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To be or not to be, that is the question for ‘Major’ Leacock

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In perhaps the greatest Shakesparean tragedy, Hamlet, the hero of the play carrying his name uttered these words which have reverberated across the centuries: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s deliberation stemmed from his awareness that the course of his life hinged on the choice he must make concerning the murder of his father. Should he, or should he not seek revenge?

Over the past month or so, Major St Clair Leacock’s political career has arrived at a crossroad that will forever define his political life. He must choose whether he should remain a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP), or cross the floor and become a member of the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP). {{more}}In short, like Hamlet, he must decide, to be or not to be.

The roots of Leacock’s predicament flow directly from the process which enabled Dr Godwin Friday to emerge as the leader of the NDP.

First, it frayed the relationships between Leacock and his fellow NDP parliamentarians, whose elevation of Friday to Opposition Leader in Parliament clearly denied Leacock the opportunity to truly compete among the delegates for the leadership of the party. Second, it opened up Leacock to a series of attacks in both the electronic media and the radio from NDP supporters, unsettled by the hint that Leacock, or anyone else for that matter, might challenge NDP’s orthodoxies. And third, it has left Leacock feeling isolated within a party to which he has given more than 30 years devotion. In his own words, he had become a target of “friendly fire.”

Whether Leacock and his detractors with the NDP can repair this fractured relationship is something we do not know. But what we do know is barring an extraordinary circumstance, Dr Friday’s elevation to the leader of the NDP means that Major Leacock will never become Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Leacock has therefore been forced to contemplate a question clearly unimaginable just one month ago: what will be his political legacy in SVG?

There are, in fact, two paths available. As a battle tested political veteran, as the NDP’s current vice-president, and as the NDP’s strongest politician on mainland St Vincent, he can continue to toil as a loyal soldier in Friday’s army, much as he has previously done for Sir James Mitchell and Arnhim Eustace. Although he cannot guarantee re-election to his constituency in 2020, he will enter that election as favourite to retain his seat. In short, he can continue on the current course that has defined his political life: a successful opposition politician with a high probability of winning his seat, but with no guarantee whatsoever of serving his constituents as a minister of government.

Leacock crossing the floor to join the ULP would be a historic decision, the like of which has not been seen in SVG for nearly 40 years. The knife edge ULP’s 8-7 advantage in Parliament would be immediately transformed into a yawning 9-6 advantage. It would return Kingstown to its historic role of having a powerful voice sitting in Cabinet attending to the needs of our capital city. And given Leacock’s age, it would crown his career by giving him the opportunity to establish a governing legacy in any number of portfolios consistent with his experience, expertise, and above all, his enthusiasm for engaging in Vincentian public life before he leaves the political stage.

If he chooses this path, he will pay a price. Friendly fire would become enemy fire. Some of his constituents would feel betrayed. Some within the ULP would reject him. After all, for more than a decade, he has played a powerful role in challenging ULP governance of SVG. Still, the choice which Leacock now faces is one few Vincentians have ever had to face: political history, or political obscurity. To be or not to be, that is the question.

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