Internal wrangling in the UPP, social commentator urges party to pull together

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There continues to be an apparent rift between members of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and it is again spilling into the public domain via several social media platforms, to include Facebook and WhatsApp.
The party’s political leader, Harold Lovell, has told OBSERVER media he would not comment publicly on it, while social commentator Arvel Grant is warning that bad handling of internal issues will continue to deplete the party’s support base.
When asked whether some of the claims about bullying and trying to force leadership contender Richard Lewis to step down, members pulling away and forming factions, as well as secret meetings taking place with plans to push out some members of the party, Lovell said, “As a political leader my job is to protect the interest and reputation of the Party. We will address and settle this matter internally.”
But, before giving that response to our newsroom, Lovell spoke recently on the UPP-aligned Crusader Radio and shared the audio with this reporter. In it he suggested that it was reckless for anyone to post on social media a lengthy statement that Lewis sent to his colleagues expressing concerns about party members threatening to “done [him]” if he did not back down from the leadership race and let Lovell move forward alone.
Lewis said among those responsible for the threats and secret meetings are members and non-members of the UPP, along with members of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), which was formed several years ago after a splitting of the party.
The UPP’s political leader said the person(s) who disseminated Lewis’ internal statement titled FOR UPP MEMBERS ONLY!, did so “not remembering that someone is taking a snapshot of that particular post for use later down and what they will say is ‘if their own people said that, what do you say? So, it’s something that we must be very careful of, very mindful of.”
Lovell, a contender for the leadership after the party rejected his recent resignation, added that he thinks a challenge is healthy and will energise the party and make for a very interesting convention in February.
The last leadership challenge ended bitterly for the party causing it to split and former members collaborated to form the DNA, led by Joanne Massiah whose bid for leadership was met with mixed feelings within the party.
Neither the UPP nor the DNA fared well in general elections earlier this year, which saw the return of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to power with 15 of 17 seats, one more than it got in the 2014 polls.
Lovell said this latest leadership challenge is not one he fears. Speaking of Lewis, he said, “We have no difficulty. Richard is a brother that I love dearly, so we have no difficulty in that department at all. So, in so far as any issues are concerned, I think Richard is a very different person in terms of Senator Massiah, in terms of outlook. So, I wouldn’t expect anything like what happened with Senator Massiah if the results were not favourable to him, for him to behave the way she behaved.”
But, while Lovell believes the matter is one to be addressed internally, it appears some members of the party do not feel the same way and the matter is escalating in public with the circulation of internal communications, personal phone calls of members talking down each other which were unknowingly recorded and shared, and the creation of social media pages with memes and videos bashing stalwarts and executive members such as the political leader and party chairperson D. Gisele Isaac.
One video laments Lovell’s failure to win his seat each of the eight times he has run for office – he won twice. While another video said that under Isaac’s chairmanship the party has suffered tremendously.
Isaac has since publicly questioned the motive behind the dissemination of Lewis’ statement which also included claims of secret meetings “for the past six months” at Tradewinds, allegedly involving some members who are seeking to undermine other members who contested the last general elections in March.
She noted that the circulation started just a day after the party held a Unity Meeting.
Weighing in on all this is Grant, who said if the party does not learn from its mistakes in terms of settling its disputes internally, it will suffer.
“If you look at the party’s performance over the past 14 years, it has really had a haemorrhaging of popular support. We will talk about those numbers at some point in time, but the party needs to learn a thing or two from more successful political parties … and how to keep people under the tent … they just have not learnt that lesson and if they have learnt it they are not practising it,” he said.
Grant said the party has a duty to perform better and to work on growing since it has set itself up as the main opposition party in Antigua and Barbuda.
He later pointed out that since 2004, the party’s support collapsed from 23,800 to where it stands now with about 14,400 electors, indicating that the UPP has a lot of work to do to keep its support intact or grow it.

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