Wednesday, 06 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
The war of words is well and truly on within the Antigua Labour Party, the house that VC Bird built. My array of multiple retractable broadband antennae can pick up the racket from all the way up here in low Earth orbit, the roar of the bacchanal crackling faintly through the static emanating from the Bird family broadcast facility.
From what Yours Truly can gather, the whole brouhaha is about the proper use of two little words. Nowadays it seems that the entire future of the ALP is bound up in the choice of which of these two little words shall decorate the party’s battle standard going into the 2014 general elections. Supporters of the contending factions demonstrate their loyalties by applying one or the other (code) word as a “modifier” to yet another commonly abused word: “labour”.
The louder faction, naturally, is the one that has access to its own radio station. Let no one tell you that the Bird political family has not learned to fully appreciate the power of the broadcast media in today’s Antigua & Barbuda. Anyone tuning in to “Liberty Radio” would be forgiven for forming the impression that the ALP is caught up in a tornado of discord and about to be ripped asunder unless the group travelling under the banner of “True” Labour prevails in its quest to save the legacy of the Father of the Nation from destruction by a usurper.
From that starting point, it is easy to deduce that the other of the contending factions must represent those ALP supporters who rally behind the elected leader of the parliamentary opposition Gaston Browne – who flies the flag of “New” Labour. Browne now faces the critical task of successfully piloting the ALP toward an achievable victory at the polls in 2014.
The spectacle would be ludicrous, if it were not so quintessentially Antigua & Barbuda. The whole affair has comic opera dynastic overtones, vaguely reminiscent of the “Wars of the Roses” – the long struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York that more-or-less ended in 1485 on Bosworth Field, with the death of King Richard III and the ascendancy of Henry Tudor as Henry VII of England.
It gets worse. In contemplating the issues over which the “War of the Words” is being fought, the famous satirical novel “Gulliver’s Travels” comes to mind – with particular reference to the issues over which the Lilliputians were waging war against the people of neighbouring Blefuscu. Would you believe these idle people were fighting over which end of a soft-boiled egg to crack in order to eat it?
When seen from this perspective, all the flying feathers and the clouds of dust being kicked up by the great debate over whether “True” or “New” Labour will best protect and extend the legacy of “Papa” Bird become completely laughable. The one good thing about all the clever sloganeering is that at least the words rhyme and create a nice rhythm when matched up with “Labour”.
The reality, of course, is that the whole affair is basically only a distracting sideshow. The worrisome aspect to the Bird radio media storm is that it threatens to diminish the ALP’s chances of attracting support from “The 40%” – that group of uncommitted voters who will make the difference between victory and defeat in 2014.
Here we come up against the sheer self-destructive absurdity of politics in this strange land of Antigua & Barbuda, where political parties can be depended upon to behave in a manner as inimical as possible to their own best interests, and the best interests of their supporters – not to mention the best interests of the nation as a whole.
It would be a matter of some real concern if the activities of the tiny movement called “True” Labour actually represented any significant force within the ALP. For proof of “True” Labour’s perceived lack of significance, consider the offhand manner in which Gaston Browne has disposed of the application by Vere Bird III to (essentially) dump Eustace “Teco” Lake and return the constituency of St John’s Rural South to its rightful owners. Vere Bird III’s application process is already all over before it has even begun? Has it been “deep-sixed” by an unimpressed ALP executive?
And all this has happened with nary a ripple on the surface of the “New” Antigua Labour Party, now clearly under “New” management.
Open and unscientific opinion polls currently featuring in the local media, one of the young Birds does appear to lack support. If the legacy of the Father of the Nation is in the hands of “True” Labour, then, in my opinion, the memory of VC Bird is in grave jeopardy. Michael Freeland, scion of ALP legend Sir Adolphus Freeland, has seemingly attracted far more personal popular support.
The very action of “pursuing” a media campaign against an elected party leader, intrinsically threatens the cohesion and the immediate prospects for the ALP going into imminent general elections. Again it gets worse, as the picture emerges of a totally self-interested movement bent on pursuing its own interests at the expense of the larger entity of which it forms a part (Big-enders versus Little-enders!).
The question now emerges as to which faction, in truth and in fact, represents the best option for protecting and extending the much-disputed legacy of VC Bird. Rational observers would tend to believe that the best way to protect and extend the legacy of the Father of the Nation would be to propel the political party he led to victory at the polls in 2014.
Apparently, two of Papa Bird’s many worshipful descendants Vere Bird III and Sean Bird see things differently; but then, perhaps two of Papa Bird’s worshipful descendants are not being particularly rational. Perhaps, caught up in being scions of a powerful political family, these starry-eyed young men have forgotten that their illustrious forebearer was not alone in building the Antigua Trades & Labour Union and the Antigua Labour Party.
Perhaps they are blind to the truth that whatever the history may have been, the ALP is now bigger than any one name or any one family. If such is the case, the showing of the relatively unknown Michael Freeland should serve as an eye-opener as to how much the rules have changed.