By Mark Laporte
This essay is hypothetical in its essence. It attempts to investigate the question, within the particular circumstances that obtain in St Lucia at the moment, whether Sir John Compton, politically cunning as he was, actually laid the groundwork for what this essay begins to propose.
One is not a politician and one really does not like to court anger by engaging in political debate (there are lots of better ways to influence political direction). However, during the last few days reflection has led to giving thought to the following: the quest for political leadership in St Lucia by aspiring prime ministers.
George F.L. Charles was a leader. He had the common touch. How well I remember him engaging in friendly conversation on Mary Ann Street in the vicinity of Armur’s Bakery! He was a man of the people. He guided the then Labour Party and helped to mold it. Then there was Sir John Compton, who had his political beginnings within the then Labour Party. Let’s keep that in mind as this hypothesis develops.
Consideration led one to review Compton’s choice of Stephenson King as his deputy in the days of his illness. What led Sir John to choose King as his successor? Maybe he was concerned with St Lucia’s internal security, but what is more probable is the fact that Compton and King had one thing in common: their ease with and link to the man on the street. King comes across as approachable, so was Compton. After all, Compton was weekly on his Mahaut estate. King could always be found in his constituency office.
Compton was a pragmatist, he also had deep feeling for the island he dedicated his life to serving. He was a good actor, in the sense that he worked, carried out, his role successfully. He knew his stuff. He is the Father of our nation St Lucia. He was an agriculturist. His contact and love for the soil speaks volumes.
Before his demise, Sir John also placed into the United Workers Party a new face in the person of Allen Chastanet. What led Compton to make that decision? A better question might be: what led him to appoint King, then Chastanet to the party? He also sanctioned Richard Frederick. Was Frederick only a matter of political expediency? I should think not.
A look at the qualities of these four men gives an insight into Sir John’s thoughts on the matter. However, that would require a rather lengthy discourse!
Again, why did he anoint young Chastanet? These questions engage the thinking. Let’s get off the track. Let’s view this from a different perspective. Surely he knew that such moves would result in a contest of wills and widen the rift that was fully evident within the party, at least during and immediately after his last budget address. The rift would have been clearly seen as between King and Chastanet. I mean this would have been quite obvious.
He no doubt also considered Frederick’s impact. Yes, Richard Frederick, the kingmaker if he isn’t made king himself (nice pun). Whether one likes him or fears him, Frederick is a force in local politics. He is popular and he is successful. He is deliberate. He is quite obviously a Chastanet rival within the party whether he wants to be or not.
Compton had at least to guess that such forces centered on these men would widen rifts within the UWP, which he helped found. If he guessed this, the question is why did he risk it? He probably guessed that inter-party centrifugal forces would push the party to remake itself or break up into rival parties. He may have thought: “How then would the electorate view such a development?”
The Wild Card
As a side issue, the developments that attended the replacing of the leader of the opposition have introduced the wild card into the party’s dynamics. The new leader of the opposition, whose logical progression will be the prime ministership, will have to face her pampered and divisive political leader, who by the look of things will require her total submission; an attitude that requires holding that position she must progress toward.
Although the party seeks to reposition itself around this possible new centre it does introduce additional seismic forces that the party could well do without. On the other hand, it may serve as a cohesive force if the following can be successfully handled.
If in the interest of party unity the party leader allows one or two terms to the leader of the opposition at the helm as prime minister, one can be certain that the issue will be revisited in one form or another in the months and years ahead, for it looks that the party leader wants the prime ministership for himself.
Secondly, the opposition leader’s approach in summarily dismissing the party workers at the former opposition leader’s office, while technically correct as to the letter of such things, suggests highhandedness, and does not sit well when viewed in the context of the St Lucian ethos, and no doubt will have electoral consequences and plays into the hands of her party’s leader. There is such a thing that first impressions have a lasting effect.
Thirdly, the supposed attachment of the party’s Super Pac to the Super Pac of the US Democratic Party seems to establish a weak link for several reasons but only one will suffice here. The US is in the throes of decline and itself faces monumental international economic forces, which in turn will alter the international political landscape, hence their preoccupation with international surveillance. This connection allows for US political rifts and their consequences to resonate locally, i.e. in St Lucia.
This apparent attachment by the UWP via its women’s arm to international political movements will serve further to weaken the party in the months and years ahead. As mentioned, these of course will create further internal dissention and serve to strengthen the following.
Then there is Kenny Anthony. If the UWP broke apart, Compton may have envisioned that Anthony would be the best choice to carry on his (Sir John’s) legacy, and thereby save St Lucia’s hard won gains from the feuding United Workers Party. After all, Sir John had spent a very large part of his life working to bring St Lucia where it was before his death. Surely preserving these gains must have weighed heavily on Compton’s mind.
Compton and Kenny have at least one powerful political tool in common. The agricultural background. It is that background that Compton used to form his power centre. Recall also that his formative years in politics involved activities in The Mabouya and Cul-de-Sac banana estates… agriculture. It was from his base that he branched out, and his political philosophy would be sharpened.
Kenny is rooted in his parents’ Park Estate agricultural environment. That provided him, just like Compton, contact with the so called grassroots; helped to direct his political approach, gives him a base and connection with the St Lucian electorate. It is important to note that Kenny Anthony does not live at Rodney Bay or some such place -- nothing wrong with those areas by the way -- but from a political perspective it sends a powerful message. Compton and Kenny share the same political institutional background, the Labour Party, which Kenny now leads as prime minister.
Additionally, Compton was strong and respected regionally and internationally. It is interesting to note that Anthony is following the same pattern, within the current local, regional and international economic atmosphere. He is building his regional and international clout and, as a result, his local power will be strengthened.
For example, the prime minister’s quiet initiatives with Trinidad and Tobago in the economic arena provide much needed stability to the increasingly rocky and unstable St Lucian social, economic and political environment. It does show Kenny Anthony’s considered approaches as well as his knowledge of approaching economic and other exogenous shocks.
The downturn in the economies in East Asia as a result of the US cutting back on quantitative easing to its own economy is a case well worth studying. The effects will resound far from East Asia. Kenny Anthony is battening down the hatches. That’s a very pragmatic approach, just like Compton. The UWP at this moment has no effective counter-move to this approach.
It is worthwhile to contemplate that Sir John envisioned what would take place with the UWP after his death; the atmosphere that would prevail .He may have recruited Chastanet for at least two purposes: (a) that the resultant divisions that would occur because of a Chastanet/King/Frederick confrontation would result in a new UWP; maybe stronger, he would hope; and (b) which seems far more likely regarding what he may have been thinking, that turbulence within the UWP would be the opportunity for him to pass, posthumously, the baton back to the party where he had his political beginnings and to Kenny Anthony, who he might have thought would be more likely by far, given the current and approaching situations, to protect St Lucia in its fragile state, as well as to carry on his (Sir John’s) legacy.
Mark Laporte is a St Lucian writer and agriculturist, and a former teacher. He researches and develops topics of interest whether or not he publishes them.