Wednesday, 13 March 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
“It’s not a hotel lobby … what do you expect to see … blood?”
That remark of timeless arrogance was delivered by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer on the occasion of the now legendary press conference called to put the issue of the Wadadli Power Plant to bed once and for all.
As we all now know, PM Spencer’s misguided attempt to appear tough and “in-charge” failed miserably. Instead of showing “leadership”, the poorly advised prime minister stumbled over his own testicular fortitude, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of his viewers. If before the disastrous media event the public had harboured doubts about the bona fides of the Chinese-funded project, by the end of show they were convinced that the former Sunshine Government had a lot of dark secrets to hide.
As the hours tick away to the United Progressive Party’s Biennial Convention set for March 16-17, the possibility is reasonably good that the beleaguered party leader may experience for himself what it means to see blood on the floor … the convention floor, that is. In the colourful language of our small country’s great neighbor to the north, this year’s party convention promises to be a real “humdinger”. With the ambitions, factions, cliques and slates lining up for action it is more than probable that metaphorical blood may be spilled before the whole story is told.
After a series of the most inept actions yet to be attributed to any elected Caribbean Head of Government, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is preparing to go into the UPP’s final convention before the 2014 general elections having split his own party, now doubly divided: by the CIP itself, and also by the leader’s clumsy handling of the senatorial rebellion that caught him utterly unprepared.
So deep are the divisions within the demoralized UPP, so great the apathy infecting party organs, that knowledgeable party insiders are characterizing the approaching convention as possibly a “wake” for the UPP government, held in advance of a coming electoral “rout” in March 2014.
Certainly the atmosphere at party gatherings cannot be described as “sunny” or “harmonious”. Persons reporting on party activities are prone to employ such words as “gloomy”, “apathetic”, “contentious” and “quarrelsome”. Anger and a sense of injustice are spreading in the ranks, as members object to what they regard as different strokes being meted out to different folks. In one relevant case, PM Spencer’s St Johns Rural West constituency is reported to be in a state of ferment as supporters of dismissed Anthony Stuart demand that the senatorial appointments of Malaka Parker and David Massiah also be revoked. These unhappy campers insist that humble apologies notwithstanding, if any of the four “rebel” senators is to be dismissed at all, then all of them should get the boot.
Political analysts note that Senators Massiah and Parker share one thing in common: both represent the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union, Baldwin Spencer’s own power base. If the party leader wishes to avoid seeing some of his own political blood spreading across the convention floor, say the analysts, he must take care not to antagonize the “union” wing of the UPP. Some of the more cynical – or maybe better informed – observers suggest that no actual apology took place: the entire affair was “cooked up” to cover Spencer’s desperate need to cover his own fundament in light of the approaching party convention.
One of the more bewildering aspects of the rebellion of the “Gang of Four” was the role played by Senator Parker and (then) Senator Stuart. These are two names that have become practically synonymous with “Baldwin Spencer” and “Rural West”. Stuart was once considered Spencer’s right hand man in the constituency, and is thought to have had hopes of succeeding his leader in representing the area. Tongues wagged when, apparently out of the blue, the Prime Minister plucked Malaka Parker out of her banking and labour niche, practically anointing her as his chosen successor over a chagrined Stuart.
Thereby may hang a tale; but while Stuart may be judged to have had reasons to nurse a sense of betrayal, onlookers are at a loss to identify the motive, other than pure political naivete, that might have impelled Parker to abandon her benefactor in his hour of need. Be that as it may former senator Anthony Stuart, openly operating as a certified loose cannon, is now out of control: pursuing his own political agenda under the umbrella of the UPP.
The same can be said, in a manner of speaking, for former senator Colin Derrick. Unlike Stuart, Derrick sits as a strongly supported candidate for St Johns City West. Despite being bested by the Antigua Labour Party’s Gaston Browne in successive elections, Derrick is secure in the confidence of his constituency members. Confident in his ability to withstand any challenge from his party leader, the unrepentant Derrick is positioned to be a rallying point around which opposition both to the CIP and to Spencer himself can focus and gather momentum.
It is clear that the hapless UPP leader has not only split his own party, he has also done much to create capable and highly motivated leadership for the internal opposition that he himself has created to bedevil himself. With “friends” such as the ones he has inside his own party, PM Baldwin Spencer has no need of enemies in the ALP or elsewhere: the great leader seems quite able to make committed adversaries even out of the friends he does have.
Too often political leaders, surrounded as they are with eager flatterers, sycophants and parasites, fail to recognize who their real friends are. They fall into the error of thinking that the people who really “love” them are the ones who make them feel good about things. In truth, only too often the leader’s true friends are the ones who bring warnings of dangers arising out of harsh realities. Perhaps if PM Spencer had a few more of the latter type of friend in his worshipful entourage he would not be in the position he is in as the March 16-17 convention approaches: trying to make sure that the “blood” on the convention floor is not his own.