By Gemma Handy
One of radio’s biggest personalities – a self-described “watchdog for the people” – has been confirmed as the latest name to run for the United Progressive Party (UPP) at the next election.
Observer NewsCo managing director Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts swept to victory at last night’s primary to select an official candidate to represent the constituency of St George.
He beat rival Jermaine ‘Buffy’ Kentish by 74 to 22 votes.
Watts declared it was “time to get to work”, pledging efficient representation, more employment and better infrastructure as key priorities for the area if he wins the seat when the nation heads to the polls.
To some, Watts may have seemed an unlikely candidate given his position as a boss of the nation’s largest independent media company. And how his migration from mic’ to politics will sit with residents who consider Observer a vanguard of free speech remains to be seen.
But Watts said he believed the country was facing its “darkest days ever”, a notion that propelled him into the arena.
“This is not about me; if it was, I wouldn’t bother because I have more to lose than to gain,” he said.
“We have mismanagement of our economy, blatant corruption that we see and hear about daily, and disrespect to the citizenry by those in authority, especially our Prime Minister.
“Our name is tarnished internationally as a result. Every other country is getting assistance to deal with Covid from the IMF, or whoever, except Antigua.”
Watts said the support he had received from the St George community – where he grew up – had been “overwhelming”.
He explained that he identified with the UPP’s “people first policy” and was looking forward to being a “team player” within the country’s main opposition party.
The host of the long-running ‘Snakepit’ radio show said he had built his name on being candid and outspoken.
“When I was younger I was a nuisance – at everything from sporting events to shows – the one in the corner making all the noise was me. I was a ruffian, a heckler, some might even say a bully; I made things very difficult for lots of people,” he explained.
“When Observer came on the scene in April 2001, they wanted someone with name recognition, someone who would command an audience, someone with shock appeal. It was Colin Derrick who said he knew the ideal person.
“I was fearless, and never afraid to call things out, regardless of who it was.”
Watts revealed he had never previously contemplated politics.
“This is the first time I have ever even given it a thought. It has taken me 20 years to develop my brand of independent free speech. I never wanted to be affiliated with a group; I am an army of one and I pride myself on that.
“I have always felt my job was to keep an eye on those in office, to be a watchdog for the people, and I have done that for almost 20 years.”
Asked for his views on how his new role would affect public perception surrounding Observer NewsCo, he said he was “confident Observer is on a firm footing”.
“It will continue to be the independent station that it has been. I have never told Observer reporters to put a slant on anything and I never would.
“People will always say what they say but over the years I have been accused by the ALP of getting them out of office in 2004, and by the UPP in 2014 of helping Gaston Browne into power,” Watts said.
“I had already said I was stepping away from radio and had groomed someone to take over from me for the night show,” he said. “People thought I was joking but I had planned to go fully into my farming and other business ventures.
“Many people don’t want me to leave the radio; after 20 years, lots of people have grown up with me,” he added.
Watts is not the only radio boss to be added to the UPP slate. ZDK’s Sean Bird was named the party’s candidate for St John’s Rural East earlier this month after defeating businessman Vere Cornelius.
Other candidates recently unveiled by the UPP are Pearl Quinn Williams, Johnathon Joseph, Corthwright Marshall, Alex Browne, Alister Thomas, Michael Burton and Richard Lewis.
General elections are constitutionally due in 2023 but Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently hinted they could be held as early as November next year.
Kentish told Observer he supported Watts who he described as a “humble” person, adding that St George was “in good hands”.