UWP Con­ven­tion: The highs and lows

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Toni Ni­cholas

First, the bot­tom line: At the United Work­ers Party’s 39th an­nual con­ven­tion last Sun­day, Allen Chas­tanet, for the third con­sec­u­tive time, eas­ily strut­ted off with the po­si­tion of po­lit­i­cal leader! Guy May­ers was elected party chair­man; Gale Rigob­ert, deputy leader. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun grace­fully swal­lowed de­feat. A not-as­grace­ful Mary Isaac chas­tised for­mer PM Stephenson King and stole the lime­light. The for­mer prime min­is­ter would later tell the me­dia he walked out of the con­ven­tion in protest against Isaac’s demon­strated lack of re­spect for him and his supporters. He said he would not be pushed around by new­com­ers, not af­ter years of loy­alty to the UWP through thick and thin. Oth­ers might say King’s mid­dle name has nearly al­ways been ‘Pushover’; or is it Heavy Roller?

The guest speaker was Sir James Mitchell, for­mer prime min­is­ter of St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines, who may have in­spired the Mary Isaac line that brought Stephenson King and his satel­lites to their feet. In ef­fect James said it was nor­mal for po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who’ve lost an elec­tion to step down; nor­mal every­where else but in the Caribbean. Sir James also touched on a num­ber of is­sues in­clud­ing a per­sonal peeve of mine: those long im­mi­gra­tion forms to be filled out by CARICOM na­tion­als (in­clud­ing Saint Lu­cians) when re­turn­ing home. He called for them to be scrapped to save the tax­pay­ers’ money and time. But trust Ja­dia JnPierre-Em­manuel, in the af­ter­math, to say her boss, the prime min­is­ter, had al­ready promised to do just that. As if we didn’t al­ready know about Dr. An­thony’s record when it comes to keep­ing his prom­ises.

And now you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing how I rated the con­ven­tion that had been ad­ver­tised as the panacea that would heal all that had ailed the UWP from 1997, the 2005 elec­tion vic­tory notwith­stand­ing. I’ll put it this way: pol­i­tics stinks. And nowhere is the stench as of­fen­sive as in our neck of the woods. Lit­tle won­der that more and more young peo­ple refuse to get in­volved, an un­de­ni­able tragedy. Sun­day’s ex­er­cise, for me, was at times amus­ing, some­times nau­se­at­ing. Which is not to say I did not on an oc­ca­sion or two per­mit my­self to see a glim­mer of hope, al­beit short-lived.

For starters, the pe­riph­ery of the con­ven­tion hall, the Gros Islet Sec­ondary School, at times threat­ened to be­come a mélange of street the­atre meets fish mar­ket meets ca­lypso tent. One com­mon­al­ity, of course, was the boozy, heavy tongues of over-zeal­ous supporters that some­times ex­ploded ex­ple­tives all over the place. I found my­self stuck at times be­tween mon­i­tor­ing my recorder in­side the hall and catching up on the the­atrics out­side. At least two big-time yel­low birds had their feath­ers ruf­fled. Ru­fus Bous­quet and Spi­der Montoute, who had ducked the heat in­side, min­gled in­stead out­side. But this was like jump­ing out of the pot and into the fire as not even well-in­ten­tioned con­stituency faith­fuls, some will­ing to of­fer more than just the liq­uid spirit of Saint Lucia, could spare them some of the taunt­ing. They ap­peared hot around the col­lar—the Choiseul shabin’s scars per­haps more ap­par­ent.

In­side, Stephenson King was wel­comed by roof-rais­ing ap­plause as he walked in with Eg­bert An­drew, his at­taché when King was prime min­is­ter. King chose to sit with mem­bers of his con­stituency, rather than on­stage with fel­low party hon­chos.

The af­ter­noon ses­sion started with a seg­ment of in­vo­ca­tion, praise and wor­ship with the an­i­ma­tor Anselma Calderon lead­ing the party into yel­low-bird favourite songs such ‘Bind us To­gether’. Her calls for warm em­braces and pray­ing to the Almighty for the ush­er­ing in of the “right” leader drew thun­der­ous ap­plause. The cheers were louder only when party leader Allen Chas­tanet was in­tro­duced. He started off by re­flect­ing on where the party was headed and where it had been. One “weak­ness” he un­der­scored was that for too long the party had en­trusted lead­er­ship to too few. “And while it is un­ques­tion­able that th­ese men of in­tegrity cre­ated sta­bil­ity for this coun­try,” Chas­tanet said, “the fact is ev­ery great or­ga­ni­za­tion must have a suc­ces­sion plan.”

Com­ing out of a pe­riod of what he de­scribed as chaos since 1997, the UWP leader said the party had grad­u­ally trans­formed with re­newed fore­sight, a vi­sion and a mis­sion. He re­ferred to the lack of af­ford­able health­care, ever-ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment, equal op­por­tu­nity for ed­u­ca­tion for ev­ery Saint Lu­cian child, the IMPACS re­port and the morale of po­lice force. To rem­edy some of the cur­rent woes, Chas­tanet said, a UWP gov­ern­ment would be com­mit­ted to giv­ing life to Sir John’s plan for Saint Lucia: stim­u­lat­ing de­vel­op­ment and eco­nomic growth for the whole is­land. He also blasted the gov­ern­ment’s for­eign poli­cies and what he de­scribed as “jobs for the boys” un­der the Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment pro­gramme. “This gov­ern­ment is un­eth­i­cal; it is im­moral; and we must change this gov­ern­ment as soon as pos­si­ble,” Chas­tanet said.

He added that the present gov­ern­ment is rid­ing on the UWP be­ing di­vided. “You are wrong!” Chas­tanet shouted, promis­ing a more united and pre­pared UWP—and vic­tory against “an un­car­ing gov­ern­ment”.

Guest speaker Sir James Mitchell re­called his re­la­tion­ship with Saint Lucia, in­clud­ing his first job as a teacher at St. Mary’s Col­lege. He also revisted his well-known close friend­ship with the late Sir John, and their vi­sion for agri­cul­ture, the ba­nana in­dus­try in par­tic­u­lar. He took the op­por­tu­nity to shill for the Privy Coun­cil, in the process re­call­ing a case he had fi­nally won against the gov­ern­ment of St. Vin­cent. He ad­vised that if the is­land gov­ern­ments wish to abol­ish the Privy Coun­cil in favour of the Caribbean Court of Jus­tice, the de­ci­sion should come out of a ref­er­en­dum.

“We have a prob­lem with suc­ces­sion all over the Caribbean,” Mitchell said. Cit­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tions in Trinidad, and in Bar­ba­dos when San­di­ford took over, he said it seemed to be the norm in th­ese parts. “But look at what hap­pened in Canada with Harper. He con­grat­u­lated the win­ner and then sur­ren­dered the lead­er­ship of his party.” He re­called sim­i­lar ex­am­ples in Great Bri­tain. “So what is wrong with us in the Caribbean that we do not know when to pack up? I want to say to you, Mr. Chas­tanet and the United Work­ers Party, I want you to prom­ise me that if you lead this party into de­feat in the next elec­tion, you will of­fer to re­sign.” Was this last state­ment the in­spi­ra­tion for Mary Isaac’s shot at for­mer PM King?

Sarah Flood-Beauburn was mag­nan­i­mous in de­feat. “We are united in one com­mon pur­pose,” she said, “and that is to re­move the Saint Lucia Labour Party from gov­ern­ment.” She also called for the re­turn of the party’s youth and women’s arms be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions.

Newly-elected chair­man Guy May­ers an­nounced on Sun­day “the end to the sideshows and shenani­gans” and ap­pealed to party supporters to get aboard the train to vic­tory. This be­ing a party con­ven­tion, the troops were told what they wanted to hear. Doubt­less, the UWP lead­er­ship, the elec­tion can­di­dates es­pe­cially, will be hop­ing the ju­bi­la­tion will con­tinue through­out the months be­fore polling day—and af­ter­ward!

A jolly look­ing Stephenson King, with Eg­bert An­drew, sat with con­stituency

del­e­gates at the UWP con­ven­tion last Sun­day.

Sir James Mitchell shares a mo­ment with Michael

Chas­tanet, fa­ther of Allen Chas­tanet.

The crowd erupted at the pres­ence of po­lit­i­cal leader

Allen Chas­tanet.

Allen Chas­tanet and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun

em­brace.

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