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The issue of leadership


Peter Wickham

The issue of leadership

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Directly related to last week’s article is the issue of leadership and the extent to which a particular leader can impact either positively or negatively on a political party’s chances at the polls.  
This issue is also a reflection of the people’s voice and, as such, this article also focuses on “Vox populi” since a central suggestion here is that the voice of the people ultimately determines the choice of our “king” either adherently or inadvertently.
In this regard, a prudent political organisation ought also to listen.  
It is also fortuitous that I can directly address the comments of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler that he is not “ever” interested in the job of Prime Minister, which many have suggested were unwise if he is indeed interested in the job.
I have no personal insight into Sinckler’s level of interest in the job. However, I consider his comments to be entirely consistent with the type of thing that politicians who would ultimately become Prime Minister have historically said. Moreover, it is rooted in an appreciation of our system of governance which precludes a politician from “applying” for the job of Prime Minister.
Our Prime Ministers are functionally “elected”, however, the technical reality is that our Prime Minister is always technically “selected” by a majority of the members of the Lower House, who have no obligation to pay attention to what the public desires regarding leadership. The aspirant for the job is therefore somewhat reluctantly “dragged” to that office in a way that is not dissimilar to the tradition relating to the Speaker of the House of Commons.
As is the case with the Speaker, the tradition seems quite silly, but the same can be said for several of the Westminster model’s traditions. It is, however, a reality we have inherited and with which we must live.
The reality is that all politicians secretly desire to be prime minister since it is the pinnacle of political service. However, only few are able to “make the grade” and over time, it is clear that the proverbial “sheep” are separated from the “goats” based on popular acclaim and not by virtue of their public statements that they “want the job”.
I am therefore inclined to think that if Sinckler is to be Prime Minister, it will happen in a way not dissimilar to the ascendance of Prime Minister David Thompson which, on account of his popularity and his public declaration of disinterest, will matter little.
In this regard, Ezra Alleyne’s remarks about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher making similar statements is noteworthy. I would also add to this my own personal reflection that Thompson made similar public statements around the time that he surrendered the leadership of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Opposition.  
These “denials” are rooted in an appreciation that political colleagues detest naked ambition and would perceive anything less than an outright denial as grounds for an individual’s non-selection.
This is ironic, but relevant, since a Prime Minister is selected by his colleagues and their peculiarities will always need to be foremost in the minds of any aspirant who will need to balance them with an appreciation of the public’s desire.
This appreciation brings into focus the “strategy” appropriate to an individual who believes himself (or herself) suited to the office of Prime Minister and who is aware of their broad public support.
It is tempting to argue that a prudent political party should seek to identify the most popular people within their midst and elevate such individuals in the interest of exploiting that person’s ­popularity.
People following my writings will appreciate that I am naturally inclined towards this type of approach which seems logical, and paid dividends in Jamaica with the shift from Michael Manley to PJ Patterson and also here with the shift from Henry Forde to Owen Arthur.  
Consistent with this thinking, I have argued that it is in the interest of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to shift towards Mia Mottley at this time and it would also seem more prudent for the DLP to move towards Sinckler.
In all of this, it is important to appreciate that such arguments are not based on my personal preference, but on a reading of public opinion which political parties are well advised to pay attention to if they want to remain in office.
There is, however, another side of this issue which is becoming increasingly clear by virtue of historic and current events. If we cast our political minds back to the time of the shift from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in Britain, the thinking was that Brown could save Labour from political obliteration.
And the thinking was similar when Bruce Golding gave way to Andrew Holness in Jamaica. The fact that both of these experiments failed suggests that the “change strategy” will only work in very limited circumstances. We might therefore want to consider the viability of suggesting a shift from Arthur to Mottley in 2005, or from Stuart to Sinckler now.
Reflection on these scenarios with the benefit of hindsight suggests that shifting to a new and more popular leader in mid-stream might pay dividends for the political party, but will invariably also saddle that leader with the old one’s baggage.
In the case of Thompson, he struggled to rid himself of Sandiford’s baggage and bogeys for 15 years. Ironically, he was one of the lucky ones. On the other side of fate were Gordon Brown and Arnhim Eustace (St Vincent), both of whom traded a short time in the prime minister’s chair for what appears to be an eternity in the wilderness.
Summarily, in these instances and what increasingly appears to be the case in Barbados, the fate of the government was already sealed and there was little that Brown, Eustace or Holness could do to save the ship of state.
Contrary to popular belief, I advise neither Sinckler nor Mottley. However, if I were to, I would be inclined to encourage both to embrace their colleagues’ support for the post of Prime Minister only when this expression of support is likely to be followed by an opportunity for the public to convey its own support and thereby ratify the selection.
Although the shortcut offered by a change in mid-stream is attractive, history demonstrates that it is only when the will of the people is manifestly behind the selection that a majority of MPs makes, can the office holder be seen to be his own man or woman and given a fair shake.  
It is perhaps then wise for Sinckler and any other serious contender for the post of Prime Minister to wait until such an opportunity arises.
If the DLP’s ship has to sink temporarily in the meantime, then this would seem to be an unavoidable reality.

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