Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Rowley getaway break from ‘banter’

Lennox Grant logo48

Mark Fraser

 Just as this spectator was sighing aloud that the People’s National Movement (PNM)’s internal match-up was becoming a drawn-out Keith Rowley enthronement, the crown prince himself called a time-out. “I do have a life,” he assured all who were wondering. 

 Dr Rowley had flown to an opposition-leader’s recharge exercise in Dubai. One that nicely counterpointed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s attendance at the World Economic summit in Panama.

Back home, no platform microphones and media cameras were capturing his least utterance for the next day’s “Say what!” headlines. “He deserves a break,” said Colm Imbert, chiding the disappointed media. “He is only human… You don’t want the man to drop down, do you?”

 It had come to that: a sympathy plea, from new manager/coach Imbert, for recognition of the one-of-us humanness of Dr Rowley. The cleanest-cut figure in T&T politics: the fatless, hairless, physique, broad of shoulder, spartan of frame, Dr Rowley would be the surest bet for any extreme, endurance burn-out.

 Now, in the middle of the contest of his life, one that he had himself scripted, the race in which he had run way ahead in the early laps, he needs to get away from it all. “I do have a life”—the newest Rowley sound bite—appears in the fine print, but doesn’t make it to the headlines. 

Media people had thought we knew what his “life” was all about: making headlines from the political platform. Political Leader Rowley had called the PNM elections early, and ruled that the campaign should, over 12 weeks, entail night after night of media exposure.

In the story so far, the PNM leader must catch his breath, and escape to preserve his “good health”, with a “working vacation” in Dubai, Bahrain, and London.  Maybe it was always scheduled this way:  the leader, for a calculated spell, would lead from somewhere other than in front.

From my seat in the stands, however, it doesn’t look that way. Mr Imbert warned that the alternative to the leader’s planned faraway sojourn would be for the man to “drop down”. 

I am yet to be persuaded of the existence of any Rowley PNM “plan” for the party, and for the country. Three Sundays ago, I remarked that the only Rowley PNM plan discernible was the Patrick Manning PNM plan, re-embraced but hardly updated, though it was once subject to deep PNM ambivalence. 

The immediate result, apart from much anonymous online yelling, was Dr Rowley’s self-described “banter”. He depicted me as a grudge-ridden, anti-PNM, electorally failed, Tapia politician from four decades ago. Upon being prompted that I had never run for election, Dr Rowley then said I had been general secretary of Tapia. 

General secretary is a post that, in my time at least, never existed in Tapia.  But it troubled me that Dr Rowley and, I suppose, his advisers, could get so much simply wrong, while seeking to make me the story, rather than my critique of the PNM for lacking a programme for tomorrow. 

By last week, with Louis Lee Sing’s Express series, the Lennox Grant profile had been inflated into some kind of anti-PNM incubus. Mr Lee Sing had long seen me, he wrote, as someone lacking in “respect for anyone or anything PNM”.

Having read Eric Eustace Williams’ books in my personal collection, I am respectfully ready to read works by Keith Rowley and Louis Lee Sing, as they become available. But more writings of mine are available for PNM reading than theirs are for me.

Maxie Cuffie last week pulled two sentences from something I had written 38 years ago, referring to the Tapia 1976 manifesto plan to transform the Trinidad Guardian into a “national trust”, publishing “a major paper for the Eastern Caribbean”. This, he suggested, was “Grant’s Tapia agenda”, fulfilled 30 years later with the formation under Ken Gordon of One Caribbean Media. Neither Ken Gordon nor I was around the place in 2006 when Craig Reynald delivered OCM.

So Mr Cuffie’s elaborate and studied distortion of historical fact amounts to a heckle, at best, or more “banter”. It could only be meant to elicit calypso tent-type laughter. 

The Mighty Maxie, who has sought PNM general election nomination, and who performs on the Rowley platform, finally brings the house down by declaring that he is only “following in (Grant’s) footsteps”.

Here, then, is a new conventional wisdom, now reigning in political circles. From Anand Ramlogan and Devant Maharaj, in the UNC/People’s Partnership, and from Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, has also come the taunt that criticism of politicians must be driven by preferences or allegiances deep in the political hearts of media people, but left unspoken.   

By whatever means then—bantering, badgering, heckling, bad mouthing—media people must be shamed into owning up to our secret political urges, as if they were closeted sexual orientations. 

“Banter” becomes a political term of art. Anand Ramlogan named Fixin’ T&T as an example of “political lobbying under the disguise of an NGO.” 

Kirk Waithe, T&T’s Mister Fix-It, at once recognised “political banter…We are not going to come down to that level.”

In the spirit in which it was given, then, “banter” is to be received. And returned.