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London's bridges

By Mickey Matthews

To credit Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the PNM's clean sweep at the THA election is to tell only half the story of those polls. It is true that the widespread disaffection for the People's Partnership Government placed a huge burden on the Tobago electorate to craft an appropriate expression of our frustration.

With the paltry two seats in a legislature of 41 and a glorified county council to show for their efforts, Tobago came to the rescue as it did in 1976, 1980 and 1981.

That Tobago would have so rallied was patently clear by last August, the time of the Ghany Commission and the high point of the long-running debate on home rule for Tobago. By that time, Orville London had brought under his wings the two streams of Tobago's politics. One was the Tobago Nationalists, and the other Tobago Republicans for whom Trinidad and Tobago is one an indivisible. The latter is the constituency crafted by Dr Eric Williams who first appealed to West Indian nationhood but settled singularly for the twin-island republic.  

Whether the elections would have reflected this alignment depended on whether this improbable coalition of historically hostile interests would have endured to January 21. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's crafty but cynical probing of that question may well have yielded the implosion she sought but for Rowley's decisive intervention which was as timely as hers was late.

All of this however runs ahead of the other half of the story that begins with Orville London's travail to bring the PNM abreast of Tobago's agenda for reforming its relationship with Trinidad. That effort converted to sherpas of his march to victory formidable foes who almost engineered his defeat in 2009.

But even before that near miss he perceived the need to court the home rule movement and to that end established a committee to consider the issue of what is commonly called "internal self-government".

He intensified his efforts at seduction by adding Russell Martineau QC and Dr Eastlyn McKenzie to the committee in the aftermath of his escapade. In spite of diamonds and pearls he got current only when news broke that the AG's office was about to produce a Green Paper on internal self-government for Tobago.

Tobagonians found an avenue to express their apprehension about the Government's motive at the sittings of this THA committee. At the Scarborough Secondary School, a huge gathering converted the sitting into a kind initiation of London into the home rule movement. Not all the leaders of the home rule movement were at this event but so momentous was it for the coalition of Nationalists and Republicans London would build that in time those who were absent would eventually engage in this libation and sprinkling of holy water as it were. For them London would organise a glitzy special at the spanking new Victor Bruce Financial Complex where Dr Vanus James delivered a lecture on the "Tobago Economy" built from a basket of enhanced offshore revenue rightfully due to Tobago were it an independent country.

An address as skewed to the left of the nationalists as this one was must have been threatening to London's newly built bridges. Nonetheless, London got from the occasion what he wanted, which was confirmation of the right to continue fudging from the island homeland manifesto that became an imperative of the game of one-upmanship in which he  engaged with Ramlogan and the TOP.

In 2010, this game on one-upmanship then embarked upon by Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Mr Manning took old age pension from $1,500 to $3,000 with regard only to the fate of these two at the elections.

In 2013, this morass of unresponsibility led a sitting Prime Minister to all but advocate the independence of Tobago and the disintegration of the republic whose integrity she took a solemn oath to uphold. In all this, however, she was doing no more than attempting to outbid Mr London for the Nationalist vote, just as she outbid Manning for the votes of a miscellany of iconic groups such as soca and chutney artistes two and half years ago.

She took Orville London to the brink of separatist expression knowing that the THA proposals for internal self-government were already raising within his core constituency of Tobago Republicans concerns expressed eloquently by its silence. 

Keith Rowley, whatever else he might be, is above all a Tobago republican and perfectly mirrored their stance. Few could have missed his strange reticence borne of opportunism that dictated that no awkward questions be asked about the means by which Mr London was building his coalition.  The big wonder was, when would he be called upon to account?

Luckily, for the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister left the calling out for the 11th hour. She made it look like if Dr Rowley wisely kept his powder dry for the shot he knew he must take. When his shot came, it aimed at the synthesis of well meaning intention she placed on the Order Paper on the eve of the election shattering its unitary framework. Effectively he upped the Persad-Bissessar ante, much to the jubilation of nationalists who, all along argued against the unitary state and for one that is federal. He also pushed the reset button on the entire debate, much to the satisfaction of Tobago Republicans who are yet to have their say.

With such a broad-based coalition standing unscathed the 12-0 victory should not be surprising, the symptomatic and stock in trade charges of corruption and race-baiting notwithstanding.

• Mickey Matthews of a member of

the Tapia House Movement

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