & Judy show. I would like to think that there is a better way – and last Thursday’s events led me to experience this for myself.
It started when the GSD’s Roy Clinton presented a motion on mental health services. The motion, while correct in sentiment, was sadly lacking in substance, with vague and generally unhelpful strategies that called the Government to do little more than pay lip-service to making improvements, while also, unfairly in my opinion, criticising the administration’s record in this field. This naturally led to Minister Costa presenting a defensive counter-motion that consisted mainly of pro-Alliance bluster and propaganda, while slamming the GSD’s record when they were in power. I am sure that each side felt their particular motions had their political merits, but I did not feel that either offered much value to the predicament of those affected by mental health issues.
Instead, I proposed an amendment that, working in hand with professionals in the field, presented a series of constructive strategies that clearly aimed to improve specific mental health services. The amendment was not intended to score political points on either side but simply to help those who need it. This pragmatic and proactive approach was met with enthusiasm from the government side, with both Minister Costa and the Chief Minister himself agreeing to compromise on a number of issues. As a result, the amendment lost most of the Government’s bluster and all criticisms of the former administration were wiped off. In its place was a strategic action plan that will help the community. My only regret is that my Opposition colleagues did not seem to appreciate the value of the amendment and refused to support it.
This is how one should ‘do Opposition’. It is easy to point out problems; it is harder, but far more useful, to propose solutions. As an Opposition member, I feel that it is not my job to pick holes at the Government’s record, but suggest ways in which these can be filled. This positive and productive approach – one that brushes aside petty partisanship but which focuses squarely on the needs of the community – is what will restore the electorate’s confidence in the work that we carry out in the House. I urge both sides to try to reach out to each other more effectively, to work together by identifying specific areas where improvements can be made, and to avoid using the business of politics to score points at each others’ expense. For politics should be about getting things done. The seventeen of us have been elected to represent the interests of Gibraltarians; we do not need to agree with each other, we do not even need to like each other, but we should exercise this responsibility with a willingness to co-operate and to make the House less of a boxing ring and more of a forum for fruitful and productive action. We should look beyond the gripes of yesterday and, instead, stand together for today and, particularly, tomorrow. This may sound fanciful, but the fact that it occurred last week shows that it is by no means impossible. I am encouraged by the idea that, if it happened once, we should be able to do it again until cooperation and bipartisanship become the new culture in a House that deserves exactly that.
Marlene Hassan Nahon is an independent MP