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Rowley PNM time-warped as Manning Redux

By Lennox Grant

 With two months still to go, the People’s National Movement (PNM)parlour game promises to remain the only show in town. Something loosely called “politics” has made the party’s internal election campaign into a continuing blockbuster, commanding such attention as could hasten the possibility of audience burn-out when the main actors run out of headline-worthy things to say.

By late last week, after the Keith Rowley slate of heavy hitters had landed their roundhouses on what looked like the inert form of Pennelope Beckles, close-up watchers could be sighing “Advantage!” The challenger to Dr Rowley had hardly mounted a platform when she was being dismissed as  having been “lacklustre” in the Senate, and “dismal” in the Women’s League of which she had been elected leader.

Like a bouncer at the entrance to the Rowley club that the PNM has become, Marlene McDonald, former Parliamentary and Cabinet colleague, was loudly denouncing Ms Beckles’ entry credentials. The anti-Penny outpourings suggested that the old PNM soldier had newly been exposed as a traitor. Why else would she be rocking the balisier boat, now set, under capable captaincy, on certain course to the electoral promise land?

Such attitude easily undercuts any PNM boast of new democracy, unshackled by the old balisier-tie symbolism, in a contest based, at last, on one-woman, one-vote. In any normal party, any qualified member should be entitled to run against any leader, no matter how distinguished by serial electoral victories.

So Ms Beckles, if she is persuaded that she has something different and compelling to offer, should feel bound by some duty to defer seeking to realise her own ambitions? This question will come up more and more, as the Rowley teamsters redouble efforts to demolish such own-way resistance as the Beckles candidacy threatens.

Current Rowley-PNM urgency battens down the hatches to go full-throttle toward the next general election. An easy self-confidence prevails about an election just waiting to be won, once past the inconvenient internal distraction of “Penny”.

By last week, before a Beckles slate or policy stance had been announced, the dominant sounds coming out of the party were those of shouting down any prospect of a debate over the PNM’s future, and its national posture.  Sometimes, Dr Rowley makes it sound as if the discussions had long been held, the drawing board had been revisited and, well, “We ready…we ready…”.

The party last week allowed itself a brief public exchange between “dear friends” Selwyn Cudjoe and Maxie Cuffie. It  read like a good-natured joust between the “left” and “right” tendencies bidding for influence in the party, with the younger, business-minded, Mr Cuffie lining up on the “right”. 

Meanwhile, the party with more history than any other trades on its past as if it were a currency with flexible rates of exchange. Ms McDonald, punching the air in favour of the present leader, had in 2008 cut an unforgettable picture supportively pounding her table, as Patrick Manning harangued the House in condemnation of Dr Rowley.

Mr Manning, the energy golden age over which he presided, and the all-enabled presumptions that flush public finances prompted, count as inescapable elements of the PNM record. Like the others, Dr Rowley, had trotted along tamely behind Mr Manning, until he earned his ouster by speaking up too loudly against Calder Hart.

“He stood his ground for what he thought was right,” Ms McDonald said, finding cause for admiration of Dr Rowley, six years after he had “stood alone” under attack. Dr Rowley himself has, however, freshly re-embraced the Manning programme.

Last September, he proclaimed a “an updated set of policy prescriptions Vision 2030”, that is, suitably close to the Manning-identified Vision 2020. At every opportunity, it seems, he and party cohorts can be heard championing such Manning-heritage projects as the OPVs, rapid rail, the aluminium smelter, and even SAUTT, property taxes, and the “Government Campus” high-rises.

As if time-warped by the Manning years, Dr Rowley has trouble getting the record straight, and his part in it. Last week, he damned the People’s Partnership administration for refusing to spend $200 million on east Port of Spain redevelopment.

Back in that year 2006, however, when he was Housing Minister, that redevelopment had a name—“Eastbridge”—attractively advertised with artists’ impressions. Residents were  promised return accommodations in upscale apartments to go up over 22 city blocks. “Eastbridge” also had a face in Noel Garcia, then risen star of housing and other PNM development. 

Suddenly, “Eastbridge” dropped from sight and reference.

Dr Rowley never explained that outcome, except to suggest, improbably, the PNM administration had been bullied into abandoning Eastbridge by the UNC opposition. With Dr Rowley also uncomplaining, the Manning administration had abandoned a scheme to help “young black males” seen, as far back as 2003, to be “at risk” in urban areas.

“It was cowardice,” Dr Rowley admitted years later. “The PNM...tried to please the opposition. The government should have had the courage of their conviction.”

The Rowley PNM which, in how it looks and talks, so resembles Manning Redux, will a difference only by proving itself less “cowardly” and more “courageous” than the previous incarnation.

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