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Rats, revenge and recycling: Daly looks at UNC’s internal elections

The UNC leadership contest is boiling. Ostensibly the challenge to the political leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissesar is a revolt against her running the losing election 2015 campaign in which the party lost Government as “a one person show.”

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections. (Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)
Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections.
(Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)

There is nothing odd about a member of a political party challenging a Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition for the political leadership of the party. There are many examples of this including a famous revolt against a one-woman show.

In the United Kingdom, John Major toppled the formidable Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative party in 1990, after Thatcher’s very loyal and normally docile Chancellor of the Exchequer—Minister of Finance—and later Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe turned against her because of her autocratic ways.

Howe delivered his own resignation from Thatcher’s Cabinet by means of a speech in Parliament, which led to a leadership contest while Thatcher was still Prime Minister.

In Howe’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph his resignation speech was described as “a devastating piece of parliamentary oratory.”

Howe, it recorded, “delivered a ferocious indictment of Mrs Thatcher’s style of leadership in which he compared her treatment of her subordinates negotiating in Europe to that of a cricket captain who sends his batsmen to the crease, having first broken their bats in the changing room.”

Photo: Former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Photo: Former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In Australia, leadership contests are graphically known as “leadership spills” defined as follows: “A leadership spill occurs when a member or members of the parliamentary party feel that the leader is taking the party in an undesirable direction or is simply not delivering on promises made to those who elected the leader, and does not have the numbers to back his or her position.”

“A spill may be triggered by consistently poor opinion polls.  A spill can be initiated by the party leader in office, usually in the hope of gaining a fresh mandate to quell dissenting voices in the party.”

Spills are frequent in Australia. Just recently, the Liberal party won the federal government election in September 2013 under the leadership of Tony Abbott. But, two years later, he was spilled from office and Communications Minister John Turnbull took his place as Prime Minister.

A few years earlier, the Labour party had the Rudd v Gillard contests, which spilled the first Australian female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

The UNC, now in Opposition having lost the September 2015 general election, have scheduled leadership elections for next month, December 2015.

Photo: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal. (Courtesy Baltimore Post)
Photo: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Baltimore Post)

A number of oddities afflict this event.

These leadership elections are several years late, as they were not held on schedule during the time UNC was in Government. What is most amazing is the concern from high up within the UNC about the integrity of the voting process and the allegation that the election process is rigged.

What does that tell us about the kind of Government the UNC operated during the 2010-2015 period when procurement bid rigging continued to be a major topic of political conversation?

One is also compelled to question the spin that Kamla is being challenged as a result of her having made the election campaign “a one person show.”

For the entire five years of the so called People’s Partnership Government, in which the UNC was the unchecked dominant force, the speech of every Minister and other UNC Parliamentarians began with an adoring reference to “our leader Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”

Dr Roodal Moonilal, Tim Gopeesingh and Kamla’s other now loud critics secured themselves tightly to her skirts and kept her well away from any sources of influence but theirs.

Photo: Former Agriculture Minister Vasant Bharath.
Photo: Former Agriculture Minister Vasant Bharath.

Then there are those satellites and seat wipers who gained fame, freeness and/or fees—many say un-meritoriously—especially certain professionals who are jumping the “Kamla ship” loudly or trying stealthily to recycle themselves.

In reality, it is too late for these crews to jump the Kamla ship. They went down with it willingly, some lovingly, some two-facedly and, in some cases it is alleged, very profitably.

The whole point about rats jumping ship is their supposedly sixth sense to discern the need to jump before the ship sinks.

Those who failed in their bids to obtain safe seats from which to fight the 2015 election have joined the ship jumpers in making loud noise. One can be forgiven for suspecting that revenge is also at play.

Kamla should have resigned because she lost the election and particularly because she lost a campaign expressly branded Kamla 2015. Unlike her sudden detractors she cannot even attempt to pass blame for the defeat.

The question is what portion of blame for the several election defeats is to be attributed to the electorate being turned off by those same detractors.

Photo: Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal. (Courtesy Elections.tt)
Photo: Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Elections.tt)

As a result of Kamla’s incredibly poor assessments of suitability for public office the political wastebasket was already overflowing before the election with persons dumped during the course of her Government. Such a wastebasket may still be needed.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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  1. A little correction for Mr Daly: John Major did not ‘topple’ Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s challenge, after the Howe resignation, came from Michael Helestine who had gained enough votes to force another round of voting in the election. Major, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, was selected (and supported by Thatcher) as a viable alternative to Helestine who was viewed as somewhat of a loose canon. That’s how Major became the head of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.
    This is much different from what is taking place in the UNC. There is no ‘Gordon Howe’, no one viable to say ‘Kamla do real sh*t, and I out’. Also, there is no scenario where I see Kamla being convinced to select a ‘John Major’ to be her successor to avoid a nasty fight in her party. The principles that governed that leadership fight in the UK does not exist in UNC politics. This is a (nasty) fight to the finish.
    One thing I can almost guarantee is this is not going to be over on Dec 5th. One thing we know is in abundance in the UNC is lawyers, this is going to court either before or after Dec 5. Moonilal needs to drag this out to have a chance and the only way he could is through the courts. So buy your popcorn, this fight is going to be long…unlike Thatcher’s fight.

  2. Well said Mr Daly.
    If the UNC had won the election there would not be any word about challenging Mrs Persad-Bissessar.
    She has, by not resigning immediately upon losing the general election, put her former colleagues and party members into a difficult situation. Her action, like the childish action on election night in refusing to go to rally her supporters in the defeat and refusing to go in an official car, shows how unsuitable she was for office.
    If she had resigned immediately, the leadership hopefuls would have had a clear field to begin the rebuilding.
    Of course, none of the leadership hopefuls are in this with unsullied hands for they were only too glad to ride on her dress train when she was PM.
    Mr Bharath has lost his seat, so if he is Leader, will one of the elected members be required to give up his safe seat so that he can get back in the lower house with a bye election? He is probably a Trojan Horse candidate for Basdeo Panday, but can The Pandayites really expect that Panday’s support will give him the edge?
    Mr Moonilal is probably unelectable nationally as he is perceived as tainted goods by all but his sycophants.
    So the huge beneficiary of the one woman show is the PNM who has a very weak Opposition with which to deal.
    The really big losers are the people of T&T who don’t have a proper check in Parliament if the PNM returns to some of the same type of shenanigans that the UNC were doing. From reports of a building on Queens Park West which is supposedly being rented from a former parliamentarian’s family the shenanigans may have started already. Many thanks.

  3. Martin, do you think Rodney Charles could organize a leadership spillcheck for Tanty Kams? Or is the UNC electorate likely to speak a language against which even a spillcheck can provide little assistance?