The two mainline political parties, the PNM and the UNC, are currently engaged in civil meetings dedicated to addressing the crime problems facing the country. That is an important development, whatever the specific outcomes of the meeting.
Similar meetings have been held before, but this one seems to have been taken more seriously, perhaps due to the gravity of the developments which gave rise to it.
Perhaps these similar meetings should be held more regularly.
Much of importance was put on the negotiating table.
We, however, choose to focus our attention on the Laventille problematique partly because the strategic environment differs significantly from that which obtained previously.
Laventille and its diaspora finds itself in a superior bargaining position in that both majority ethnic groups are seeking its electoral support.
Hitherto, Laventille was mortgaged to the PNM, which as a result did not have much reason to vote strategically.
Over time, the PNM came to regard East Port of Spain as an impregnable “garrison” constituency.
Now, however, it seems that no seat can be deemed safe.
I have been in the area, and have advised Mr Hypolite and the PNM that the ground has definitely begun to shift.
Though nothing is yet cast in concrete, our best guess is that no party will sweep the polls in October or would be able to form governments without support from some other party.
Political leaders therefore have to smile at each other even as they shout and scowl across the aisles. Everybody is potentially a future friend, a partner or a rival.
During the recent by-election campaign, the ILP was said to be in bed with the PNM. It is now being claimed that the UNC and the PNM are secretly smiling with each other.
They do not know what tomorrow will bring or indeed whether it will resemble yesterday.
We however anticipate that despite the new experimental PR system, strange accommodations would be the order of the day come October. Who knows, when the shouting ends, we may end up with a “grand coalition” which might force historic rivals such as the UNC and the PNM- to come together to stop the ILP.
The politicians thus have to behave in a conciliatory manner and not kick over the bucket as they wallow in the trough.
But could such a coalition work if it were to occur accidentally?
Who will lead such a coalition?
Rowley considers himself the person best suited to govern; Kamla believes she deserves redemptive bites at the gender cherry; while Jack clearly sees himself as the providential messiah who can constructively “solve” the Laventille problem.
How would Laventille fare if such an all-party grand coalition were to materialise as a historical accident?
Would it provide the context and the opportunity within which the renovation of East Port of Spain and a more equitable sharing of public goods and resources can be undertaken?
The ILP for its part has expressed horror at the squalor which it has seen in Laventille and has promised to do something about it.
As Warner moaned on his recent visit, “There is so much poverty, and less than a mile away, there is so much wealth. All those tall buildings that are touching the sky and people are living there in squalor. Never in my life have I seen a country that has benefited from so much oil revenue, and yet people have to live like this.”
Clearly, Jack will be basing his campaign on the have-not status of Laventille and its diaspora, inarguably the community that is most in need of Warner-style “effective representation”.
The residents of East and downtown Port of Spain are of course assuming that “Uncle Jack” would represent them in ways similar to what was effected in Chaguanas. One lady spoke for many when she moaned: “Jack is the only man with the money to help us. That is why we want to vote for him. I have a house I am fighting to build and I want some help.”
Money, roads, pails of water, houses, sustainable jobs, and lots of vinegar and brown paper are only part of what Laventille needs.
To what extent can Jack, Jill, or anyone else deliver on the lavish promises which are being made by all parties?
All know that gang rivalry, while not the root of the problem, is an accelerant, and that there will be no investment to provide jobs unless social peace on a sustainable base is forthcoming, not merely in Laventille but in Southeast Port of Spain generally. Which comes first? Where does one start? Jack is fuelling hope which is easy to do given the level of expectations.
But there are dangers.
Social conflict often arises just when things seem to be getting better objectively. People get impatient and intolerant of procrastination.
That is why PNM MPs are warning Warner against setting up the people.
If this particular initiative fails, anger might express itself in the streets. As Jack once warned, if his plan fails, all of us “gorn through”.
In sum, overpromising and overbidding might win the battle, but not necessarily the war.
There are still other controversial questions to be answered.
What if Jack, in pursuit of his “herodom” succeeds in pacifying the gangs, would a “grateful” society exonerate and absolve him as Manning was prepared to do in respect of the Jamaat-al- Muslimeen?
To be continued