By Dr Selwyn R Cudjoe
June 05, 2010
Sharon Wilson is a friend. A few days ago we were in conversation with other friends. She asked, “Is PNM yesterday’s news, or is the People’s Partnership tomorrow’s promise?” It was a good question. It spoke to the enormous challenges that face the PNM and the innumerable opportunities this new environment offers if only we can seize the moment.
Sharon also wanted to know how the PNM can attract the younger members of the society into the party when they know so little about the old PNM, Dr Eric Williams, and the importance of Point Lisas in our economic development. Although many of them appreciate that the PNM provided them with free secondary and tertiary education, several regard these achievements as nonchalantly as I accepted going to free primary school in the 1940s.
It was only in the 1980s that I learned that my grandmother, who was born around 1876, could not read nor write because she did not attend primary school because her parents could not pay for that privilege. In fact, free primary school in T&T only became a reality in 1901. By the time I attended primary school I accepted it as part of my natural inheritance; something that came along with my being a British subject. I didn’t know (and really didn’t care) who I had to thank for such a privilege.
So that while the PNM may have achieved remarkable things in the 20th century, the real question that faces us today is whether we should be mired in the past or re-engineer the party to speak to the needs of our young people in the 21st century.
The present circumstance allows us to examine the systematic failure of the party over the past few years and to find the means to solve it. We can begin to do so by being more democratic, starting by naming senators who represent the broad spectrum of the party and who can contribute to our re-emergence into government. It is important, therefore, that Keith Rowley resists the impulse to name senators with whom he has been familiar and to whom he may feel a sense of gratitude.
I offer this caution because the public silence of the old guard was as much to blame for the failure of the party as was the intransigence of our former leader. They were loyal to Mr Manning and did everything to stay within his good graces. In this new incarnation we must guard against a similar uncritical response and fealty toward whoever becomes the leader of the party.
Whatever we do we must remember that we are not seeking to replace Manning’s yes men and women with a Rowley fan club. We are seeking to build a party that is located firmly in the future. The present moment allows us to introduce good governance, to offer a candid assessment of where we went wrong, and what we need to do to take us into the future.
Then there is the case of Colm Imbert who aspires to the leadership of the party but offers a curious narrative about race and his appropriateness for the position. He takes objection to the idea that “somebody could just be appointed leader of a party by acclamation and could just walk into the post.”
Although I appreciate his sentiments, I wonder if this is the same person who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when folks protested that Mr Manning’s car bore the coat of arms when all one had to do was to write the appropriate regulation into the licensing authority regulations to correct this indiscretion. Why, he mused, was there so much fuss about this little, nagging inconvenience?
It is important that we understand that the reorientation of the PNM goes further than simply getting rid of Mr Manning and replacing him with different faces who enjoyed a cozy though uneasy relation with the former PM. It cannot be that one’s only claim to recognition and a post in the newly reconstituted PNM is one’s connection to and friendship with the new political leader.
Anyone who is selected to represent us in the Senate should be able to contribute towards orienting the party in the future. We should use this opportunity to expand the reach of the party and diversify its membership; aim at a judicious blend between the old and the new; and allow merit and creativity to replace cronyism and favouritism.
If we are to speak to the new realities of the moment—tomorrow’s promise as Sharon called it—we cannot do things as usual and expect unusual results. Nor can we allow ourselves to believe that one man, Keith Rowley, can replace another man, Patrick Manning, and then by some magic incantation feel that the PNM has been transformed and thereby ready to face the future.
We must first talk about the collective leadership of the party. The vital decision of selecting the new senators must not be the sole province of the political leader but should emerge out of a responsible discussion among the party leadership.
In fact, before we even select a leader, we must know what we are getting into; where we are going; and how we expect to get there. This, too, must be the product of collective discussion and good-natured give and take. We must be guided by the principle of inclusion; utilising all of the talent that we can find in 41 constituencies; and make a deliberate attempt to engage the best talents in our party.
It goes without saying that the proposed senators and the new executive of the party should represent the best the party has to offer. While we must respect the old, we should not allow sentiments and nostalgia to cloud our vision of the future. While we are not yesterday’s news, we can become tomorrow’s promise only by turning to leaders and thinkers who are not afraid to challenge orthodoxies of the past and think in refreshingly new ways about the future.
We can restore the PNM to its pristine glory if we think the hard thoughts and do the right thing. The future remains within our hands.