The Politics of Poverty in Honourable Member

In Ian Strachan’s play Honourable Member, the following age old question is addressed: “Why do the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.” The main character PM (Prime Minister) also called “Fergie” brings up the issue of economics and the politics behind the economic hierarchy in the Bahamas. When the Minister of Transport proposes a new initiative to use electric buses in the country, he explains that it will be a “paradigm shift.” Transport says: “It’s clean energy. It’s sustainable. Imagine the savings to citizens, average families, not to mention businesses. New jobs. The upside is amazing.” PM immediately opposes this policy because the industry leaders who are car dealers will suffer financial loss. PM explains that this cannot happen because he needs to continue to appease the rich people so that they can continue to pay for things. PM’s views accurately reflect the reason it is so difficult for the working class to achieve economic and social growth because politicians impede initiatives that would benefit the poor because they feel the need to protect their own self-interest.

PM says that it would be great if they can keep the rich and poor happy, but if that is not possible then “you settle for keeping the rich happy and the poor distracted.” In PM’s monologues, he reveals that the major way to keep the poor distracted is to keep them worrying about basic needs. PM says that he has votes money cannot buy because:  “we, this party, bought them with light, running water, roads, schools and jobs.” This begs the question how do you maintain power by providing basic necessities? Obviously the people continue to vote him in because they are grateful that they have been given the basics of life.

At the same time, PM feels justified for continuing to support the rich at the expense of the poor because he needs to maintain his lifestyle: “After all, you have children who need to go to college, you have a wife who want a nice car and purses, you have a mortgage, you want to go on vacation, you have couple sweethearts.” In contrast, when PM talks about the issues his constituents complain about, they talk about serious concerns: “They son get lock up wit weed but it wasn’ his; so and so can’t read or write but he want a job on the force; they light off cause the number man lie; they get fire for teefin but it wasn’ no true, the boss jus’ hate dem.” Look at the hypocrisy of these statements. There is a huge discrepancy between what the constituents are asking for and what the politician is asking for. PM says his children need to go to college, yet the common people are illiterate. He wants to go on vacation, have a car, accessories etc. All these things are luxuries, whereas the poor are worried about keeping their electricity on. This shows the blatant disregard PM has for the poor because he is busy maintaining his lavish lifestyle while complaining that the poor desire to have the most essential of things.

When PM complains to Lumumba that he would not die for his people because they are as “insecure and cowardly” as he is, Lumumba points out PM’s role in the reason the poor are weak and cowardly: “You and your friends have weakened them with bribes, patronage, dulled them with mindless tasks, made them dependent. They’ve forgotten the sweet taste of freedom and self-reliance.” Here, Lumumba is a model of a good leader in that he was assassinated for putting his country’s people first. Hence, even though PM tries to blame the poor because they are complicit in a corrupt system, Lumumba shows why they are complicit. Thus the system is designed to ensure the constant failure of the poor. They are kept uneducated, given unstable jobs that they can lose easily, and are made to be dependent on the government for basic things. Hence, the poor class exchange their votes for basic needs and politicians exploit the poor and placate the rich in order to continue their extravagant lifestyle. This shows that within the realm of Bahamian politics, maintaining poverty is essential to stay in power.

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