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The Politics of Personal Grievance

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 19, 2008

Keith Rowley insists he wishes to clear his name so that his children would know he is an honorable man. The only problem with such a pursuit is this: what happens after he has cleared his name? While his desire is admirable such nobility matters little in politics. I know of no political movement in history that rallied around a party member's desire to clear his name from infamy. Party members usually rally around causes that crescendo into movements that challenge the foundations of injustice.

Mr. Rowley contends that Mr. Manning acts in an authoritarian manner; undermines the authority of his Cabinet colleagues; and conducts himself in a way that is antithetical to the best interests of the party. He insists that he would have said nothing about what transpired in Cabinet since the PM has a right to hire and fire whom he chooses. He claims he went public because the PM made the matter public.

However, the politics of personal grievance cannot advance the cause of the party. And, if it is true that Mr. Manning is all that Mr. Rowley says he is one can only assume that Mr. Rowley and his colleagues fell down on the job and thus failed to serve their country with the circumspection that is required of them. They should have challenged him while they were in office.

Mr. Rowley contends that Mr. Manning behaved in a dictatorial manner when he chose not to screen Mr. Valley. Can any serious observer look at the systematic dismissal of Eddie Hart, Camile Robinson Regis, Fitzgerald Hines, et. al. and justify Mr. Rowley's silence when these "undemocratic" actions were taking place? Did Mr. Valley raise his voice when his colleagues were being picked off one by one even as he served as a member of the screening committee? Ken Valley and Rowley sat in utter silence as Camille, Eddie, Hinds and others were denied re-nomination by the party and never raised their voices to demonstrate their disapproval.

One would have thought that a person who had the interest of the party at heart would have raised the alarm the first time one of their honorable colleagues was denied re-nomination. That never happened. One can conclude it is only because Mr. Rowley was fired unceremoniously that he found his voice which raises the question: if he could not speak as a Cabinet member why didn't he speak as a party member?

If something is going wrong with the PNM—and there is a lot going wrong with the PNM—it behooves all of the affected members (I will call them the dissidents) to come together and offer an alternative to what's taking place in the party; demonstrate why/how the PNM went wrong; and what must be done to fix it. The politics of personal grievance cannot fix what is wrong within the PNM.

Mr. Manning understands politics better than all of those who have taken their licks and continue to lick their wounds. Politics, in the final analysis, is about gaining power and using it to achieve one's objectives. Mr. Manning might have achieved his objective but it could be argued that in so doing he undermined the collective responsibility of the cabinet that is at the heart of parliamentary democracy.

The role of the dissidents consists in mobilizing whatever power they can muster within the party and use it to achieve their aims. If their aim is to right the party so that it returns to its democratic moorings then that is what the politics of the day demands. If dissidents' objective is to get rid of Mr. Manning then they have an obligation to organize themselves and go in search of the votes to unseat him. It is idealistic and perhaps un-political to argue that the party rules are stacked against them and thus it makes little sense to try to achieve their political ends.

If the rules are so structured that it supports the incumbent then serious politicians ought to look for ways to influence party members or mobilize a force within the party to change those rules so they become fairer to those who wish to challenge office holders in the party. No politician gives up power without a fight or because a party member's name has been sullied. The rules were stacked against Cipriani, Butler and Williams. They found ways to overcome their opponents.

The dissidents must be willing to mobilize their power to achieve a majority voice within the party. Failing this, they should aim to achieve a minority voice that pushes their agenda forward. Without such a voice they will be ignored, sidelined, and become null and void.

While the politics of personal grievance has its virtues it is not the corrective the party requires at this time. It needs a structured alternative that would carry forward the best interest of the party. The politics of personal grievance can lead to a politics of derision that ultimately descends into a politics of irrelevance. Mr. Rowley must guard against such a pitfall.

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