EDITORIAL: Rule number one

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It is not very often that we get a glimpse inside of the inner workings of political parties.  The optics presented to the public is always one of harmony and all hands to the plough.  Every so often, there is a public scuffle but the real ‘behind the scenes’ goings-on are usually kept from public view.
In 2014, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) held its convention to ratify its candidates for the then upcoming general elections.  It was held under the theme of “Moving Forward in Unity.“  It was an overt double-pronged message that the party was in unity and the country should unify around the ABLP.  
The Labour Party has always had a reputation for dispensing of any perceptions of disunity in the lead-up to elections.  People were always amazed at how the quarrels within the party were quelled so efficiently and those at war would appear holding hands on the political platform.  Some attributed it to the party structure and the internal conflict resolution processes, while others have held that the solution always rested in the hard-line that ‘you are either in or you are out.’
            That secrecy of how the ABLP maintains its outward show of unity was surprisingly revealed recently in candid remarks from the party’s general secretary, Mary Clare Hurst.  In her blunt comments about her comrade and Member of Parliament for the St. John’s Rural South Constituency, Eustace ‘Teco’ Lake, regarding his disclosure that he did not write his resignation letter, she said,  “…that is not how our organisation works, and he will fall in line!”
Then there was the confirmation that the stranglehold on power and the foundation for the illusion of unity presented to the public is based on the threat of ‘you are either in or you are out’.  The general secretary laid it out quite clear for her comrade (and others), outlining the benefits of complying with the dictates of the party’s leader, stating, “… the Honourable Gaston Browne indicated to Comrade ‘Teco’ Lake, that I understand your situation, I understand how you feel, but we will take care of you.  And, as long as the Antigua Labour Party administration is governing the country of Antigua and Barbuda, you will work!”  
That said, no one in the party should make any mistake about how you receive these ‘generous’ rewards because they come with conditions.  Tow the party line or else.  The threat was explicit.  Mary Clare Hurst said, “… if Comrade ‘Teco’ Lake campaigns against Comrade Daryl Matthew, or he does not endorse him, as he says, and Comrade Daryl Matthew loses the seat on that account, do you think that the prime minister or the party would be able to assist ‘Teco’ in terms of being a senator, or in terms of going back to any one of the ministries?”  
And there you have it: Gaston Browne’s way or the highway.  
The takeover and the Trump-like personalisation of the Labour Party has been underway for some time.  Many saw it as a strategy to erase the Bird brand from the party.  It started early in the campaign for the last general election when it was no longer a vote for the Antigua Labour Party and its philosophies, it became “Gaston Browne and Team Labour.”  The party and all the Labourites would become back-up singers and dancers to the main act and each should know his or her place.
That shift in how the party operates also seemed to introduce the classic set of authoritarian rules.  You know them.  They state:  “Rule number 1:  The Boss is always right.  Rule number 2: If the Boss is wrong, please refer to rule number 1.”  Simple rules for effective leadership.
There are instances where an autocratic leadership style can be beneficial, but generally it turns out to be problematic.  Because an autocratic leader often ignores the brain trust of the members that makes up the party, and makes decisions without consultation; innovation is stymied.  Superior ideas from other members of the party are often ignored and creativity within the group devolves into the ideas of one.  It ultimately leads to stagnation and the party eventually suffers.
The downside of this style of leadership is easily witnessed in the United States where President Donald Trump has personalised his presidency and attempts to force his administration personnel to yield to his every whim.  The results are obvious.  Trust in his inner circle is low and turnover is high.  His style is described as “bossy,” “controlling,” and “dictatorial.”  Those that support him are rewarded, and those challenge him, in any way, are attacked and their political careers are put in jeopardy.  In the meantime, the party suffers severe reputational damage.  
The Labour Party was born with a extremely strong leader in the person of Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr. He could have well been described as an autocratic leader, but that was a different time.  Today, the complex world of politics and government administration requires greater consultation and even greater challenges within the party.  There is a need for the best ideas to contend and not for our elected politicians to wilt under the pressure of any party or ‘leader.’ They cannot be forced to sit on their hands and accept ideas they know are inferior, or not in the best interest of the country, because of the various threats against them.  We cannot accept a situation where our future is
in the hands of a single person.  
Many hands make light work, and we need to remember that there is not a single road toward becoming an economic powerhouse.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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