Monday, October 3, 2011

Leader gives his party the middle finger

When Prime Minister Tillman Thomas gave his national address and announced what appears to be minor changes to his cabinet – as is his right to do – he effectively launched his re-election campaign, putting Glen Noel in charge of the process, while continuing his move to bypass his party.

The changes he announced on Friday night were more a blatant political ploy rather than any attempt to increase the efficiency of his cabinet – and in some ways is the continuation of the Prime Minister giving his own party the middle finger since last July’s convention.

Prime Minister Thomas went out on a limb to openly campaign for Noel as Chairman of the party – a fight that ended in the humiliating defeat on the floor of the convention.

Since then, despite all counseling to let it fly, the Prime Minister and Party Leader has insisted that the new chairman Kenrick Fullerton should not keep his government job – if he wants to remain chairman.

When organs of the party have sought discussion on the issue – he has shrugged it off as none-of-their-business, since it is a government issue where the party has no jurisdiction.

Even if you buy the arguments against Fullerton, at best it is inconsistent, since about a dozen active party members have similar arrangements – and they have not been asked to choose.

There is a team that is advising the Prime Minister not to go into the next election with the so called ‘Gang of Four’ – and he is beginning to lean this way.

For him, it is the natural progression of his mission to exorcise “the evil” from his party.

Prime Minister Thomas has always seen Noel as his enforcer – but without him having a formal role in the party, he has now created a Ministry of National Mobilization, that will give him the space and reason to roam the nation.

Under the cloak of ministerial duty, he will be running parallel streets to the party’s chairman and general secretary, whose role based on their positions in the party, would have been to mobilize for a general election.

To Noel’s credit, he is the only one brave enough – his detractors will say stupid enough – to do the ground work for the “go-it-alone” committee.

Some of his own team is still a little uncomfortable with the very idea, and whatever you may think of Nazim Burke, he is neither stupid nor suicidal.

The king of nervous is getting jittery as to where all this will lead.

In the end, Burke is the only one capable of stopping the madness if he ceases being crippled by indecision.

Noel is the one who will identify alternative candidates – and a few names have already been scribbled down.

For now that team covets Pamela Courtney instead of Kenrick Fullerton for St Andrew’s North East; Merle Byer instead of Peter David for St George’s; three potentials in St George’s South instead of Glynis Roberts, and virtually anybody but Joseph Gilbert in St Patrick’s West.

There is an open path in St David’s since Denis Lett, the respected conscience of the party has always indicated he was going to retire anyway.

Their narrative in St Andrew’s South West is that Sylvester Quarless can’t win and must be changed and Alleyne Walker, has outlived his usefulness in St Andrew’s North West.

Of the incumbents, only three candidates are really safe.

Thomas’ inspiration for candidate overhaul is Trinidad and Tobago’s Patrick Manning, who kicked out his PNM old guard in dramatic fashion.

Except he would do well to remember how that all ended.

The parallels don’t end there. Manning felt he was on an ordained divine mission. So too is Thomas.

He should start praying harder that God answers his prayers, better than he did Manning’s.

Or else this will be a case of dead men walking – or I should say – running!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Heartbreak when the love is gone

I remember the night of July 8, 2008 as if it were yesterday.

There was an excitement and an expectation in the air – that I had not seen before on an election night - and I had covered every victory celebration since the so-called return of democracy after 1984.

It was clear that a country, which by 2006 had grown fed-up with the emerging arrogance and unrepentant cronyism that three terms of New National Party government had fed, was eager to exhale.

In an odd way – there was love in the air. People were offering you free drinks and free rides; and strangers were hugging each other.

It was a good election to both win and lose.

NNP, in its final years, was in so much tension with so many sectors of the society, there was a sense that if it had returned, there was going to be a dramatic clash some time, somewhere.

The economy had just begun to grow sour too though, and what NDC inherited, in some ways, was a poisoned chalice.

Nobody thought it was going to be easy – but the change in tone would have been a good place to start.

Three years later, a lot of the optimism of that July 8 night is gone (it had to because it was just too high).

But the most regretful part is that it feels that the love is gone too.

It is not easy to fix an economy that was structurally unsound and saddled by unacceptable debt.

But a politician courts his own demise, when followers feel the love is gone.

The National Democratic Congress’ biggest danger of not getting re-elected is not the still too sluggish economy or the increasing activity of the opposition New National Party.

It is the failure to win the empathy stakes.

Though some of it is not always well founded, most of the leadership, it is felt, does not have enough personal empathy for people who have been through difficult times.

