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Change, change and change

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Let me begin by wishing my long time comrade Jomo Thomas and his associates all the best in their quest to set up a credible alternative to the political parties existing in St Vincent and the Grenadines. To anyone who knows Jomo, this step seems a logical one, given his obvious disillusion with the governing ULP and his abhorrence and rejection of the NDP. Jomo has from youth been immersed in the politics of SVG, and one could only expect that in the prime of his life he would seek some political space of his own.{{more}}

Whether he succeeds or not is to be left up to history, the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the strategies and tactics adopted by any such emerging movement. Like others before him, myself included, he argues persuasively that a “third force” can succeed. Interestingly, his latest column in the “VINCENTIAN”, in making the case for a third force, draws examples of Sir James Mitchell and Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who both succeeded by merging or absorbing already existing political machines. Is he telling us something there?

What is also interesting is the response of the ULP to the clamour for ‘change’ currently doing its rounds, “Change” is the political buzz word of the day. Even in the tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee politics of the USA, all the contenders for the Presidency are championing ‘change’.

In the Caribbean, with a spate of general elections either recently concluded or about to take place, the change factor has become a real stimulant for opposition forces. It is given further impetus when those winning, or more correctly losing, carry the name “Labour Party” and have been part of the traditional Labour Party family in the region.

Thus in St Lucia and Barbados, the defeat of the multi-term incumbent Labour parties, red jerseys and all, by their yellow-breasted opponents has been vastly encouraging to the New Democratic Party in SVG. Hailing these as indicating which way the wind of change is blowing, one can only expect the heightened activity on the part of the NDP to take advantage of the mood swing and put the ULP under more pressure.

Not that easy, says the ULP and its leader Dr Gonsalves. It latest weekly column sets out to demarcate the ULP from its Labourite counterparts in the immediate neighbouring islands of Barbados and St. Lucia. Setting out mistakes of both Dr. Kenny Anthony (St Lucia) and Owen Arthur in Barbados, the ULP seems to suggest that it will not commit such errors. Moreover, it claims, it is the ULP which represents change in SVG with its election victory in 2001. A little far-fetched, it seems.

While I agree wholeheartedly that “change’ cannot be taken in abstract and that each case must be judged on its merit, it would be necessary for the ULP not to slip into self-delusion (as Owen Arthur appeared to do) and to come to grips with reality. It is not just Owen’s Ministers who have drifted from the people. If the ULP would peep in its own bowl, it would discern the live fish from the dead ones. Additionally, the ULP has within its ranks persons who are now ‘lame ducks’, having announced formally or informally that they will no longer be contesting elections. Where are their successors?

The ULP claimed that its 2006 Convention was held under the theme ‘Refreshing the Party”, but if truth be told, one can not honestly say there is much evidence of this. Even when Minister Walters committed the unpardonable errors, the Prime Minister seemed either unable or unwilling to seize the opportunity to ‘refresh’, Mike Browne’s gaffe with the teachers helped to spur on a needless confrontation, and he, too, is “lame duck”. Wouldn’t a reshuffle and reordering of ranks help?

One problem is that the ULP boxed itself into a corner with the appointment of Senators, and by giving all the elected MPs, ministerial positions. There is precious little to attract the disillusioned and save for games of musical chairs, the room for meaningful change is fast disappearing. To make such needed changes (like is done with Permanent Secretaries in the Public Services) is not a sign of weakness or pandering to the Opposition; it has become a political imperative. Not even Dr Gonsalves’ massive political shoulders can carry the growing burden alone. The party of change must demonstrate that it, too, can change, in a positive direction.

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