Monday, February 19, 2018

This is it, they've been hit


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Within hours of its Tobago body slam, the UNC portion of the People's Partnership went into delirium. The THA election ultimately pitted the PNM against the UNC heavyweights, and the defeated spoke through various mouths, contradicting itself. The UNC laid blame en masse, with no Volney or Kublalsingh to take this rap. And, just before the PM's damage control, UNC chairman Jack Warner rivalled THA Assemblyman Hilton Sandy for offensiveness. This cut tail shows what farseness and show-off could cause.

Part of the UNC's farseness is Warner's putrid dismissal of Tobago's voters. It's reminiscent of David Rudder's 1996 "Madman's Rant", which opens with "Vote for we and we will set you free". Not even Rudder's reliable foresight could have anticipated Warner's reprisal of the madman's rant 17 years later. Dr Indira Rampersad may want to opine on this one too.

Warner ranted that, "With very little to show from a party they have supported; a party that has neglected and overlooked them, Tobagonians still chose to remain with their political abusers." In that vein this could be said of the voters in UNC strongholds like Oropouche, Naparima, Couva and Caroni.

These voters have faithfully given large majorities to various political parties opposed to the PNM. Yet, the election of UNC and UNC-led governments and municipal bodies has been inconsequential to these strongholds.

Warner as a liberator from tribal politics is fallacious. He is an enabler and a prime beneficiary. His political godfather ensconced him in safe Chaguanas West, and his current abettor has prolonged the stint. Without tribal underpinnings, Warner would be an also-ran.

Perhaps the liberator's rant was caused by his own shock, or abject denial of the place he, more than anyone else, has pushed the Partnership. The Tobago loss is not about Tobagonian recalcitrance, racism, or fear. It is a big defeat for the UNC which inserted itself, and then overwhelmed an election in which it had no place. The UNC simply committed a massive miscalculation of how intolerant of UNC gallery and grandstanding voters are.

Warner predicted 10-2 in the TOP's favour and, "Anything more is 'lagniappe' but anything less will be disappointing." Tobago delivered a lot less, and Warner ranted. His dismissive "Good luck Tobago" at the end of his post-election statement stood in sharp contrast to the PM's first formal response to the results: "I assure Mr London and Tobagonians that the central government will work with the THA in the interest of developing Tobago for the benefit of all."

But, Warner's rant is typical Warner scattershot, non-calibrated and dissonant. Unfortunately, those characteristics are what the UNC and the Partnership have needed from time to time, as political pressure outmanoeuvred Government spin. And, now that those characteristics are so bound up with the UNC and Partnership politics, the party and coalition will win or lose with it.

The thing with the Tobago election is that the UNC and the Partnership bought their problems wholesale. This should ordinarily have been the TOP versus the Tobago arm of the PNM, the PNM smarting from its 2010 Tobago defeats. If the campaign had been about TOP and Tobago, localised issues could have created a few problems for the PNM and opportunities for the TOP. But, the UNC bosses paraded their political leader and the election converged around the Kamla question. Tobago responded.

Amidst the UNC's Tobago rubble, Ashworth Jack's stint as an Assemblyman ended. It was merely collateral damage. This was one of the highest turnouts of voters in the THA's history, and the first clean sweep by any political party. It was a Tobago-style message to Kamla: Wha' morning sun nuh dry, evening sun cyar dry.

Left alone, Ashworth Jack may have done slightly better. This PNM sweep reversed Jack's good showing for the TOP in 2009, when he moved from being the lone non-PNM Assemblyman to becoming the Minority Leader amongst four TOP Assemblymen, matching the two previous occasions when the THA had a four-man minority. It was that good showing Jack parlayed into a frontline Partnership role. Within the victorious UNC-led coalition of May 2010, Jack's TOP brought the two Tobago seats into the coalition fold. Less than three years later, it's the PNM reversing the flow, forecasting a PNM victory in Tobago when the next general election is called.

Ultimately, the PM has made a sober assessment of the UNC and Partnership's current position. She says in her formal post-election statement, "There is much to be learnt from this and from which strong character can emerge. It is a time for introspection and resolve. A time to gather valuable insights that will serve us well in the months and years ahead."

Unfortunately, the PM's timeframe is optimistic. She, her UNC and her Partnership Government will not have months and years ahead. Learning lessons and recalibrating is urgent. The PM should have taken on-board the lessons from the excesses and agony of Patrick Manning's last stand. Her Government will be measured by its reversal of those regrettable PNM years. It will also be measured by its reinvention of good governance and sincere leadership. The mandate of this Government was to espouse responsibility, humility, leadership by example and resolve, and atop the leadership pole, to demonstrate values-based leadership. The report card was marked unfavourably by Tobago.

On every count, the helicopter politics has rubbed people the wrong way. The "people" in this Partnership are not amused. Tobagonians have rung the bell and as David Rudder proclaims in the Madman's Rant, "This is it, this is it, this is it, I've been hit! No time to give up brother, no time to quit!''

(Remembering Sedley Joseph, the Mighty Penguin. Thanks for the

commentary, creativity

and humour.)

Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer