IDEAS, ENERGY, VISION . . . HOPE
Darnley Norville, a dear departed friend, acted as general secretary of the United Workers Party in the mid-1970s. He soon became a close ally of political leader John Compton. Over drinks one afternoon at his Bonne Terre home, Darnley related his disappointment in a conversation with his political leader. The gist of the conversation was that Compton believed that the central executive of the UWP was a microcosm of the Saint Lucia electorate. Darnley would not have any of it. He felt that the party was way better than the average of the society.
Darnley’s annoyance stemmed from his belief that the hierarchy of the party had proven itself better endowed with more dynamic ideas, more energy, and was more visionary than what existed in the public domain. These better qualities, he believed, had set the UWP apart. He was happy to inform his political leader of his feelings. Compton remained quietly adamant that the party was the average of its constituent parts - no better and no worse. Compton was aware that the party did not discuss political and economic philosophy. Instead, it reached for practical ways to grow the economy, and encourage business to invest and create jobs.
That conversation with Darnley was one year or so after his tête-à-tête with his party leader. I had just left my agronomist job in the Ministry of Agriculture and was determined to bring my energies and knowhow to a new landscaping business. I was fortunate in my first foray into the private sector to encounter persons willing to employ my skills. Within months I was earning three to four times the meagre salary of my former agronomist job with the government.
Notwithstanding the prospects of a brighter financial future, I had set my sights on a political course and had, perhaps unwisely, put my financial gains in jeopardy. I was certain that I had the energy, vision and hope to make a positive contribution to politics and, in particular, to further agriculture on the island. I would make people stop and pay attention – or so I thought. I was convinced that it only took a few good men (and women) to fix what was wrong with government and with the country.
I had arrived at this decision after much thought and careful calculation. My casual manner did not project my determination. Frankly, I liked it that way. The political platform was my pulpit, not pubs and bars or anywhere else. I offered many silent prayers but did not give God sufficient time to respond. Patience was not one of my strong suits. I used the excuse that patience is the virtue of the jackass that labours under its load and is contented, even though I was aware of an African proverb that says, ‘He who has patience has all.’
I had by that time become a political student of CLR James and Dr. Eric Williams and had read, discussed and analyzed the writings of Stokely Carmichael, Frantz Fanon and several others on slavery, colonialism, discrimination, racism and the colour question. I was part of a forum that had quietly reflected on the human condition in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. We questioned the reason this island was stricken with and suffered from only two secondary schools – ‘college and convent’ – as the man on the street called them. The lack of proper island-wide education was the Achilles heel of the island, in the forum’s thinking.
From the little knowledge that one had acquired, it was clear that John Compton had hit the correct button in that long ago conversation with Darnley. There was no way I could have explained this to my talkative friend without threatening our friendship. How do you say that ideas, energy, vision and hope were not the preferred items of discussion of political parties, then or now? The fact that I was opposed to certain policies of his leader meant to Darnley that I should oppose everything he said or believed. I prided myself in separating an issue from the person proposing it. That was the best approach to every problem one faced, personal or national; ‘never take it personally’ were words of wisdom.
Darnley, to his credit, made an effort to listen without too much interjection. I profited the opportunity to remind him that both political parties had a very limited pool of bright, young people with experienced heads to guide them. To expose the youth to the hazards of public life without adequate preparation was to impose too heavy a burden on them. Only fools rushed in where angels feared to tread. My friend was prepared to accept that proposition.
The reality was (and is) that political parties draw their support from constituencies on the island. No party had an education programme to teach basic Caribbean history, politics, economics, culture and ethics, etc. Regular information was not shared within the party and the centre did not seek to explain the workings of a government, its policies and plans, including the legislature, financial rules and orders, the annual budget, and the like.
Over time, wider availability of radio and television, and the expansion of schools made education available to more people. Even with progress there remained a wide gap in the dissemination of correct information within the society. Constituency groups are dominated by folks with little formal education and who are deeply loyal to their parties and leaders. These are the people who elect political leaders and candidates for a general election. In essence, they are the ones who select (and elect?) the government.
If anything has been learnt since that conversation with Darnley it is that the party executive, including its chairman and political leader, are still selected by delegates representing political constituencies seeking favours. This is true for both political parties on the island. Ideas, energy, vision and hope for a new Saint Lucia, as reflected in Compton’s conversation with Darnley, remain a dream to be pursued almost 39 years after political independence. Both parties reflect the views of the leader and average supporter. New people in search of fame can infiltrate a political party bringing dirty money in with them, if they can. These people can also inject alternate ideas, vision and hope into the culture of a party. They care little about economic progress. Instead, their agenda is to form a majority in parliament and proceed to plunder the national treasury. They hide their nefarious activities behind the government as a protective front.
Armed with the experience of the last fifty years, can the people use fresh ideas, energy, vision and hope to build a better future? Can they put aside their fears and mistrust of politicians and create a new constitution for themselves? Can they make the CCJ their final appeal court? I wonder what Darnley and Compton would think, had they been around.
“New people in search of fame can infiltrate a political party bringing dirty money in with them, if they can. These people can also inject alternate ideas, vision and hope into the culture of a party. They care little about economic progress.”