…Spinning TOP in mud
The “Transitional Team” of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP)—and many of the ordinary members of the TOP too!—want to get rid of their political leader, Ashworth Jack, but seem at a loss as to how to do so. His time was up the moment the party lost the Tobago House of Assembly elections in January this year, and most of the executive, other members and the supporters knew it. But he has held on to the office, thriving in the disorganisation and arbitrariness that pass for order and structure in the party.
True, he offered his resignation after the numbing defeat at the hands of the People’s National Movement—too long afterward, for some members’ comfort—but everybody knows the offer was staged and that he and some conniving members of the executive, including the recently defecting chairman, manipulated party groups to reject it. But now, even many of those who acted to keep him on can’t wait to see the back of him.
They now realise what everybody else realised even before the results of the poll—that Ashworth Jack is a serious liability to the future political fortunes of the TOP. His sudden rise to a standard of living that he is still to credibly account for has cast a very dark shadow over the leadership of the party. His continued association with the People’s Partnership, especially the United National Congress (UNC), worries and troubles them no end, given those outfits’ clear and demonstrable unfitness to govern effectively, justly, inclusively and democratically. They fear the party’s entanglement with the UNC will further cost them the two Tobago seats they hold in the Parliament. And they are jittery before the threat of political ruin.
And so, seven months after the January humiliation, the TOP is going nowhere. They have tried twice to unseat Jack, but they have been tripped up by their lack of decisive structure. If it is not uncertainty about the system to use in electing the executive – whether it is the one-person, one-vote system or the delegate system—it is absence of a procedure to solve apparent impasses.
So we must ask: how can a party, within the law of the land, remove a leader whom its rules and regulations hold in place but who has fallen out of favour, is compromising its credibility with the electorate and is refusing to step down?
First, let’s say what it cannot do. It cannot hold a vote of no confidence—not authorised in its rules and regulations. And it cannot use the votes of a general council meeting—not authorised by its rules and regulations either.
If its rules and regulations are inadequate, then it must look elsewhere. Where? Politics, of course. Until it fixes its constitution, the party needs to put serious political pressure on Mr Jack. The party elders, if they are persuaded he should go, could meet with him to coax him out of his stubbornness. If that fails, members of the hierarchy who hold files on him could leak information to the press or, better yet, they can openly denounce him, if they are brave enough. Or, if that fails, a group (or several groups) outside the hierarchy but within the party could launch and sustain a public campaign to discredit him and force him out.
Easier said than done? I know. There are scary risks. The last two actions, especially the last one, could backfire on the party. They could fix in the public’s mind the image of a party that can’t run its own affairs and so would be unlikely to run the affairs of the island effectively, especially if the time between now and the 2015 election is not long enough to smother bad memories and the TOP can’t run a politics that is countervailing enough. Yes, these actions could further erode the public’s confidence in the party as a suitable alternative to the PNM.
But these difficulties would be of its own creation. It has been long enough in the business to have had its constitutional house in order and to have built conventions of behaviour that it could invoke to less painfully break the current impasse. But we all know how Robinson-oriented the predecessor party was...
So now the party is saddled with a leader who is contaminating it by association, and who is not even prosecuting his role so as to make the public forget who his corrosive bedfellows are. Tobago is in stasis after the January poll and one can hardly hear Jack’s voice raised on credible alternatives to the PNM way; indeed, one can hardly hear his voice at all.
The island desperately needs its self-governing democracy, but the TOP, entangled in the Partnership, seems clueless as to not only what the issues are that it should be agitating about, but also the strategies it should be using to win over the public and get them involved in its own political salvation.
And its leader naa move! The situation is so bad that Stanley Beard, former chairman of the party and ally of Jack’s and now spokesman for the Transitional Team, lamented the other day, “He has failed to communicate with us and has maintained his silence since last we held a meeting with him about two weeks ago... We have rescheduled a meeting... where we are going to take certain steps to regain our footing as a party in the Tobago landscape.”
So, from the horse’s mouth, the party has lost its footing and, as the title of my column suggests, the TOP is spinning top in mud.
• Winford James is a UWI lecturer
and political analyst.