By Colin Sampson
Something is definitely going on inside the United Progressive Party (UPP). It seems as though the severe concussion induced by the June 12 2014 shock to the system is beginning to wear off, and the opposition party is getting down to the very serious business of rebuilding itself into a respectable political organisation in time for the next scheduled test.
That next scheduled test may come as late as 2019 or it may arrive a bit sooner. This is all part of the scenario authorised by our Westminster political system, which empowers a Prime Minister to take the country to the polls pretty much whenever he feels like it. It has to be very much in the cards that once conditions appear to favor a strong performance for his administration, an alert PM might chance his hand when voters are feeling the benefits of his party’s wise policies.
The economic miracle may take a while to really gain traction; and then again, growth may take off with such momentum in 2015 that PM Gaston Browne might just get it into his head to call snap elections before the UPP can even begin to get its act together. That scenario is a bit far-fetched, but strange things do occur in politics as well as in real life – so people in the UPP who know how things work are cranking up the machinery to start some blood pumping through the party’s political veins.
Everybody knew that leadership of the organisation would be a major issue for the UPP from the moment defeated-but-not-unseated former PM Baldwin Spencer let it be known that he would not be at the head of the party in any future general elections. In effect resigning his leadership role amidst the wreckage of his prime minister-ship, Spencer consigned the opposition party to an impossible situation: for the foreseeable future, the UPP parliamentary group would be led by a virtual political zombie.
It only made matters worse for the demoralised UPP when the ‘Pit Bull’ Wilmoth Daniel also threw in the towel, letting it be known that he too would be abandoning the field of elective politics for the future. This move left freshman representative Joanne Massiah, sitting for All Saints East & St Luke, as the only visible foundation for a UPP parliamentary presence. There was absolutely no way in the annals of politics that Wilmoth Daniel and Baldwin Spencer, retiring leaders of a routed party, were going to be able to convince the Body Politic that they could represent any future for the UPP.
At the same time, the fact remains that even though representing a loyal UPP constituency, Joanne Massiah did not win her seat by an impressive margin. Her plurality is only the least narrow of the three UPP survivors: Opposition Leader Spencer owes the greater part of his loss of credibility to his meagre winning margin of 36 votes. Still, there are many who believe that having won her seat fair and square, MP Massiah should have a shot at leading the UPP both inside and outside of parliament.
Even before Joanne Massiah announced her intention to stand for the role of party leader, another candidate had staked a claim. Himself one of the major (and earliest) casualties of the UPP rout, former Finance Minister Harold Lovell let it be known early that he would definitely be seeking the top spot in the UPP – only from a position outside both houses of parliament. At the very outset, right after the June 12 debacle, most observers expected that Harold Lovell would have accepted a spot as Leader of Government Business in the Senate. He was undeniably the most qualified for that role, and would have been the natural choice. Indeed he was, as Opposition Leader Spencer tapped him for the post which, he gracefully declined.
Now conducting what is certainly a highly unorthodox campaign to gain democratic control of a political party without holding down a seat in parliament, Harold Lovell has adopted a full frontal approach to the mission of getting delegates to sign onto his convention bandwagon. With a strong presence on social media, Lovell is fielding his slate of candidates for all positions on the UPP Central Executive. Lovell has selected most of his convention slate from among the branch leadership – indicating a commitment to building an effective party structure from the grassroots support available to the UPP.
The third leadership candidate, Eleston ‘Nambalulu Nambalala’ Adams, is keeping a relatively low profile. As a casualty of June 12 2014, Adams is also mounting an unorthodox challenge … but for the UPP, these cannot be days of orthodoxy.
(Part 2 tomorrow)