A brand new shiny Penny

By Michael Harris

When the reporter sought my view as to why People’s National Movement (PNM) political leader Keith Rowley had removed Pennelope Beckles from the Senate there was no hesitation in my response. I stated that Dr Rowley’s actions were clearly motivated by the fact the Ms Beckles had intimated her intention to contest the upcoming elections for political leader of the party and that Dr Rowley was removing from a potential opponent a valuable platform of national publicity and presence.
Fellow Express columnist Selwyn Ryan, in his column a couple Sundays ago essentially endorsed that view but went on to suggest that Ms Beckles may have been the architect of her own demise by “jumping the gun” with her announcement that she may contest the leadership elections.
Events which have transpired in rapid succession over the past few weeks do however call into question the notion that Ms Beckles may have jumped the gun and indeed would suggest that the timing of her announcement was carefully planned, that her consequential removal from the Senate was anticipated and expected and was in fact the trigger for the launch of an orchestrated publicity campaign designed to take her straight into the election campaign for political leader.
Consider the events which have transpired over the last few days. I am not sure when the actual revocation letter is dated but it is certain that Ms Beckles last day as a Senator was Monday 2, December. Six days later, on Saturday 7, December, Ms Beckles attends the United National Congress’s (UNC’s) curry-duck lime at Fun Splash Water Park in Debe.
Her appearance at that event excites a furore inside the PNM. According to one report, PNM general secretary Ashford Ford stated that Beckles’ attendance at the UNC function caused “concern and consternation” among the party’s membership and supporters.
On Tuesday 10, December Ms Beckles issues a statement in which she defends her decision to attend the curry-duck event. She insists that her attendance had nothing to do with politics and takes the opportunity to vigorously defend her PNM bona-fides stating that, “the point is I am a member of the PNM for 23 years and I remain a very loyal member of the PNM. I have had no approaches and quite frankly it is not up for consideration, leaving the PNM or joining any political party. That is not at all within my
contemplation.” The very next day Wednesday 11, December a prominent advertisement appeared in the daily papers signed by a group calling itself the “Friends of Arima” .The advertisement was a testimony of praise for Ms Beckles, lauding her contribution in the Senate. That Friday (December 13) there is a report in the Guardian under Gail Alexander’s by-line, headlined “Arima rallies behind Penny in PNM tiff “
That same day, also in the Guardian, is a letter from one Lystra Marajh which raises the issue of gender discrimination in the PNM against Ms. Beckles and asserts that, “Beckles-Robinson is a strong-minded, independent woman. She is not owned—mind, body and soul—by the People’s National Movement (PNM).”
Finally on Saturday last, again in the Guardian and again under Gail Alexander’s by-line, there is a story that says that Ms Beckles can face sanctions from the party for her conduct.
Now all of these developments, coming in such rapid-fire succession, may just be interesting coincidences. Or they may be the outward and visible sign that Ms Beckles has created around her a campaign organisation capable of keeping her name and defining her image in front of the public.
If this is so then it is a development of considerable political importance for several reasons. In the first place Ms Beckles has not previously commended herself to the public as a personality possessing any particular strength or fortitude. The image of her disdainful treatment at the hands of Patrick Manning when she was twice rejected as a candidate is one which is not easily overcome.
Her action therefore, mere days after being removed from the Senate, in attending the UNC curry-duck lime, knowing full well (as she must have known) the kind of reaction it would cause among some segments of the party, was nothing but a unilateral declaration of political independence. In that context the specific words chosen by letter-writer Lystra Marajh are instructive indeed.
But there is more, for the succession of developments were so rapid and well orchestrated that they speak to the presence of a team and of politically strategic minds amongst it. The presence of such a team also speaks, in the first place to the possession of resources, as well as it speaks to preparation for a long haul.
Indeed the panicked reaction of party officialdom, which is already raising the spectre of sanctions and more precisely, expulsion, gives credence to the view that the party itself recognises the launch of a campaign when it sees it and has been caught totally flatfooted.

We do need to remember however that the date for the election of the Party political leader is still not known and that it is a decision which is entirely in the hands of Dr Rowley. However the fact is that, because this election is going to be held at a time when the political temperature will be rising as a result of the approach of general elections, it will be impossible to confine this party election simply to party issues.
Or, to put it very clearly, come 2014 the country will be looking for a candidate who seems best suited to replace Mrs. Persad-Bissessar. The issue of electing a leader for the PNM may, in those circumstances, just be subsumed by the urgency of that search.
In which case, Penny’s campaign to burnish her image in the country as a whole, may be far more politically astute than it may at first glance appear, and it may just turn out to be the shortest route to the leadership of the party.
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