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Ventriloquists, puppeteers and shot-callers



Editor: A recent cartoon in this newspaper depicted the Leader of the Opposition as a puppet being simultaneously manipulated in different directions by four puppeteers. The cartoon, I believe, was engendered by the pervasive question: “Who is calling the shots in the New Democratic Party?”{{more}} Mr. Eustace is the official leader but there seems to be widespread belief, contrary to his declaration at Sion Hill at a recent rally that he is in charge, that other forces are behind the scene pulling the strings.

It is believed in some quarters that he is a mere titular head and that in fact the founder of the party never fully relinquished control of the helm. Is Mr. Mitchell for all intents and purposes still the eminence grise of the New Democratic Party? Why does Mr. Eustace, having been for a decade the official leader of the party and the opposition, still have the question of nominal leadership of his party dogging him?

Is there among the executive and hierarchy of the NDP a crisis of confidence in the leadership abilities of Mr. Eustace? Is this perceived deficiency of gravitas a malicious contrivance of his political detractors or surreptitious symbiotic rivalry within the party, or do they have substantive merit?

A leader is somewhere defined as “A person who knows the way and keeps ahead”. The power of persuasion is a very important quality of leadership. A good leader is guided by core values, beliefs, principles and by the courage of his/her convictions. The author of the biblical book of James asserts: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” A good leader must demonstrate the ability to get his followers to stay on course and on message. He must not waiver or appear unsure or indecisive.

Did Mr. Eustace compromise the perception of his leadership ability, when for instance in response to the present government’s signing of the Petro Caribe Agreement he lamented: “What would America say?” (Or think). The Unity Labour Party in this election campaign bombards the airwaves with a confluence of audio clips of various members of the NDP expressing a cacophony of divergent policy positions on the international airport. Is this apparent policy hodge-podge indicative of Mr. Eustace’s inability to orchestrate and choreograph a coherent monolithic partisan policy position on this important issue?

It may be argued by some that discordant and divergent policy positions by party officials is proof positive that there is freedom of thought and expression within the ranks of the party and that it bodes well for democratic pluralism. However, is it not the norm that such diametric views are aired and vented at internal strategy and policy formulation sessions and reconciled behind closed doors, so that when members emerge they present a united front with everyone being on message?

Deviation from this norm was evidenced on at least two recent occasions which caused Mr. Mitchell to publicly rebuke Senator Leacock. The first instance was during the referendum campaign when Mr. Leacock in a somewhat conciliatory mood stated that should the NDP be elected they would revisit constitutional reform. This stance drew a blistering, disdainful and contemptuous abjuration from Mr. Mitchell: “…. And you Missa Leacock”, he chided, “If you mess wid my constitution, I coming out foh you, too.”

The second instance is more inferential. Apparently miffed by the favourable policy positions expressed by some members of the party’s hierarchy, pertaining to the airport, such as Mr. Leacock’s: “I believe we should stay the course on the airport.” Mr. Mitchell would have none of it, but categorically and emphatically retorted: “No decision! I repeat, No decision, will be taken on any square inch of Argyle….”.

Mr. Eustace for his part has expressed conflicting and contradictory positions on the continuance of the airport should the NDP be elected. In a television interview with Mr. Jerry George, he stated flatly that if the two main benefactors, the Cubans and the Venezuelans, discontinue their support that that will be the end of the project. That it would be quote: “dead.” Even after being prompted by the interviewer about finding alternative sources of funding, he anticipated the question and interrupted with obvious disgust in his tone of voice: “Find it where?”

Mr. Eustace has subsequently stated that his party in government would: “Hire an international group of consultants to study the project, including alternative sources of financing.” According to some observers this amended policy position was assumed after being raked over the coals by party insiders for the obvious flub.

Which of Mr. Eustace’s statements are we to believe? The spontaneous statement made in response to the interviewer’s question or his alter-ego’s diametric politically correct and convenient position, designed to do damage control and minimize political fallout? Which statement reflects Mr. Eustace’s independent opinion or official party policy position and which represents the wishes of his handlers?

You be the judge.