Grenada needs at least two strong political parties for the building of its democracy and the good of its citizens.
The true strength of a party is not measured by the functioning of its internal organs or the ferocious defence of its leader, but by the number of ordinary persons who are prepared to support that party. Support is a function of image, emotional appeal, leadership and perceptions about the likelihood of doing well for the nation. Leadership is the energising input that enables all the other elements to work successfully.
In Grenada, valid political leadership is first evaluated and established by cultural factors. There are no issues of schooling or rationality involved. When people say they ‘doh’ like a leader, no explanation should be demanded. Eric Gairy was liked; Herbert Blaize was not! Maurice Bishop was liked; Bernard Coard was not! George Brizan was liked; Francis Alexis was not! (Tillman was trusted!) Keith Mitchell is liked; Victor Burke is not! Therefore, a leader suffering from the cultural deficit of not being charismatic and lacking the common touch must seek to win the respect of the people, as a means of limited compensation. Respect in this context is a function of character not qualifications.
Grenadians have long shut out the mystique that once surrounded academic brilliance. It is no longer a valid political card! Yet in late 2013, Victor Burke declared, “I have four university degrees and given what I have gone through…I am now engaging in the politics on my own terms”! Such a leader needs ‘blind worshipers’ not genuine supporters! Do you understand what you are reading?
Being elected as party leader and enjoying the adoration of the faithful is one thing; making one’s leadership opportunity count nationally is another. Unfortunately for the NDC its new leader appears to be falling on his own sword and the party has begun to take on his persona. People hear his voice, but do not know what is in his heart! There is no excitement; no inspiration; no expectation! The current perception, excluding ‘NDC Pharisees’, is that the NDC has started to degrade and that the much- feared “one- party state” is being handed on a golden platter to the NNP by the NDC!
Self-pleasing words of improved internal organisation of the party (following the division problem), do not translate to a practice of effective politics, especially where division is replaced by displacement! The NJM, for all its internal organisational strength, was busy producing disaster born of its embrace of intolerance, exclusion and Marxist-Leninist ideology! It was the few inside the NJM who believed that they were the brightest students of leftist ideology and had mastered party organisation and strategy and tactics that foolishly caused the implosion of 1983. Similar influences are at work within today’s NDC!
Furthermore, to act as though victory is assured because of disappointment with NNP’s slow delivery is to be naïve about the weight of cultural factors in voting behaviour. Money-based discontent among certain sections of the population can be easily bought-out! Then there are many who are convinced that the NNP is better for the economy than is the NDC. Consider further the refusal of many, many thousands to vote in 2013; ask why they were unhappy with the NDC and what is required to regain their confidence. Honest ‘NDC-ites’ know that the ‘division’ consisted of two sides and that the ordinary citizen did not support one side over the other. When the de facto leader of one side becomes the new party leader, there must be serious problems, including poor traction, as predicted in 2013.
It is well-known that a political party can be taken down by the attitude and conduct of its own leader. We saw it with Patrick Manning’s PNM in Trinidad and Denzil Douglas’ SLP in St. Kitts. Eric Gairy took down the GULP and Keith Mitchell may eventually take down the NNP! Because the leader is the central player in the party, it is appropriate to objectively evaluate his behaviour and performance.
Below are a few factual (not propaganda) things that ‘hurt the heart’ which, if not remedied, will deepen the degrading of the NDC:
(1). At the commencement of the Structural Adjustment Program in 2014, Victor Burke had a great opportunity to take and establish a fair and credible position on the Grenada economy. He has refused to do so! Perhaps reluctant to broach his own accountability for the management of the economy after the IMF’s Extended Credit Facility went “off-track” by decision of the Ministry of Finance in mid-2011. That was a situation where Finance, very irrationally, decided to function with less revenue (no money from IMF and no alternative sources of funding in place), but with no cuts in expenditure!
Crisis set in at the Treasury thereafter! Ponder this, “…we have put certain proposals to the Minister, but week after week he just would not take a decision. I don’t know if he is thinking that to tell the Prime Minister the true position, he would look like a failure”! (Shared with party hierarchy in late 2013.) Thus lamented a very distinguished and responsibility-laden Finance Official in early 2012.
