Sunday, July 29, 2012

...there is no one in Bahamian politics quite like Hubert Ingraham

Why The Plp Is Still Afraid Of Hubert Ingraham

Tribune News Editor

Nassau, The Bahamas

LOVE or hate him, honest people have to admit there is no one in Bahamian politics quite like Hubert Ingraham.

Mr Ingraham has been called a polarising figure, portrayed by his supporters as the country’s saviour, by his opponents as its destroyer.

But leaving the value judgments for another day, one thing is for certain – in terms of sheer ability to capture the public imagination and seize control of the national debate, the former Prime Minister remains unmatched.

True enough, his predecessor Sir Lynden Pindling had this quality in abundance, and well understood its political value.

But Mr Ingraham stands alone in this regard today, as he proved yet again last Thursday following his official resignation from the House of Assembly.

Clever, pithy, trenchant as ever, he delivered a masterful performance of the kind that had been conspicuous by its absence over the last three months.

Mr Ingraham took the government to task on a number of issues – the claims of victimisation, the attempt to buy back BTC, the exclusion of casinos from the gambling referendum – all of which made headlines the next morning.

The content was not necessarily new, the FNM having already having touched on most of these points – the difference was who it was coming from, and how it was delivered.

Even in the act of departing from the limelight, Mr Ingraham stole the show.

After watching the press conference, a foreigner not long in the Bahamas told me Mr Ingraham “made it seem obvious he is still running the FNM.”

He added: “Actually, it gave the impression that he is still running the country.”

The first observation is not new. For years it has been remarked that whenever Mr Ingraham decided to retire, the FNM would struggle to emerge from beneath his formidable shadow.

Judging from the PLP’s response to Thursday, the second observation seems equally astute.

Mr Ingraham had hardly ceased speaking before the governing party went in to all-out defence mode.

They immediately issued a scathing response.

Then Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder accused Mr Ingraham of “manipulating” the system to take advantage of the Bahamian people.

Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell was “deeply shocked” by Mr Ingraham’s comments.

Meanwhile, party operatives trolled the internet, searching for Ingraham press conference stories so they could add the official PLP spin to the “comments” section.

The public even heard from PLP chairman Bradley Roberts, who from his hospital bed, issued a statement decrying Mr Ingraham’s “nerve” and urging him to go “quietly into the sunset.”

The question is, why?

Why does the governing party of the Bahamas, which came to office by virtue of a landslide victory, feel the need to respond with such vehemence and force to a man who not only has ceased to be in charge, but is on the way out of front-line politics altogether?

Surely they realise that his stealing the show last week reflected poorly on their current opponents, the post-Ingraham FNM. Why not let him continue to speak?

I believe the PLP react as they do to Mr Ingraham by pure reflex, because deep down they know he has something which, try as they might, they cannot seem to match.

As one commentator on pointed out: If Mr Ingraham “says boo, all you PLPs run to The Tribune to comment” – whereas Prime

Minister Christie “could be on the news every night and be in the paper every day, and not a peep...”

The PLP is fond of accusing everyone in the media of being in love with Mr Ingraham, but this is most unfair.

For a journalist, there is perhaps no one more daunting, intimidating even down-right unpleasant to deal with than the former prime minister. No one is more ruthless in the face of a carelessly formulated question, no one more impatient.

No, Mr Ingraham gets media attention, simply because he sells. Because like him or not, everyone wants to hear what he has to say.

Even in defeat, Hubert Ingraham remains a “must-read” – something no one in the PLP can boast of, even in victory.

This quite obviously rankles governing party members no end, and they cannot resist rising to the bait every time, despite the deep insecurity it betrays.

The PLP is no doubt well aware of this state of affairs, which is why they want Mr Ingraham to go away so badly.

They may have beaten him, but they did so without matching him in terms of personal celebrity, and it obviously hurts.

Many senior PLPs have called Mr Ingraham’s brand of “Big Man” politics and the cult of personality which surrounds him unhealthy for the Bahamas.

They say mature democracies need a government comprised of equals, the Prime Minister merely the first among them.

But one can’t help getting the feeling some of them are just jealous, secretly wishing they could do that.

Be that as it may, the question for the rest of us is: What does it mean for Bahamian society that for the first time ever, no larger-than-life political figure remains on the scene?

Will another such character emerge, or will Mr Ingraham’s straight talking, “whether you like it or not” style, to be replaced by a confederacy of wafflers and excuse makers?

Is the only alternative to a cult of personality, the tyranny of the mediocre?

Thus far, it would seem so.

As discussed in an earlier Insight, the PLP’s approach to governance to date would best be described as the “We’ll do exactly what we criticised others for doing, and justify it by pointing out they did it first” method.

This, and a blatantly obvious rewards for supporters scheme, including the giving of jobs and paid board appointments to friends, family members and associates, regardless of their qualifications.

Urban Renewal may well turn out to be a great idea – I sincerely hope it does – but the scheme is already surrounded by such an impenetrable fog of gratuitous PR and vague, wish-fulfilment type promises, that it’s impossible to determine what the thing is really about.

And while it is still early days, the New FNM is hardly emerging as an original and powerful force in its own right.

Desirable as it may be in the abstract, is our political culture even mature enough to leave Big Man Politics behind?

A mature democracy, it should be pointed out, also requires an educated, informed and critical populace, capable of seeing through political charlatans. Yet it is painfully obvious how far from this mark we’ve fallen.

The answer, of course, is the Big Man model must be left behind. For one thing, it is inherently dangerous – you never know what kind of Big Man you’re going to get, and power will eventually decay the integrity of even the most upright.

In any case, with Mr Ingraham’s departure, it doesn’t seem as if we have a choice.

What do you think?

July 23, 2012