Tuesday, 26 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
It really has been a wild ride, this absolutely amazing journey that Baldwin Spencer and his United Progressive Party have taken the bewildered people of Antigua & Barbuda on over these past nine years.
It seems not so long ago that Yours Truly was taking advantage of that marvelous new tool, Observer Radio, to spur a timid, browbeaten political grouping known as the United Progressive Party into action. That was during the period 2001–2 when open media had but newly come onto the scene, and people were only just beginning to appreciate the power of free and frank communication.
My upstart efforts during that time of radical change in the political landscape attracted the sobriquet “The Devil’s Advocate,” as I deployed “reverse psychology” to jerk-start the tentative opposition party into grasping the truth that far from being doomed to a life of perennial failure, the UPP was in fact occupying the “catbird” seat in a very positive situation. And for those who may be wondering why I’m taking time out now to blow my own horn on this matter, it’s because if I don’t do it nobody else will, okay?
At that point, international observers were describing the UPP as being rather less than “virile” in its approach to challenging a well-entrenched government. Truth be told, the opposition party, campaigning in a corrupt environment, had been defeated at the polls so many times, and so predictably, that its leadership had acquired something of an inferiority complex. It took a little while for the opportunities presented by the brave new media world to sink in, but that soon happened and the opposition charge that ended the 28-year rule of the Antigua Labour Party was underway.
“The Devil’s Advocate” is very glad to have been able to help start that ball rolling. I am glad also to have taken a leading role in arranging for Observer Radio to reserve that weekly Thursday slot on the Voice of the People with Winston Derrick for the UPP – then still searching for a way to reach the electorate in a direct, personal, immediate way.
And now – how times have changed! The journey of hope that we the people of this young, optimistic little country began in 2004 has turned into a fantastic voyage. The captain and crew have lost map, plot, and compass, and their increasingly desperate wanderings are threatening to bring us right back to where we started. The “rescue mission” has gone awry. The good ship UPP has become a rudderless vessel, drifting broadside to the winds of fate. Lurking in the offing, jagged teeth bared, are the rocks and reefs that are the reward awaiting political parties that forget their true function and start to treat “the people’s business” as if it is their own.
Political leaders fall prey to that error when they become drunk with power. We in Antigua & Barbuda today are re-inventing the wheel. Dearly beloved … let us all welcome our unhappy selves to the club of nations that has proven to their own first-hand satisfaction the truth of Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
The new, eager politicians who rode a wave of public approval into office in 2004 succumbed to the intoxicating effects of power early on in their first term. From day one, the new government’s public posture communicated their utterly erroneous conviction that they - that their party, the UPP - had “won” the general elections. From that initial state of radically confused original sin has stemmed a multitude of evils, not the least of which is the disaffection of a large segment of the electorate.
The ruling party long ago descended into “Antigua & Barbuda politics as usual”; a culture deeply and indelibly internalised during generations of corrupt and divisive ALP rule. The UPP’s progress down the flower-strewn garden path has been predictable since the days of the “Mid-East Coup,” the “Stanford Redemption,” and the “Half Moon Bay Fandango” – events that demonstrated the party leadership’s talent for placing expediency above all principle.
Perhaps it was the relative complaisance with which the general public swallowed these unexpected policy reversals, ventured by a still wildly popular new government. Whatever the encouragement, it is indisputable that the UPP then proceeded to exploit its parliamentary majority to embark upon a career of taxing and spending such as had not been seen before, even during the “best” years of the ALP.
The “squeak through” result to the 2009 general elections campaign should have sent a salutary message, and might have … to a politically realistic organisation. Clearly there had to have been some sort of disconnect or dissonance between the ruling party’s image of itself and the attitude held among the electorate. Instead, 2009 triggered a descent into total insanity by a shell-shocked UPP, utterly unable to admit any fault within itself.
What has ensued since 2009 can only boggle the mind of optimistic people who could never have imagined, in those heady days of 2004, where the trail would lead. Through such a tortuous process, after so many bewildering course changes, we have arrived at last at what may be the final flip-flop. Captain Spencer’s sharp, wrenching policy reversal on the Citizenship by Investment Programme may have become the ultimate rock upon which the good ship UPP shall founder.
Already the vessel’s timbers are showing signs of strain, as loose cannon (and still) Senator Anthony Stuart runs amok across the decks.
Ominous murmurs are heard, warning darkly of “communistic tendencies” at work among the crew, biding their due moment to impose full-scale dictatorship on an already suffering nation. As events that hold overtones of a challenge to the unity of his party unfold, a beleaguered prime minister maintains a “sphinx-like” silence – as does (still) Senator Colin “Counselor” Derrick. Over all this drama looms the growing shadow of the ultimate showdown: a UPP biennial convention on March 16-17 … a mere three weeks away.
And so the travel-weary people of Antigua & Barbuda near the end of this fantastic voyage we embarked upon just under a decade ago. Another clique of desperate politicians, out of touch with the on-the-ground realities of the day, end up on the wrong side of history, facing a nemesis of their own creation. Seems like déjà vu all over again!