We need a strong opposition

By Derren Joseph
February 01, 2012

Derren JosephRecently I ended up at a fundraiser organised by Democrats Abroad here in the UK. As one would expect, the event was to raise funds for the re-election of President Obama in this year’s US Presidential elections. Those of us in favour of campaign finance reform in Trinidad and Tobago are impressed by the relative transparency in the campaign finance process in the US, and in the UK. Foreigners are not normally allowed to donate to political parties and all contributions over a certain threshold are a matter of public record. In fact, I was only able to attend the event as a guest of my wife, who is a US citizen and a registered Democrat.

Keynote speakers at this fundraiser were a senior campaign strategist for the Labour Party here in the UK as well as the MP for a South London constituency. The strategist reminded me of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in George Clooney’s recent political masterpiece—The Ides of March. This movie is required viewing for anyone who wants to understand the challenges facing Western politics in general. I managed to have a brief chat with the campaign strategist later that evening on developments here in the UK and in the USA.

His view was that the UK Labour Party/Opposition Leader Ed Miliband was a really bright guy but he seems to be struggling to stay connected with the grassroots of the party. He is being seen as a bit aloof in his approach and may actually be alienating important Labour Party supporters as a result. A weak Opposition is problematic because for our parliamentary system to properly function, we need a cohesive and focused Opposition. As I listened to him speak, my mind began to drift back to Trinidad and Tobago politics. I have heard many also describe the PNM/Opposition Leader as aloof. They say that he is not easy to speak to, is impatient and does not come across as approachable at all. Ironically, the PNM leader should be becoming more and more politically attractive as the number of unforced errors by the governing coalition increases, but this does not seem to be the case at all. Every day I note that even the most hardcore of Government supporters in the newspapers and on-line are at a loss to defend some of the administration’s missteps. The fact that people must now be paid to speak well of achievements is testimony to the present public despair. The recent Nacta poll confirmed the level of disillusionment with the coalition Government even though the ratings of the Prime Minister remain relatively high.

Yet in the midst of all of this, the fortunes of the PNM are not moving up. Day by day, concerns about a lack of transparency and poor accountability increase. The strange thing is that the present Opposition leader is one of the few MPs in recent memory to speak out against his own Government on issues of transparency and accountability. Returning to the UK, the campaign strategist was saying to me that so much of politics was about the ability of a candidate to connect with the common man or woman. We were remembering the heyday of Bill Clinton, who despite so much controversy remained popular partly because of his ability to connect with people. Perhaps the same can be said about our present Prime Minister in Trinidad and Tobago—she has an enviable ability to connect with people from all walks of life. The anecdotes I hear about the PNM leader portrays an interesting personality. There are social events where he is seen remaining apart from the crowd rather than walking around, mingling and engaging potential supporters. There are people who have approached him and tried to strike up a conversation with little success. From reports in the printed press and in on-line forums, he seems unable to rally certain opinion leaders within the PNM to his side.

Can the PNM leader unite his own party and win over the wider population? Can he revive a party whose brand has been described as damaged? Some political pundits suggest that he is the only person holding himself back. The recent improvement in his approval rating (latest Nacta poll) shows his potential but he needs to push harder to unite the divided opposition in a way that does not compromise his principles. The effectiveness of our system of governance depends on a strong opposition. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and my region. Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “We need a strong opposition”

  1. I agree with the essence of the article. I think if Mr. Panday, joins with Rowley’s PNM, and Manning together they can form a formidable Opposition. But could you imagine those three agreeing on anything? I think it is possible and we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Panday brings 40 years of Opposition experience, Manning bring a few years and Rowley can add to the flavour by using his expertise to harness the knowledge of these two to build this strong Opposition that we all desire. We must not despise the knowlege of the elderly in our society.

    Barring this happening, I think the PP will form their own Opposition and leave the PNM out. Already COP is behaving like an orphaned child, and Jack is looking at the treasury as his bank account,(PURE was and is corrupt too much money wasting, only problem, everybody scared of Jack because he have a file on all of them).

    Opposition politics is vaguely rewarding. What do you do but oppose everything the government does. You make a grand charge and leave Parliament. You find some report out there and accuse the government of nepotism. You try and befriend the Xpress so that they can speak on your behalf. And to add insult to injury you everybody wants your position. So who really wants to be Opposition Leader???

  2. Although this article did not tell us very much, the pertainence of Opposition politics is very much a matter that should be of interest to much of the population. There are almost no forums or public interest groups that has as it’s main focus, the development of Trinidad and Tobago economically, ethically, politically and internationally. The interests of Trinidad and Tobago is as varied as the number of blogs on the information highway and so diverse that one would be hard pressed to present a well-informed position to make the case for true development of the country. One thing is sure and that is, as the current government cannot get it’s handle on how to govern, presenting a good opportunity for those best prepared to make a run for it, but do we see any such group with an enlightened program? NO! just guys waiting for the next election to present a slate of candidates that they a tired population would support another change for the sake of change. Take the PNM for example. This party has governed for more than forty of the last fifty years by an electorate that keep sending them back and back again, and after that support has been lost, in-cohesive and almost irrelevant to what is going on around them that the party’s hierarchy does not have a new idea on how to attract and invigorate the hopes of it’s followers. If the PNM ever had a “base”, that idea was destroyed by the last government. The people who supported them all these years, finally got fed up and decided to try a make believe government who definitely did not have their interests at heart. The most important thing a government can do for it’s population is to educate them. The PNM supporters were better educated, better groomed and better prepared fifty years ago than they are today. How did they move from freedom, success and hope to one of failure (the supporters of the party I’m talking about)? Kamla’s government has one very thing that the PNM never had – PR! Not that the PNM never had good legislation or good ideas BUT it never informed it’s people, and so those (not in the party)who found out about them took advantage that the party never had the gall to tell their supporters. From 1962 to today, FETE has become the order of the day for PNM supporters. We asked and received things that we never really worked hard for so the future never matter that much. Those who valued their children’s interests made sure that they prepared them for the changing world and they became successful. The PNM supporters are so poor that any attempts to raise collective funds amongst its members can only result in paltry success. What the PNM need to do in order to become a viable opposition is to come up with new ideas on how to educate and discipline our children. They need to educate them on public and national affairs, they need to instill hope the way Eric Williams did in 1956. They need to propose ideas that will make supporters know that they have their best interests at heart, they need to grow schools of thoughts to entice the younger ones that there is a brighter future for them if they work hard and change their ways. A revitalized PNM with honest to goodness new ideas will command renewed hope for a future governance when the current one fails. A government wishing to gain power must be able to find resources within the ranks of those who support it. If it seeks support from those outside the support group then such a government or party can never approach governance with confidence and the backing of those who support it.

  3. What is lacking in both Mr. Panday and Dr. Rowley is the “milk of human kindness”. They can have all the experience – which is indeed extremely valuable- but are they willing to pass it on? These men have displayed a rabid type of approach to governance over the years, rarely tempered with the kindness that can reach and propel the aspirations of their colleagues and political base. If the will is truly in them, they will find a way. Not sure if the stick can bend at this point though.

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