Wednesday, 20 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Look yah now … ebryting crash. That, dearly beloved, is just about the long and the short of it. Anything else is just – well … spin.
Over the nine rocky years of the United Progressive Party administration, the ruling party has developed “spin doctoring” to a fine art. This talent has become of critical value to the UPP for the simple reason that truth has long been the number one nemesis of the Baldwin Spencer government.
The upshot of all the “spin” that must be applied to any and all information emanating from government sources is that UPP ministers of government have all become past masters of the essential art of political obfuscation. This in no way distinguishes them from ministers of previous Antigua Labour Party governments. The chronicle of the days of VC Bird Sr and his successor, Lester Bird, is replete with instances of skillful spin doctoring applied by the prime minister and adopted as a matter of faith by willing followers.
So, if ministers in the current government are as practiced in the trade of applying spin to the truth as their ALP predecessors ever were, insightful observers will conclude that UPP ministers are grappling with the same issues that held the ruling ALP in the grip of deceit. And somewhere in the midst of it all, truth has become the major casualty in the struggle to maintain control over the levers of power in our unfair land.
The fallout from last week’s dramatic events in the Senate remains ominously poised in the atmosphere, held in poisonous suspension by Prime Minister Spencer’s decision to postpone disciplinary action promised by sources close to his office. It is noteworthy that pronouncements on the matter have come from Maurice Merchant, who serves the PM as Director General of Communications. This fact leads easily to the deduction that Mr Merchant had something to do with causing ABS Radio & Television to announce, then omit, an expected statement by the UPP political leader.
It is not entirely clear where the media acquired the impression that the prime minister would be seeking to apply “disciplinary” action against the senators who had – as we love to say here, “broken ranks,” and failed to “toe the line”. Indications are, however, that people very close to the PM urged him strongly to do so. In fact, based on leaks from the PM’s camp, the outside world was convinced in advance that the entire purpose of a high-level UPP meeting on Friday was to decide exactly what action would be taken.
At this point, we are getting close to one particular aspect of the entire affair – one that may be behind the poisonous fog of confusion that has clouded the public mind, shrouding debate on the matter and rendering a clear understanding of the relevant issues practically unachievable by the average voter. These latest developments have sadly highlighted the extent to which the compulsion toward authoritarianism, so deeply ingrained in the national psyche by our slave history, has utterly distorted the national character. The poisonous fruit of this mental pathology is that it may have become virtually impossible to operate a healthy democracy in Antigua & Barbuda.
Yours Truly has commented time and time again on the anti-democratic nature of the Antigua & Barbuda body politic. That, I can tell you with the confidence born of experience, is not exactly an effective way to win friends and influence people – especially in an environment as anti-democratic as our tiny twin-island nation. Drawing the attention of an anti-democratic people to their own anti-democratic nature is to run full tilt into a blank, solid wall of total non-comprehension.
The upshot of the whole sad situation is that the confused people who are attempting to conduct public affairs in Antigua & Barbuda are blundering around in the dark with very little understanding of the ethics, principles, and philosophy that properly underlie the operation of our democratic institutions.
One result of this patent pathology is the sort of avoidable political debacle that has haunted the incumbent UPP throughout its tenure. One such avoidable debacle is now threatening to bring Humpty-Dumpty crashing down. How the United Progressive Party – and not just the Political Leader – responds to this latest internal challenge will spell whether the ruling party is capable of functioning in a truly democratic environment.
If the UPP is able to deal with this latest internal crisis in a healthy, democratic manner, this will signal that the dutiful child is ready to leave the sheltering care of its political parent, the Antigua Labour Party. For – make no mistake about it – the UPP is very much the philosophical offspring of the party VC Bird built, and its anti-democratic, authoritarian responses are exactly as learned at the feet of the master.
Ironically, the ALP is at this time itself experiencing growing pains of its own, as new leader Gaston Browne works to drag that reluctant institution almost by main force into a brave new world of democratic maturity. A wind of change may have at last blown into the halls of the sadly misled UPP. The question now is: does political leader Baldwin Spencer have the democratic insight and leadership qualities equal to the task of piloting his party into a new era?
Reports from the UPP’s internal political battle lines indicate that on Friday, PM Spencer ran into a far rockier reception than he and his loyal adherents bargained for. Flies on the wall say several of his party colleagues suggested he make plans to head for the highway, since his way of doing things was clearly not working out. The actions of the Gang of Four (or Six, or Seven, or more), plus the unfriendly atmosphere encountered on Friday, send the message that the party leader does not know what is going on within the ranks of the organisation he leads.
There is so much more that can be said on this matter, so many aspects that cry out for exploration, so much more than can be contained within the confines of a thousand words.
Yours Truly plans to stay with this issue for the rest of the week, as the many ramifications work their way through the tortured UPP in particular, and the body politic in general.
Things went bad in the morning of our small, still-young nation; can we the people save our nation’s day…before afternoon sets in? Perhaps Mr Spencer has the answer.