FOR THE RECORD: Strategic plan of the essence
I find the study of politics fascinating and often wonder quietly at the coincidence of seminal events.
Take last week, for example. Coincidence or not, former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford was photographed “having a word” with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. That photo is worth a political Pulitzer prize. I say no more!
From all accounts, Margaret Thatcher, the first female British prime minister, was brilliantly portrayed by the American actress Meryl Streep at the London premiere of the biographical film The Iron Lady last Wednesday night.
On Thursday, Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller was sworn in as Prime Minister of Jamaica and instantly declared that she was going to join the Caribbean Court of Justice and cause Jamaica to become a republic.
But for me, the “political” icing on the cake was Friday when my fellow Combermerian Rihanna was officially awarded the title of best selling digital artiste of all time with 47 571 000 (yes, 47 million) downloads of her songs.
Before you ask what Rihanna’s achievement has to do with constitutional politics and practice, check this!
It was only in 1964 that the Civil Rights Act came into being in the United States. Prior to that, discrimination against blacks was within the law.
Neither Rihanna nor any other black person in America could have acquired such a stellar career pre-1964 because both law and social reality (supported by a political and constitutional system which fragments and scatters power between the president, the Senate and the House of Representatives) frustrated the actions of many good legislators to pass such a law to liberate blacks from the oppressive hand of institutional racism.
Moving swiftly along . . . Thatcher is a classic example of a thinking politician staging a “strike” against an unpopular party leader. Her campaign was a study in the art. Not for her the inelegance of soiling her hands with letters, notes, emails and the like. Hands are for handbags!
That kind of “necessary heavy lifting” is left to others. She chose Airey Neave, her fellow MP, and a swashbuckling Oxford educated barrister and former key British intelligence agent (note that), to mastermind her campaign. Her campaign went like clockwork.
Neave correctly read the mood of the parliamentary party and persuaded many MPs to vote for Thatcher not “so much to elect her as leader, but in order to give [Conservative prime minister Edward] Heath a sharp warning that he must change his ways”.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, but Thatcher succeeded.
Once Heath was defeated in the first round, Thatcher moved in for the kill – defeated his “deputy” William Whitelaw, who challenged her in round two, and took over the leadership of the Opposition. Politics is that tough!
She went on to win the 1979 election and became prime minister.
So what is my point? Challenging a party leader in Opposition is dangerous. Challenging a party leader who is also prime minister is doubly dangerous. And if any challenge is to be mounted, it must not be done when the election is 15 months off!
Thatcher challenged Heath within six months of Heath losing the 1974 general election to Harold Wilson. Nearer home, David Thompson and his supporters began challenging Clyde Mascoll’s leadership within a year of Mascoll losing the 2003 election. Have I made my point?
A challenge to a prime minister who understands power hardly succeeds, except, of course, when one is Julia Gillard, of Australia. Last year, she successfully challenged Kevin Rudd and took the prime ministership away from him. Not even Margaret Thatcher has that distinction.
In leadership politics, the modern woman seems to ask no quarter and give none. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller put down her speech, hugged defeated Opposition leader Andrew Holness in broad public daylight and asked the audience to give him a round of applause.
She then declared, as she hugged him, that she was his second mother. Political master stroke!
Wasn’t Shakespeare right when he spoke of women as “the deadlier of the species”?