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Where I stand

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I recently came across the original copy of an article that I had written in response to an attack by Dr Kenneth John in one of his columns, perhaps sometime in 1998, although my copy is not dated.

In rereading it and reflecting on the development of politics over the years, I sometimes think that I must be the most misunderstood person where attitude to politics is concerned.{{more}} Dr John accused me then of being the leader of the anti-Mitchell forces, whatever that meant, and placed me ‘in the nucleus of nebulous and inchoate Third forces that quickly atrophy from lack of action.’ I responded in part: “I am not against any political party and certainly do not stand for any no-party system. I have always exercised my franchise… Indeed, if more of us were critical of our parties, and their leaders, politics here would not be in the mess it is perceived to be in.” I went on to say that no one should take my vote for granted. ‘It will have to be earned’. The caption of the article was “Dr. John, Let Us Really Agree to Disagree.”

My early grounding in party politics was during my last year of primary school. I spent that year in Gomea with Alphonso Dennie, who was totally fascinated with Joshua and took us regularly to his Wednesday night Market Square meetings. When I entered the Grammar School, the atmosphere there, which probably reflected a class bias, suggested that we needed to get rid of the man they called ‘Cucumber Heel’ and elect as Chief Minister Robert Milton Cato, who had social acceptance.

On return after studies abroad, I joined the Educational Forum of the People. This was later transformed into the Democratic Freedom Movement, and became part of the UPM in 1979. Two years after the 1975 Teachers Strike, I left my job at the Grammar School to take up a position in Barrouallie coordinating a project where glebe lands were to be turned over to those who were renting the lands, and assistance provided for developing the area. No one could understand why I would give up a pensionable job to work with a project that was likely to have a short life. Imaginations ran wild, and they concluded that I had done that in order to enter politics. I remember representatives of the Labour Party journeying to Barrouallie to convince my mother that she should not allow me to enter politics. (On the wrong side, really!) They made life difficult for me with that project.

I assisted, where possible, Parnel Campbell, the UPM’s candidate in 1979. The UPM lost but was well received and I was firmly of the view that if they stuck together they were likely to succeed next time around. I was therefore flabbergasted when the UPM broke up over ideological battles. I saw this coming and made a decision then that I would never again be involved in party politics. In fact, when some members of the DFM joined ranks with the NDP, I stayed out.

I went to study shortly after and returned to do some research in 1984. On arrival on the final Saturday of Carnival, I was told that the date for elections had been announced. I was confronted as I arrived in Kingstown, by two men who accused me of coming back to campaign against the Labour Party. I was back in 1986 and began writing a weekly column which some people despised; hence, Dr John’s comments. At some point much later, I was invited to at least two informal internal sessions of the Movement for National Unity at Dr Gonsalves’ Frenches residence. At that time I communicated regularly with him, sometimes chatting for over two hours; especially on a Saturday morning. I had made it known to him quite early that I had no interest in electoral politics. Then something strange happened one day. I was sitting in my office at UWI when three persons from Layou came to see me at different times seeking assistance with their homes. I found this extremely strange, and on the weekend when I got to Layou, I heard that I was supposed to be contesting that seat for the MNU.

A number of political changes had taken place after that, and Dr Gonsalves assumed the position of Prime Minister. Our long conversations continued for some time. But two things happened. I had written against the Cross Country Road, and was accused of carrying an NDP position. The truth is that when a group from Antigua came to do an environmental profile review (or whatever it was called) related to the project, I stated my objection to the project. In their report they listed the persons they interviewed and against my name they indicated that I was opposed to the project. So much then for stating an NDP position! I had always been accused of fence-sitting and not taking any clear position on party politics. In echoing this, Dr John believed I was likely to vote NDP since I was the god-father of one of Eustace’s children. That was it. I became marked and bore the brunt of many attacks; including one that suggested that I was lazy. One day while driving through the Middle Street I was confronted by a man who put a ‘cussing’ on me, asking what I had against his Prime Minister. I had to indicate to him that I wasn’t aware that he had a Prime Minister. And so it goes on.

My position is clear. My support for any candidate or party is based on clear principles that I adhere to, and this has nothing to do with personal benefits but a commitment to the development of our country. (To be continued).

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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