Sunday, 09 September 2012 02:31
By Colin Sampson
In one of the more memorable and revealing of his many remarkable statements made over the years, Lester Bird once delivered himself of a striking lesson in the practice of statecraft as conceived by a leader of the Antigua Labour Party in the closing days of the second Bird era.
The opportunity presented itself when critics commented adversely on the wide disparity between the elevated tone of his utterances made at international fora, as compared to the gutter-fighting stridency of his rantings on the political home front (“Is me mek you, man!!” comes all too readily to mind).
The then prime minister did not scruple in making it pellucidly clear to all who cared to listen that while he might play the role of statesman when away from Antigua & Barbuda, on his own home turf he was very much a politician – and should be expected to comport himself as such.
That philosophy gained a new lease on life last weekend, as news reached these shores of some curious remarks delivered by current Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer on the occasion of a Labour Day banquet hosted by the Bermuda Industrial Union.
Certainly one should have expected that, in the grand tradition of overseas statesmanship, Spencer would have seized the time for a display of broad vision, to enunciate some praiseworthy utterance on some grand theme that might serve to cement his place in history as one who ponders deeply on the human condition.
What has resulted in the end is an opportunity missed: an effort to play the role of leader in the struggle against racism – a praiseworthy aim for sure – gone astray on two accounts.
On the one hand, the prime minister’s argument failed on grounds of its artificiality.
Truly, the comment chosen to support Spencer’s characterization of the Bernews website as being a haven for “disgusting, vile and racist” rhetoric is a display of bias, prejudice, ignorance and contempt.
The remarks are also the honest outpourings of a severely confused individual who would do well with some enlightenment. Who knows – maybe he or she found wisdom in some of the over 400 related comments.
Reasonable people are left to surmise, though, that if the selected post represents the worst the Bernews website can inflict upon an unsuspecting public … well … the rest of the posts on the provocative topic of “What It Means to Be White” must have been tame, indeed.
On the other hand, Spencer the ill-advised politician could not resist taking a swipe (for all we know, off the cuff and without prior thought) at the very latest monster he has found lurking under his bed: namely, Caribarena.com.
Without actually naming Caribarena.com, the prime minister likened the website to Bernews. Caribarena.com is indeed pleased to be recognized – if even only anonymously - in such esteemed company.
However, the hapless guest speaker stumbled yet again, as he sought to explain why he found the Antigua & Barbuda counterpart to Bernews so offensive.
This site, said Mr. Spencer, is “… a place where anonymous commentators can spew some of the most vile rhetoric under a cloak of anonymity that affords them the ability to say what they really think.”
Thus, Prime Minister Spencer, speaking on an international stage, exposed his greatest insecurity at home. It seems that, under the pressure of an active and inquiring body politic, the politician who was once cast as the heroic leader of a “rescue team” has no more use for “Talk as you like.”
Apparently, now that the rescuing hero has achieved the pinnacle of power: “dem days mus’ done.”
It gets worse: Caribarena.com is not the only media target to present itself to an increasingly agitated Prime Minister Spencer.
Upon returning to his home turf, just like his apparent mentor Lester Bird (Or is it Machiavelli? One becomes confused …), Mr. Spencer seems immediately to have reverted to his own particular style of “gutter-fighting” tactics.
On Tuesday, at the press conference following the Wadadli Power Plant media hustle, Spencer launched an entirely unwarranted, irrational and completely un-statesmanlike verbal assault on Observer Media Group journalist Shelton Daniel.
In the context of the entirely unsatisfactory outcome of what can only be seen as a failed attempt to gloss over the adverse impact of the WPP affair, PM Spencer must have been in a testy frame of mind indeed when Daniel (maybe the journalist’s name triggered Spencer’s poorly suppressed bile?) broached what was clearly a sore subject.
Surely any person who has even a passing acquaintance with the fabled Westminster System of government must stand aghast at the image of an agitated prime minister, gone well beyond the limits of reason, refusing to be “dictated to” by - of all agencies - the media, that Fourth Estate whose duty it is to inquire, to report and to facilitate open public communication.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer refuses to be dictated to by an entity that forms no part of the machinery of governance and plays no direct role in the making of political decisions.
At this point, rational persons must wonder when, if ever, the sleeping people of this tiny twin-island nation will wake up to the creeping approach of the state of “democratically-engineered” dictatorship being prepared for Antigua & Barbuda.
Those complacent people who doggedly refuse to acknowledge the existence of evil when it stares them in the face would do well to remember that the first target of any budding dictatorship is always … yes … the media.
How much longer are the “good” people of Antigua & Barbuda prepared to wait – until there is no one left to speak?