(Excerpts of the National Address by the Hon. Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democrat Party and Leader of the Opposition Pt.1)
I wish to speak with you about the poor political and economic condition of the country and how we should address it. Recently, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) held their convention. Normally, I would not comment on it. However, I mention it now only because the ULP, for the time being, holds the reins of government and, therefore, their current predicament has serious implications for the running of our country.
Rather than focusing on the issues that matter you, the people—unemployment, downturn in business, high cost of living– Gonsalves turned the Convention into a monologue about himself, his personal ambitions, and his aborted succession plans.
Notably, having spent years trying to prop-up Sobato Caesar, it took Gonsalves one weekend to knock him down as apparently being no longer fit to lead the ULP. Having spent years declaring Caesar as a promising part of the ULP family in whom he was well-pleased, it became abundantly clear that there is only one family that matters in the ULP – the Gonsalves family.
That is a crisis that their party and its long-suffering members will have to come to terms with. The display at the convention proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the ULP is a house deeply divided, built not on democratic values and practices, but on the autocratic whims and fancies of one man, Ralph Gonsalves.
For the rest of us in the country, it proved that the ULP are woefully unfit for office, as they have no plan, no programme, no hope beyond clinging desperately to power.
Gonsalves essentially threatened his followers in the ULP to submit to his rule, but it is clear where that will lead. He will destroy his party and sacrifice the best interests of our country to get his own way and secure his chosen successor –his son–as Prime Minister.
While the leadership of the ULP is hopelessly divided and are caught up in their own confusion, we in the NDP are focused on the issues that matter most to you. We know them because we talk with you about them.
My dear people, it is time for us to move on; to move forward as a country. No man is indispensable! Of necessity, and whether Gonsalves like it or not the baton of leadership must pass to new hands. If not, our country will fall further behind and our people will suffer. We must not let that happen!
As leader of the NDP, I have offered myself to serve you. In the last general elections, you honoured me by making the NDP the Party of choice for most of the people and me the popular choice as political leader. In the profoundest sense of democracy, where majority rules, you voted for the NDP and for change. But our political system has its shortcomings and at times gives a party the popular vote, yet not the government.
Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall; change is necessary and will come. It will come, not because I say so, but because you the people have decided that the time for it has come. For, as one former ULP supporter recently said to me, “One man can’t run the country forever”.
I have been meeting our people all over the country: in villages; in their homes; on the streets; and, when invited, in their places of worship. Wherever I go, the message is the same. You tell me and my team that you want us to focus on the things that matter to you— focus on your needs and your concerns: your jobs; your livelihoods; your future. In other words, focus now on bread-and-butter issues, because our present circumstances require it.
Enough of the gutter politics and corrosive rhetoric!
While the insults, name calling and other disparaging remarks by Gonsalves may be entertainment for some, it has profoundly serious implications for our country. Most of our people are fed-up of the selfishness, the arrogance and bluster that pass for leadership in the ULP and the government. They sow the seeds of division and would set us against one another—in our homes (brother against brother), in our workplaces (colleague teacher against teacher), in social circles (friend against friend), in places of worship (elder against elder). But thankfully, as a people, we are better than that and know we must always be better than that.
Our present situation and examples from around the world have shown us that political leaders who seek to divide the people—who seek to divide us so deeply that we may not recover— serve only themselves. The people are merely the means to an end, that being unfettered everlasting political power to be used for their own ends.
Shutting up opposing voices, demonizing the carriers of alternative views, whether in a political party or in society at large can never be the right way. It cannot serve us in this time. So, we can’t continue that way. Let us all agree on that!
Our people, especially the young people, get it! They understand that, and are unhappy about the current situation. Our people are better informed than ever and demand more from political leaders.
You know that gutter politics and narcissistic self-reverence in the political leader have not served our people well, and have led our nation down a slippery slope to a place where democracy is threatened and our standard of living has diminished.
If we, the inheritors of this beautiful country, don’t stand up against it, the situation can only get worse. We have a duty, therefore, to inform ourselves, defend our democratic values and work for progressive change.