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Turning up the election heat

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We are now into October, our month of the regaining of our National Independence and, as we were reminded this week by our Prime Minister, the month of the anti-colonial revolt of 1935.

But more on that sometime later.

What is clear is that there is an intensification of the election campaign, COVID or no COVID. The health precautions have necessitated that both parties opt for virtual public meetings instead of the massive outdoor ones. It is a most interesting development in several ways. For one, it saves the political parties a lot of money normally expended on mobilizing large crowds and the entertainment packages which go with that approach.

One cannot say for sure at this stage what lasting impact this will have, but it has, at least temporarily, curbed some of the political theatrics usually associated with election campaigns and forced our politicians to try and make serious presentations. To the extent that this helps to lessen the rabble-rousing so typical of electioneering, this is a most positive development. Above all, the very atmosphere of a virtual meeting makes it difficult to engage in the slander and commess which have characterized so much of our politics. It is said that it is an “ill wind which blows nobody good”, and this aspect of the COVID impact certainly verifies this statement.

One interesting development over the past week has been the re-emergence of former Prime Minister and founder of the opposition New Democratic Party Sir James Mitchell. Though never far from the political stage, Sir James has chosen to make selective comments on matters of national importance, mainly in interviews on the radio. Now it seems as though he is about to enter the campaign trail once again.

His last active campaign, he reminded us, was during the 2009 constitutional referendum. Then, he virtually took over a somewhat listless NDP campaign in opposition to the proposed new constitution and reinvigorated it, changing its slogans and thrust. Unfortunately, much of that thrust was in a politically-backward direction, in favour of the monarchy and against progressive and democratic constitutional change. Nevertheless the campaign was successful and buoyed by this success and astutely aware that there is some element of what can be called “Ralph fatigue” among the population, perhaps Sir James has calculated that this is an opportune moment for his re-entry on the political stage and the cementing of his legacy.

At the opening of the NDP’s Northern Grenadines office in Bequia last Saturday, Sir James attempted to put his imprint on the campaign by “advising” his party to change their campaign colour from yellow to white, and to focus on reuniting the nation under the slogan, “One Nation, One People, One Vincy”. Now this is a laudable idea in principle, though the colour change leaves room for the political cynics to engage in lampoons to the tune that if yellow represents cowardice, then white indicates surrender. That aside though, one can only applaud any approach which places the interests of the nation above that of party. Calypsonian I-Pa exhorted us to do that long ago.

The problem is that of credibility. The same NDP had thrashed the idea when it was first proposed by the then new Prime Minister Gonsalves in 2001. It could have taken the high road, embraced the concept and then pointed out any contradictions on the part of those proposing the idea. But goaded by its principal spokespersons, the NDP was led down an oppositionist path replete with abuse of all those thought to be not in line with its views.

It will take a serious effort to rein in the rabid rabble-rousers, especially in the media, and to convince the electorate that the party is serious about national unity. There must be questions among those not politically aligned about how genuine is this shift and one will have to judge the line taken by those in advocacy for the NDP as to how effective will this change be.

One of the effects of that degeneration in our politics was that rather than continuing to stick to the high road, the governing ULP itself tolerated, to say the least, persons in the media who were supportive of the government in diving into the same muck of gutter politics and personality bashing. It has done no good either to the image of the party or to uplifting the politics of the country as a whole. One does not have to fight fire with fire in order to extinguish the threat.

Finally, the ULP has never given up on its insistence that if Sir James is serious about national unity, he must recant his infamous Grenadines Declaration of 1980 which threatened the unity of the newly independent nation, and other notable utterances by him, such as “When they (mainland St. Vincent) will no longer have banana, we (Grenadines) will still have fish”. They are sure to seize on these though it is in the best interests of the nation, to welcome the “Nation before Party” concept. We all can only benefit from it.

Interesting times are ahead.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.