When you ask the many NDC activists who were on that 2008 train, why it appears that they have back ‘slidden’ – the complaint is not about the economy or them not having a job. It is always a variance of – ‘boy them boys ain’t care about anybody.”

In Grenadian politics empathy is the biggest asset to have.

Recently I was in New York when Prime Minister Tillman Thomas made his statement about Grenada being the best-governed country in the region.

While the point may be grudgingly taken – there is no way to absolutely measure those things.

However I walked away on that nice New York spring afternoon with a refrain in my head – good governance, bad politics.

That is the recipe for defeat.

To explain today’s leadership style of the NDC, is to fully understand the old GNP – Grenada National Party – of the likes of Herbert Blaize, Ben Jones, John Watts and Rawle Charles.

They were good and decent men, who did things by the books – and who you would want to send your child to spend a weekend with because they will learn some positive things.

But you yourself won’t want to hang out with them.

Given the chance in the 1970s, you’d want to drop off your child at Blaize’s house, while you yourself spent the night drinking margaritas and talking cricket at Evening Palace with Eric Gairy.

And so to understand why NDC is in danger in 2013, is to understand why Blaize and company could have never beaten Eric Gairy.

It was not obeah – just political magic.

While a turn-around in the economy will surely help – it is improving empathy and love, translated into words and action, that will be the only thing that will give the Thomas-led NDC a chance two years from now.

A genuine dose of the Bill Clinton school of “I feel your pain”.

Prime Minister Thomas’ declaration in New York confirms his own feeling of correctness – of having successfully reinvented GNPism.

And parties are, by and large, shaped in the likeness of their leaders.

In an odd way, the opposition New National Party is still seeking to paint the NDC as some radical party of ex-revolutionaries.

The reason why that analogy never resonated with anybody of note in 2008 – and it’s even worse now – is because it is just not true. (In addition of course that fear is not a viable political strategy in an information age).

NDC’s leader is more Blaize – than he is even Nicholas Brathwaite or Gorge Brizan. Its deputy Nazim Burke is more Ben Jones than Bernard Coard; chairman Glen Noel, in an attempt to belong, thinks it’s convenient to ignore his class position.

Peter David is an odd man out – a populist who genuinely feels bureaucracy should not stand in the way of helping ordinary people. But he is ‘Boxer’ in the Animal Farm novel; a workhorse who will eventually be slaughtered by his own party.

His own party has set him up – dismissing him as wanting power – when what he really aches for are results.

The opposition NNP has increased its activity – and the only reason it is yet to catch on like wildfire is that it has a record of its own that is not easy to downplay.

And while NNP touts solutions for everything under the sun, many are still asking how come they could not pull them off in 13 years rather than ranting and raving of three years of what is decidedly yes – under achievement.

NDC’s other problem is that it has become good at devouring its own.

Scholar; Chester Humphrey; Stanford Simon are no less anti-NNP than Tillman Thomas.

But you won’t know that by how some in influence in the ruling party has sought to demonize them for any friendly criticism they may make – whether you agree with them or not.

But what Chester and Stanford and Scholar are learning lately -- and the so-called Gang of Four (the six or seven of them) will soon learn - is when a heart breaks, it doesn't break even.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Buju takes to the stage in emotional concert

JAMAICAN REGGAE STAR Buju Banton made an emotional return to the stage last night in a live concert in Miami— his first in over a year – and possibly his last in the United States.

In front of a packed audience of flag-waving supporters, Banton closed the five hour concert with a two-hour performance, ending with a rendition of the 23rd Psalm before walking off stage in the arms of his lawyers.

Banton sang his classics, praised the support of his fellow artistes, declared his innocence in the upcoming drug conspiracy trial and told the thousands that he had missed them.

The Jamaican singer faces a retrial next month after the first one last fall ended with a no decision.

One of the emotional high points of the night was when he brought out Stephen Marley, the follow artiste who stood his bail with a lien on his half million dollar property in South Florida.

Bracing warmly, the two started a short set by singing Bib Marley’s Duppy Conqueror, with a line that says “yes me friend dem say we free again.”

He also sang with Marcia Griffiths, Wayne Wonder and Gramps Morgan.

Before him a slew of mainly Jamaican acts performed at the show—including reggae’s latest sensation Gyptian, international acts Sean Paul and Shaggy, Freddie McGregor, Everton Blender and Nadine Sunderland.

There were also cameos from rappers DJ Khaled and Busta Rhymes.

All expressed delight of coming to the aid of their fellow entertainer.

Banton, whose entertainer’s visa has already been revoked by US immigration, was granted special permission to perform by the court.

Many say it could have been his last performance in the United States, since he faces deportation even if freed of the charges.