(2). Burke’s treatment of Constitution Reform provides a clear example of misdirection and wrong politics. He has chosen to address the Nation twice on the subject, but has failed to put forward a voter-attractive set of ideas capable of strengthening our democracy and improving governance. Curiously, while he pushes for fixed term limits for the Prime Minister, he wishes to retain for himself, as PM, all the twenty odd powers which the Constitution gives the PM. The exercise of some of these powers has caused pain and grief among citizens. He seems to be quite happy to have the power!
(3). The Camerhogne Park and REX issues are several weeks old; giving rise, beyond mere criticism of Government’s actions, to the need for sharing fundamental policy positions on development with the public, yet Victor Burke maintains his silence, in this regard. The more he keeps his mouth shut, the more he shuts down his party! Serious leaders know that winning votes takes a process, not one-off manifesto announcements!
(4). Recently, the NDC leader found it worthwhile to tangle with Brenda Baptiste on public radio. In the process, he communicated a disturbing image of his leadership personality. He lost it not because he is human; not because he was provoked; not because Brenda isn’t nice to NDC; but because he has resolved to engage in the politics on his “own terms”. This is serious stuff! A leader who operates on his “own terms” is locked up in the totality of his personal condition, devoid of vision. Where the leader lacks vision, the party perishes! How could he miss the point that public image matters and that Brenda was not running for Public Office?
How could he not realise that he was speaking to the listening public and NOT to Brenda? How could he fail to understand that he cannot purport to inherit ‘Tillman’s twenty thousand’ by Convention vote of four hundred delegates? The next General Elections will establish his true strength. It is already known that he does not even enjoy Tillman’s level of popularity both within the NDC and the country!
(5). The 2016 first quarter report shows that Victor Burke has engineered a ‘broken slate’ at the last NDC Convention, leaving the party’s image on the ground, but elevating his fiefdom! Equally appalling is the fact that he continues to supervise and endorse a voter-disgusting and wasteful weekly ‘Heartbeat’ radio program which might well be re-named, “The NDC ‘Brango’ Show”! Then too, persons who are believed to be collaborating with the Government (not NNP), whether the Social Partners, Dr Francis Alexis or a certain Catholic priest in a ‘constituency of interest’, are attacked, as if to deny their freedom of choice.
(6). The NDC’s Public Relations exposes a glaring lack of capacity and poor politics. Unfortunately, they appear not to be following any protocol regarding, for example, the proper treatment of allegations; nor are they setting themselves any objectives. Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, PRO and Leader simply say/write what they want. Press Conferences, Press Releases, media interviews, etc. are flying all over the place, but mostly missing the mark and opening them to ridicule.
(7). What do they mean when they say, “A better Grenada is possible, under the NDC”? One assumes that they like how it sounds! However, look at the key words, i.e. “better”, “possible” and “under”. While “better” naturally stirs a positive emotion, “possible” and “under” step in immediately to negative the expectation because they do not evoke confidence or communicate commitment or provide for people’s participation. The net effect is that that slogan is not inspirational. A possibility is a thing lacking in certainty.
On these examples of elementary political mistakes, the degrading of the NDC is advancing so quickly that it has become a regular nightmare of many!
Where the NDC, which has historically enjoyed strong popular support, loses its voice or speaks ‘defeated politics’, having defined its mission as “fighting Keith” instead of attracting voters; it loses its appeal and relevance. The result is that the party is trudging in swamplands and sinking in the eyes of the public.
Its leadership choice was convenient but wrong! Many are disappointed and hurting at this development and the late George Brizan must be fretting within the peaceful rest of his grave! Tillman Thomas was criticised as being naïve and indecisive. Now Victor Burke has established a reputation as being nominal and ineffective; to be kind to him. If people cannot tell what is in the leader’s heart he has a real problem. The crucial verdict is not that of the party faithful, but that of the wider public. Recall that leaders have a duty not to mislead or let-down their followers. The leader must take urgent action to fix his approach (thinking and attitude) and to fix the politics of the NDC. Otherwise, barring default conditions, the NDC will not prevail, leaving thousands of good NDC members and supporters of all ages with bleeding hearts!
Disclosure: I was a member of NDC for one year. I foresaw and declared that there was no realistic prospect of a successful Burke leadership of NDC before it happened. I resigned from the NDC prior to his election to signify my opposition to and rejection of his leadership.