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Eric Williams vs Karl Hudson-Phillips

By Selwyn Ryan

Karl Hudson-Phillips cast a big shadow across the land, and it is to be expected that much would be said about him. It is also to be expected that there would be differences of opinion as to who was the real Karl, and what he really stood for.
Karl was seen by many as a right-wing hardliner, while others viewed him as a playboy. Reggie Dumas’ eulogy did well to capture him in his complexity. I once asked Karl why he had abandoned the political arena. Much to my surprise, he replied that my weekly Express column and my SARA polls had served to demonise him. That was a patent mamaguy. Karl was however a “big man”, and political analysts love going after big-visioned men and women.
In October 1973, Dr Williams delivered a farewell address in which he sharply criticised the PNM and charged the party to find a successor. Karl Hudson-Phillips,who was then vice-chairman of the party, rapidly emerged as the front runner among the four men who sought the succession. Karl assumed that he was the one to succeed. As he quipped, “man gone, man dey.”
During his earlier campaign against Boysie Prevatt for the chairmanship of the party, Karl startled many when he pontificated about the nature of politics and power. In his view, “the purpose of politics was the maintenance of political power and control in every single group in the country. Politics was a game of total warfare, of control of people’s minds. . . If you have power and you do not use it, you will lose it.” Hudson-Phillips threw down the gauntlet to Williams whom he told, “Who vex, vex.”
Williams was “blasted vex” about Hudson-Phillips’s challenge, and his angry counter came in a letter to the general council in which he complained about the “unorthodox campaign” that Hudson-Phillips was waging to secure the chairmanship of the party and his attempt to indicate that the campaign had his blessing. As he told the party, “the political leader remains aloof from these intrigues, avoiding any display of partiality for or against. The attorney-general’s election campaign is being undertaken without my previous knowledge, consent or authorisation. I have not sanctioned, do not now sanction and will not sanction the association either of my name or of my picture with the election of any candidate for any office.”
Very curiously, Williams drew attention to the amount of money being spent by Hudson-Phillips on his campaign which he viewed as evidence of ‘’interference of foreigners in Caribbean affairs’’. Indeed, Karl has been deemed as the progenitor of gaudy politics in Trinidad and Tobago.
Stung by the prime minister’s obvious displeasure, and clearly anticipating that he would be dismissed from the post of attorney general, Hudson-Phillips chose to resign from the cabinet and to withdraw from the election on the ground that it would do no good to have a party chairman and an attorney general in whose integrity the “undoubted Political Leader” and prime minister had no confidence. In his letter of resignation from the cabinet, Hudson-Phillips told Williams that he regretted that the efforts which he, Karl, had been making on behalf of the party and “indeed in your behalf, have been so terribly misunderstood and misconstrued. What has been seen as an attempt to challenge you was intended in fact to boost and bolster you. Sinister motives have been attributed to honest and genuine, you may think misguided, attempts to reactivate the party and to refurbish your image”. It was an astonishingly meek statement that showed Hudson-Phillips had lost his political nerve. Williams had seen the whites of his eyes.
In his reply, Williams told Hudson-Phillips there was a philosophical difference between him and the attorney general over the question of the relationship between state and citizen. As he wrote, “You have been publicly credited with certain statements (with which) I cannot possibly associate my name or my influence. The responsibility of the PNM, as I see it, is overwhelmingly to assure the contrary, irrespective of party, that it is competent to rule without making the citizens feel insecure in respect of the abuse of power either by the national executive or the party executive”.
Williams was abusive. He told Karl: “I deny your right to dictate to me, the Political Leader of the PNM, what I must or must not say in reply to a newspaper commentary and to the enlightenment of the party rank and file as to political realities in the modern world... If your concern is to ‘reactivate the party’, as you say, by all means feel free to do so... It is now fairly general knowledge that our appraisal of what is wrong does not coincide, our techniques vary, and my understanding of the larger and ultimate goals is more ‘philosophical’ (as you are wont to say) and less superficial than yours. If the party opts for your ideas, so be it. They will have to lie on the bed they make.”
Williams was deliberately warning the party and the country that Hudson-Phillips was a hard-liner who would be far more politically repressive than he himself thought necessary. Hudson-Phillips was known in fact to have been in favour of using strong-arm measures during the 1970 disturbances, and was the author of the now notorious Public Order Bill, which public outcry had forced the government to withdraw. Williams expressed regret that the bill had not been brought to Cabinet before it was laid in Parliament; but it is difficult to believe that he was not aware of its contents and approved the bill. Hudson-Phillips denied that the legislation which he introduced had not been approved by Williams and his Cabinet colleagues.
There are many myths about Karl, and perhaps he needs a book of his own to have his story told.
Over to you, Reggie.
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