Saturday, December 16, 2017

‘One is one and all alone’


Mark Fraser

I do not recall where I first read the sentence which I have borrowed to use as my headline. I remember only that it was in some magazine article which was seeking to lampoon Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during one of the many and regular crises which she has faced in her long reign.

I have always thought the sentence to be a brilliantly crafted and exceedingly funny one. The sentence, in six simple words, conveyed so many shades of emotion which could only be understood and appreciated in the context of background knowledge of the current and historical role and function of the British monarchy.

In the context of such knowledge the sentence could be understood, first of all, as a lament on the isolation and loneliness of power but also of the essential futility of kingship without power. It is also to be understood as a testament of stoic resolve in the face of dire fortune, the quintessence of the “stiff British upper lip”.

The sentence came rushing back to the forefront of my memory recently as I contemplated the political position of our Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, four years after her triumphant electoral victory and one year away from having to face the polls again.

And the one factor which stood out, as I sought to analyse her current situation, was that today, in stark contrast to four years ago, she stands all alone, a political leader whose only resource is whatever resilience, courage, imagination and skill she can find within herself, for all her external support has withered away.

The resources which were at her disposal four years ago need to be recounted. First of all she was in a position to portray herself as something new. She was not only a new leader of the UNC, having bested the powerful and, until then, seemingly unbeatable Basdeo Panday, but she was also a woman, the first to ever lead a major political party.

Out of this grew what came to be described as “Kamlamania”. The mad, unthinking groundswell of support which came to her, in part, out of the desperation of so many people to find and anoint a messiah to lead them out of bondage as well as the support of those who thought that, as a woman, she would offer a kindlier and gentler alternative to the ugly arrogance of Mr Manning. And, finally as well, a not insignificant wave of support which came to her simply because she was a woman.

In the elections of 2010, she was able to use this personal resource of Kamlamania to gather around her a coalition of forces each of which, in its own way and extent, contributed an element of necessary legitimacy to the vehicle — the People’s Partnership — which she would lead into the general elections of that year.

Without doubt the biggest and most important element of that coalition was the Congress of the People. First of all, it was the only other party that was assumed to have significant electoral support. That support came from various sources, but at its core was based on the party’s claim to espouse what it called “New Politics” which in the public perception came to mean a politics free of arrogance and corruption and contempt for the people.

Much of the public’s willingness to buy into the COP’s claim to integrity and honesty derived from the personal reputation of its leader Winston Dookeran as a man of intelligence and integrity.

Today those important resources brought to the coalition by the COP have all but dissipated. The electoral support, as demonstrated by the last local government election, has dwindled to a small remnant; the party’s reputation for integrity is in tatters as time and again it has demonstrated its willingness to compromise and bend every principle of probity; to countenance and remain silent in the face of the rampant corruption and pillage perpetrated by the UNC, simply to retain its toehold in office.

The second important element of the 2010 coalition which swept Kamla into office was the radical labour movement represented by the hastily formed Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) led by Errol McLeod and David Abdulah. The importance of this coalitional partner lay not in electoral numbers but in the fact that, as part of the coalition, its capacity for negative and disruptive opposition was effectively neutralised.

The MSJ was the first and still the only party to leave the coalition and has since brought to bear all the resources of the radical labour movement against the Prime Minister and her government.

The third element of the coalition was also of strategic electoral importance. The Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) led by Ashworth Jack was at the time a force significant enough in Tobago’s politics to give to the People’s Partnership legitimate credentials as a national party as opposed to being a mere Trinidad-only party. Today the TOP is a shambles and, still unable to recover from the decimation inflicted on it in the THA elections, it is in no position to give legitimacy to anything.

Finally there was the NJAC which, in the person of Makandal Daaga, ever only amounted to a thin veneer of Afro-Trinidadian legitimacy derived from Mr Daaga’s past exploits. In political and electoral terms it was then, as it is now, of no significance.

All that is left, therefore, to our Prime Minister, four years after her triumphant ascendancy, is the UNC and her own resources. The UNC is not an insignificant resource. In terms of its core constituency support, in terms of the significant financial resources it can gather and in terms of its experience in electoral campaigning it still constitutes a powerful resource.

But in the general election campaign which will be upon us before we know it, those resources, as significant as they are, are not going to be enough. To win the next election Mrs Persad-Bissessar still has to convince and capture enough of the third constituency to overcome the core PNM numbers.

And this is the heart of her problem. After four years in office, after four years of displaying the most virulent rapacity imaginable, there is not a single person in the UNC that Mrs Persad-Bissessar can put on a platform, in any part of this country, and convince any citizen that they would perform with competence and honesty if returned to government.

The same political challenge which presented itself in 2010 presents itself today, greatly magnified. Kamla Persad-Bissessar must somehow, and from somewhere, add to her personal political resources, still considerable though considerably diminished, the resources of legitimacy capable of convincing a now wiser population to give her a second chance.

One is truly one and all alone.

—Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.