There’s just something about a recycling bin filled with political parties that says more about the recyclers than the recycled. The news that the United Workers Party, with its unrepentant defeated candidates, is headed to a June convention with the same modus operandi suggests that it is very difficult to teach hard-back politicians new tricks. What is it about my past Seventh-Day Adventist Academy buddy Stephenson King which gives him hope that this nest of vipers he took into the last election can suddenly, magically be the cure to what ails poor Helen?
It is no secret that party conventions are little more than window dressing. They represent big bandages on old wounds of distrust and disorder. They attempt to project false notions of unity and camaraderie when the long knives and daggers are secretly tearing their members apart. They are shows to feed the party faithful with the red meat of political tribalism and hate. They entrench and encourage the backwardness of party colors and foster the divisive, canine nature of the tribes.
Perhaps one of the most obnoxious politicians of our time, Guy Joseph attempted to spin the upcoming fistfight as something new and different. He said, it is going to be like the Primaries in the United States and anyone can emerge as leader. Mr Joseph is either politically naïve or he was simply being mischievous.
Or he knows something! If past United Workers Party conventions are any guide, this one promises nothing new; just a conscious rubber-stamping of stale ideas, spent personalities, worn out rhetoric and misplaced priorities. Nothing bold, courageous, visionary and compelling is to be expected from a party that has failed to undertake a serious soul searching and to come to terms with its battered image.
The word on the ground is that the United Workers Party and the St Lucia Labour Party are both at political crossroads. Before the next general elections, constitutionally due in 2016, the parties will need to face the challenging issues of relevance, vision and competent leadership. It is generally accepted by a concerned, yet silent, majority that the party system as preached and practiced in the country has outlived its usefulness. It has become a form and shadow of genuine democracy. It’s a mockery of a participatory process. It accepts the tenets of a parliamentary system by denying the real conventions that contribute to meaningful people’s involvement. The political system is broken and in dire need of a complete overhaul—if not replacement.
The current breed of politicians, swept into the parliamentary system by chance, luck, accident or riding on the coat tails of others who did the hard work, have demonstrated that the concept of service is altogether foreign. Indeed, there are a few good men still involved in the process, but their voices are muted by the most vociferous and rambunctious characters that think shouting at the microphones makes them statesmen. Not too long ago, there was a time when you attended public political meetings to follow an argument. There were issues being discussed and the parties outlined their plans, policies and programs in the public square. Public political combat of ideas was a healthy and accepted form for getting your point across. In the process you went to the Market Steps and the William Peter Boulevard, the stumping grounds of the traditional parties, to understand exactly where the they stood on the pressing and burning issues of the day. There were picongs, and ideas were vehemently argued, but you left knowing exactly where each party was heading. You may not have agreed with the direction and programs of the other party but you accepted and respected their positions.
Then, it appeared the serious discourse slowly gave way to block-o-ramas. The new age politicians, who detest genuine groundings with ordinary people, had to come up with clever maneuvers to avoid getting their boots dirty. They decided that glossy billboards, jump-ups and massive fetes were acceptable substitutes for genuine dialogue and discourse. In a country that accepts high levels of illiteracy as normal, people are prepared to vote for the politicians who spent more at their watering holes. As the politicians promoted the chicken-and-rum mentality as a vote-catching mechanism and the massive fetes replaced informative public discourse, the people too began to question what was in it for them. It didn’t take long before the penny dropped: “Dem fellas are all in it for themselves.”
It became clear to many persons that there are politicians who view politics, not as a place to serve the interest of others, but to acquire power, prestige and wealth—regardless of how power their country. The get-rich-quick mindset is now pervasive in our public service and the politicians are at the top of the list. The political parties have lost their way and appear to be completely out of touch with the pain, frustration, burden and anxiety of the electorate.
