What is it about a thirty-year-old incident that seemingly impassions a particular group of persons to such boiling resentment, that it animates them to malign, scoff at and deride the subject of their resentment, without any hint of balanced reflection? These seething vilifications appear nothing more than mere emotional subjectivity devoid of rational objectivity.
On the matter of Mr. Emmanuel Neville Cenac’s worthiness for appointment to the high office of governor general, I urge the reader not to simply dismiss this article on account of its author, but to consider instead its content in determining its sensibleness.
In the political realm, floor crossing is nothing more than party politics, and the ability of the one, to influence the many, in the contest for power.
Joining a political party is done freely and voluntarily, and hopefully predicated on sharing the same political principles. That is so because section 11 of our Constitution grants each and every citizen the freedom of association “ . . . to form or belong to political parties . . . ” We would observe that the Constitution uses “parties” (the plural of party) which suggests that the Constitution does not bind you for all eternity to one party, but allows you the freedom to align yourself with any party that, in your view, is likely to best serve the national interest. That constitutional freedom can be exercised at any time, and I would add, subject only to the dictates of conscience, that is to say, the knowledge of right. What rational disdain can therefore be directed at a person who exercises that freedom?
What I understand the Opposition to be saying is that because Mr. Cenac left the Labour Party and/or disappointed the expectations of many Laborians, he is unworthy to be appointed to the office of governor general. Put another way, it is like saying that if you are not in accord with the Labour Party or Laborie, you are unworthy of any recognition, elevation or the like. Further, that it was an act perpetrated against the “people of Saint Lucia”. But Mr. Cenac was representing the people of Laborie which is not the same as the “people of Saint Lucia”. But the constituency group, where such matters are discussed, I am advised, supported Mr. Cenac. Where then lies the treachery?
If, however, the general body of voters in Laborie disapproved, then they, within their own respective rights, voted against it in 1992. Isn’t that sufficient political recompense? Mind you, Mr. Cenac, in the strongest Labour constituency, only lost that election by less than 500 votes, even after having crossed the floor, where all previous contenders and subsequent ones have lost by over 1,000 votes. That, by itself, is a sterling fact, bearing testimony to the amount of support Mr. Cenac had, and I dare say, still has in Laborie. For where there was or should have been a no contest in that constituency, there was a real and hard-fought contest which came down to Augier. The reason for what happened in Augier is not, however, my story to tell.
Sir Winston Churchill, considered the greatest Englishman, crossed the floor, not once, but twice. In 1904 he crossed the floor on account of his disagreement with the Conservative Party on Tariff Reform. There was no resignation followed by a by-election. In 1924 he re-joined the Conservative Party on account of his concerns with a socialist government. Despite these floor crossings, the politically mature British twice raised him to the office of prime minister (1940-1945 and 1951-1955) at the age of 65 and 75 respectively. Moreover, despite his floor crossings, the maturity of the British and the world recognized him with many honours befitting his service: a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, knighted on April 24th 1953 and made an honorary citizen of the United States. Quite the statesman.
Strangely, across the Atlantic, on a small island measuring only 238 square miles, some would want to elevate crossing the floor to a status disproportionate to the act. Let us consider then, for a moment, why this may be. Political parties may wish to condemn such an act because the act of floor crossing affects its standing in the House, rendered all the more acute if the division of parliamentary seats is paper thin. What appears to me to be the real issue, is not the betrayal of party, but the loss of power, or at least, the loss of the chance to power, the cherished prize of political parties. But if within the cult of party, one loses one’s freedom of thought and action, then partisanship is a disability and not an ability. Timely floor crossing certainly has a tendency to control overstepping prime ministers.
I pose this scenario to the reader: suppose for a moment you are a member of a party and a parliamentarian. The House is faced with deliberating on whether same-sex marriages should be made lawful along with the right to adopt. The government, which you serve, is being subjected to external pressures which are threatening to withhold grant funding and international loans to Saint Lucia should they not enact this new law. The government, under pressure, has presented this Bill to parliament but you do not support same-sex marriages and are therefore in a dilemma. Should you vote according to party lines, or should you follow what you believe is correct? The Opposition, of course, opposes the Bill. With your vote, the Bill will carry 9-8, but if you vote with the Opposition, it will not carry.
It is therefore the reasons for floor crossing that need be weighed and considered and not the act itself. When the reasons have been supplied, all would discern reasonable cause, save the most hardened sectionalists. One caller to Newsspin posed the question: What was a greater “crime” — floor crossing or signing over millions of acres of Saint Lucia’s seabed? Whilst neither is a crime, I for one would not be prepared to assign blameworthiness for the signing until we were supplied with the reasons for it. Perhaps he was ill-advised, perhaps he was motivated by national interests or was unnecessarily trusting. Neither would I advocate to employ discriminatory rhetoric towards him that tends to diminish his otherwise meritorious political and national contributions.
In fact, our Constitution interdicts discriminatory practices that tends to afford “ . . . different treatment to a person . . . attributable wholly or mainly to his . . . political opinions . . . ” Therefore, in the case of Mr. Emmanuel Neville Cenac, what should be examined is his achievements as a public servant, whether in the Treasury, the Audit, Customs, or the Registry, as an elected Councillor and later as Mayor of Castries, as director of LUCELEC, as General Secretary of the Civil Service, as the representative of Laborie, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and as Foreign Minister. But that again, is not my story to tell, for “Until the story of the “hunte” is told by the lion, the tale of the “hunte” will always glorify the hunter”.
Whilst we are all free to hold firmly to an opinion on any issue, we may not, in our rhetoric, seek to persuade others to our view on deliberate misinformation and vicious ad hominems. If the leaders of our nation are to seek to persuade us to a view based on hate, malice, vindictiveness and age-old vendettas, then they are unfit to lead us. They are poor examples.
By marked contrast, I once asked my father how he felt about all the honours heaped upon Mr. Hunte who had set in train all the events that were to lead to the 1987 floor crossing. My father’s response was, “He deserves it. It was for all these reasons I chose him to be leader of the Labour Party.” Only a man of mature understanding and refined character would give such a reply when he had every reason to respond with bitterness. Without even dreaming of being His Excellency, my father’s answer was most excellent and admirable.
If our leaders of whatever side of the political divide would recognize that disagreement over political views is not a cause for hate and malice, but instead is one for intellectual debate grounded in reason, then, and only then, can our politics mature. And what of age-old vendettas? Perhaps it is ripe for us “to offer each other the sign of peace”. Our nation would be all the better for it.
And should they not be so minded, I call to mind our Lord’s direction: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Lastly, I would agree that Neville Cenac does have an uncanny resemblance to “Doc” from Back to the Future – but then, I suppose, Cenac was always ahead of his time.