Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Printer’s and other devils

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Mark Fraser

 From time to time, columnists feel a need to revisit articles which they have written to correct, clarify or withdraw significant statements which they have written in previous articles. Then of course there is the “printer’s devil” which is always at work, putting into the pens of authors words that were never intended.

In my column which appeared in the Sunday Express (December 20, 2013,) and which was titled “Who Owns our Political Parties?” I made a statement which was  egregiously in error and which I believe ought to be corrected for the record. The paragraph read as follows: “The fact is that the party constructively belongs to Jack.” That statement reads as if I was referring to the UNC and not the Independent Liberal Party, which is what was intended. I was also speculating that there were once two parties, the DLP and the SDLP, both of which were claiming to be the official party.

What would the EBC do if faced with that dilemma in 2015? The result could be confusion.

The column also raised another issue which was deemed critical by the  chairman of the EBC Dr Masson who reminded us that a political party is a business and should be treated as such. The relevant paragraph, which had to be omitted because of space, read as follows: “A political party is a business. It should be registered so that we know what its constitution and its objective is.  

“By a similar token, we have to know what is in it for citizens when you set up a political party. We have to be serious.  You have to have a certain membership and you have to have rules.”

Many parties are not merely businesses: they are big businesses which handle a lot of cash. Much of that cash is wasted and or stolen. As one Caribbean politician explained with a grin, “elections are events in which leaders enrich themselves whether his party wins, loses, or draws”. The funds end up in the bank accounts of the media and the politicians. We need to fix the campaign financing problem and the political pathologies to which it gives rise, but before we can begin to do so, we need to fix the party system where some of the roots of the problem are to be found.  Can we not set the reform process in motion before it is too late? Must we wait until the invisible Mr Bigs don political integuments, and seek to purchase the state or parts thereof as they are already doing elsewhere in the region?

We have had many meetings and conferences at which the need for party reform and financing of parties were discussed. Not surprisingly, the existing parties do not seem to be interested since some stand to lose the “profit” which they earn by investing in parties. We as citizens however have good reasons to put pressure on them and on so called financiers because in the long run, it is the citizens who pays for what is “donated”. Those donations are passed on to the citizenry. They provide the context in which many of these “pay to play” scams are foisted on the tax-payer and the consumer.

In last week’s Sunday Express column, (January 5) “Gender and Leadership Style”, reference was made to Margaret Thatcher, who is widely seen as the model for the “Iron Lady”  type of political leader. Thatcher was disdainful of many of the men with whom she had to work. What she wrote in her biography (The Downing Street Years), should be of interest to those who have an interest in the issues of gender, cabalism, and politics, especially in Westminster type systems. To quote Thatcher, “My experience is that a number of the men I have dealt with in politics demonstrate precisely those characteristics which they attribute to women-vanity and an inability to make tough decisions.”

As she wrote further, “There are certain kinds of men who simply cannot abide working for a woman. They are quite prepared to make every allowance for ‘the weaker sex’, but if a woman asks no special privileges, and expects to be judged solely by what she is and does, this is found gravely and unforgivably disorienting. Of course, in the eyes of the ‘wet’ Tory establishment, I was not only a woman, but ‘that woman’, someone not just of a different sex, but of a different class, a person with an alarming conviction that the values and virtues of middle England should be brought to bear on the problems which the establishment consensus had created. I offended on many counts.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s comment about gender and role definition is also of interest. Rice remarked that in her experience, it was not true that women were consensus builders. 

“That is a pretty ridiculous notion. Any good leader, male or female, has to have a range of assets, capabilities, and styles. Some days, its ‘let’s reason about this and come to a joint conclusion’ and some days, it is ‘we have had enough of his, and we are just going to do it’. That makes sense to me.”

Thatcher’s reputation as an “Iron Lady” was exemplified by the manner in which she dealt with her Minister of Defence, Michael Heseltine, who clashed with her on the issue of “collective responsibility”.

In her view, her summing up determined what the collective view meant. To challenge her involved challenging her own authority as prime minister. As she wrote,

“Michael Heseltine was not satisfied with...my brief (summation), complaining that it did not record his ‘protest’. I knew from Michael’s behaviour that unless he were checked, there were no limits to what he would do to secure his objectives.  Cabinet collective responsibility was being ignored and my own authority as Prime Minister was being publicly flouted. This had to stop. I said that if the situation continued, the Government would have no credibility left.”

Thatcher professed that she had never seen a clearer demonstration of the damage done to the coherence and standing of a Government when the principle of collective responsibility was ignored.  

“I emphasised the importance of observing collective responsibility in this and in all matters. 

At this Heseltine erupted.  

He claimed that there had been no collective responsibility in the discussion.

He alleged a breakdown in the propriety of Cabinet discussions. He could not accept the decision recorded in my summing up. He must therefore leave the Cabinet. He gathered his papers together and left a Cabinet united against him.”

Clearly, Heseltine and other dissidents could resign because there were other jobs or professions to which they could repair.