Workers’ Party Skirmishes in the Opening of the 12th Parliament
“While I agree that we should be mindful of the pitfalls of a welfare state, I think it is high time that the PAP MPs refrain from using this as a ‘red herring’ to kill debate on alternative solutions and mechanisms to those proposed by the Government.”
Workers’ Party Sec-Gen Low Thia Khiang, the Teochew from Hougang and risked all to stand in Aljunied, closed the WP’s position on its plan in the 12th parliament. He questioned the PAP government’s version of trade-offs with regards to welfare, housing, healthcare. That is what policy-making is all about – constantly evolving trade-offs and balance. He also stressed that despite the political odds against them but with the people’s support nonetheless, the WP would turn parliament into a First World one.
The heartlander issues of housing, education, transport, healthcare, welfare and social net resonated in speeches of the majority of the WP MPs and NCMPs. As a WP apologist and so you know where I am coming from in my bias, I have nothing but compliments that WP is mostly on the right track in terms of these core concerns, despite the realistic difficulties of trying to please all members of the public although it is impossible to do so.
WP tried to strike a chord with all constituents – those who are interested in the mundane but pressing problems like jobs, bills, schooling, costs, house; and those interested in the esoterics of governance like happiness, freedom of information, values and ideals. While there are certainly overlaps in these topics in the speeches, I felt that the heartland issues were dealt more by Low Thia Khiang, Chen Show Mao (education and healthcare), Gerald Giam (transport, housing, healthcare), Yee Jenn Jong (education, SMEs and jobs) and Yaw Shin Leong (foreign workers, jobs, CPF). The lightweight fluffy issues were addressed more by Sylvia Lim (happiness), Muhamad Faisal (social ills) and Pritam Singh (media and information). Hence, of the 8 WP speakers, 5 focused more on livelihood while 3 dabbled more on lifestyle.
Whether the right balance was achieved is subjective and again there is no pleasing everybody.
From the Hougang days, WP has always banked on its image as a disciplined party rooted in heartland issues – being employed, safety net and those who fall through the cracks, a roof over the head, food on the table and efficient cheap commuting. However with a larger beachhead now from 1 MP and 1 NCMP in the 11th parliament to 6 MPs and 2 NCMPs in the 12th parliament, WP can afford some political capital to capture the imagination of the younger generation of voters. The same voters who might pull away from SDP and NSP to vote for WP in the 13th parliament. The same voters who are blissfully ignorant relatively about OA, SA, MA and minimum sum in the CPF, the difference between Medisave, Medishield and Medifund, about foreign worker levy, quota and the S Pass etc. They are the important voters that all political parties have to pamper more and more – the Strawberry Generation whose hilarious self-centred, self-righteous, superficial views are typical in the Facebook comments in TOC and TR.
There is also something else underneath the WP speeches. Yaw Shin Leong’s speech is heartland in orientation, suggesting that WP wants to retain that image of a low-middle income pull and not risk going into the fluffy issues in Hougang. Not wise for Hougang’s new MP for his opening salvo in parliament if he is going to talk less about work and welfare. NCMP Gerald Giam and Yee Jenn Jong’s heartland pitch, also suggests that in the inexorable march to win hearts and minds in East Coast GRC and Joo Chiat SMC if the boundaries are the same in the next GE, WP had to flash the image that these NCMPs know what are the main concerns of heartlanders. Aljunied GRC MPs Sylvia Lim, Muhamad Faisal and Pritam Singh then had the riskier onus of giving a softer side of WP as a calculated move to compliment Chen Show Mao and Low Thia Khiang’s heartland messages.
The first shots were fired and WP is now officially skirmishers in the PAP-dominated parliament. The years ahead would allow us ample opportunities to see if WP remains true to its bread and butter focus, or they would lose their way in trying to meet the aspirations of the Strawberry Generation new media mob. There is a trade-off there too for the WP.