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FOR THE RECORD – Not easy axing a PM

Ezra Alleyne

FOR THE RECORD – Not easy axing a PM

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The political decapitation of a party leader, especially when that leader is prime minister, is an art not to be practised or attempted by people of faint heart.
It is an act requiring timing, skill, courage, artifice and above all, ruthlessness of a rare kind.
It also requires analytical skills of a high order. Striking while the iron is hot will not without more, cut it, for hot irons handled by amateurs is akin to monkeys handling gun. The axe wielder may himself be axed, or to use the more elegant expression, he may be hoist with his own petard!
Anyone who doubts this truth should read Julius Caesar, one of the most instructive political works of all time. Consider the implications of a startled and unbelieving Julius Caesar when Brutus (his trusted friend) plunges the knife, and then marvel at the manipulative and duplicitous cunning of Mark Antony.
Recent events have puzzled me, and I have thought long before committing pen to paper. I have heard and read that some MPs wanted merely to discuss leadership issues with the Prime Minister.
But is it that simple?
I have always been impressed with the opinion of Clement Attlee, a former British prime minister when he spoke of the relationship of parliamentarians to their prime minister.
“You must have confidence in the judgment of the man in charge. If he hasn’t got your confidence, he is not fit to be prime minister,” Attlee said.
And so I ask: What was the purpose of this letter? In my view, a letter sent to any prime minister which speaks of “perceived weaknesses in our leadership of the country and a sense of inertia and drift arising there from” is a challenge to the authority of the prime minister concerned, no matter how sugar coated the letter might attempt to be! It is after all the Stuart administration, and the stakes are high.
This ought to have been clear to anyone in politics because the awful power of a prime minister reminds me of the centurion in the Bible who said: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say unto this man, Go, and he goeth and to another, come, and he cometh; and to my servant, do this, and he doeth it.”
Another question is: why were the other Members of Parliament not involved? Now, there may be some magic in the figure 11, but I do not see what it is, nor for that matter, did the founding fathers of our Constitution.
They believed in strong prime ministership and they insulated the Prime Minister’s office from capricious or whimsical change, even if the Prime Minister may wish to rewrite the office in his own image, for H.H. Asquith, another British prime minister, remarked that “the office of prime minister is what its holder chooses and is able to make it”.
A Leader of the Opposition can be removed by a simple majority vote, but a Prime Minister has to be removed by the specified method laid down by the Constitution. Numbers matter, unless, of course, there is some sort of a backstage coup in which anything goes and the formal prescription of the Constitution may be a dead letter if the leader goes without asserting his right.
A careful reading of the constitutional requirements may therefore be inconsistent with the view that 11 MPs is an unbeatable majority over the remaining ten of the 21 Democratic Labour Party (DLP) elected members, and careful readers will note that the letter speaks of “we the undersigned elected members of the parliamentary group”.
In this connection, only elected members can appoint a Prime Minister, and only elected members can disappoint a Prime Minister, so it may not be unreasonable to read this scenario as an incipient challenge to the office of Prime Minister.
Could there be any other explanation given all the facts?
In Australia in June of last year, Julia, as deputy prime minister, ousted her prime minister Kevin Rudd. One newspaper said that she became prime minister not because she was a woman, but because she was more ruthless than many of her male colleagues. A ruthless, but highly efficient, political operation was how another commentary described it. That is what I meant in my first paragraph!
A fractured government is a luxury which a democracy cannot afford, and whatever happened may have irretrievably fractured the Government.
But the greater lesson is clear. It is not easy to remove a Prime Minister and the Constitution says so, and any challenge to the office is manifestly a matter of the greatest public interest, especially in turbulent economic times.
Ezra Alleyne is an attorney- at-law and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly. Email [email protected]