Forget the masquerade that is going to be the UWP Convention; there will be an internal struggle for control of the party. There will be the old diehards—Comptonites —who will try to make a dash to regain the supremacy of party leadership. There is a school of thought in the party that the party moved too quickly to get rid of the Compton mystique. They are the traditionalists within the party who think that Comptonism was best for the party. They desperately want to return the party to its old values and principles. Then, there are the new-age bandwagoners, the Johnny-come-latelies who will attempt to wrestle control.
It is no secret that maybe because of his likeability, portrayed niceness, soft-spokenness and sheepish attitude, there are those who view Stephenson King as merely an accidental leader. He was simply at the right place at the right time. There are those in his inner circle who view him as weak and indecisive. Secretly, he is blamed for their most recent defeat at the polls. They hold it against him for not resigning after the election to provide the party with an unencumbered hand to do some internal cleaning. Meanwhile Stephenson King believes he is the best the party can muster and he has his successive electoral victories as parliamentary representative to prove his mettle. Moreover, King is from the old Giraudy school of hard knocks party politics. Like the consummate small island politician he is, King thinks those who came after him must earn their spurs. He learned quickly that regional politicians don’t give up power. They must be hounded out of office. As the current opposition leader, King still enjoys power and influence and is not about to let any others cast him aside.
So the die is cast for a rumbling of party faithful to try to figure out a way forward. There are grumblings that the party should attempt something bold and out of the ordinary, creating history in the process by selecting its first woman leader. Lone female opposition parliamentarian Gail Rigobert is viewed as a leading contender. Some question whether she is made of the right stuff. Also, there is the machoistic tendency deeply imbedded in the UWP that makes it difficult to accept female leadership. Historically, the UWP has not been a welcoming home for female candidates. The exception had been the late Heraldine Rock. Its treatment of Jeannine Compton, daughter of the later Sir John Compton, is ample evidence that the female gender is not warmly accommodated within the bowels of the party.
A Facebook report says the former SLP candidate for the North East Castries seat, economist Dr. Ubaldus Raymond will be the guest speaker at the convention and may be laying the ground work for a switch over to the United Workers Party. Some claim that he is potential leadership material and the UWP will be well advised to welcome him into the fold. My information is that there have been approaches to Dr Ubaldus but my sources were not prepared at this time to elaborate. Moreover, it is unclear if the overtures are even being seriously considered. He is nursing the wounds of political deception and betrayal by the SLP, if only perceived. His abrupt departure from the party signaled he was not happy with the pettiness of small-island politics and the experience may have scared him away. But politics makes the strangest bedfellows.
Consider Dr Vaughn Lewis, currently a highly paid consultant with the SLP. He was formerly the handpicked leader of the United Workers Party and prime minister. Strange, you say? Politicians see nothing shameful about somersaulting when it is in their best interests. The same unapologetic opportunists say one thing in opposition and change course upon the assumption of office. Politicians from both the right and the left have special reversal skills. Those in the SLP who were never really captivated by Dr Ubaldus’ political acumen will always question the methodology of the candidate selection process that has transformed the SLP into ‘De Doctor’s Party.’
Someone not much talked about but who still possesses vaunting ambition is Allen Chastanet. His demise at the polls in the Soufriere constituency has served as his biggest setback. With his name recognition, his fame and his money, most expected him to walk away with the Soufriere constituency. The self-styled guru of the tourism industry found out that it’s much easier to talk than to win votes. Perhaps the political geniuses, the people of Soufriere, understood the politics and were light years ahead of the implanted candidate. His leadership lights, though dim, remain lit. Whether the convention sees any value in electing someone who can’t win a seat is a matter it will have to resolve.
It is clear that unless the party can find an infusion of new blood, fresh ideas and can repackage its message to appeal to the masses in these challenging times, the June comingling is simply going to be a meaningless exercise.
As it stands, the UWP
status quo appears to be very much intact and nothing is expected to occur that will or can change the course of its history. There is still time for me to proven wrong. After all, the country still is hoping the incumbent party will do something right!