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.

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