( Contributed to The Tribune)
HUBERT MINNIS by ANDREW ALLEN (son of Sir William Allen)
By ANDREW ALLEN
1 That awful slogan in a country where basic grammar and literacy are in such short supply, there is nothing cute, charming or amusing about the elevation of rank inarticulacy into the lexicon of a major political party.
It is not a stretch to imagine that there are many Bahamians who could not point out what is wrong with the Free National Movement (FNM) slogan, since it is utterly consistent with what they would deem normal pronunciation of the word “with”. That is sad, not funny.
When it is coupled with Dr Minnis’ constant claim to represent some maligned, dispossessed masses against an ‘elite’ (presumably to be found somewhere other than among multi-millionaires like himself), it begins to look like the dangerous ghetto populism with which the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) flirted in the 1980s and 1990s. It is divisive, patronising and politically self-indulgent and it is not a helpful approach to any country’s politics. But it is, alas, the first refuge of empty, power hungry and unprincipled politicians the world over.
2 Renward Wells
Whatever the merits of Renward Wells as an individual or his potential as a politician, he has become symbolic of his leader’s hypocritical, disingenuous and unprincipled approach to politics. Having been at the centre of the government’s embarrassing ‘Letter of Intent’ (LOI) scandal, Mr Wells has never acceded to Dr Minnis’ erstwhile (and retrospectively insincere) demands for a full explanation of his actions. Instead, having been fired by the PLP for his apparent transgression, he now sits comfortably in the senior ranks of Dr Minnis’ shadow cabinet. Thanks to Doc, the LOI scandal is now the FNM’s and not the PLP’s to explain.
3 Who he has alienated
While Dr Minnis’ early sidelining of FNM luminaries like Hubert Ingraham and Brent Symonette appears to have been buried for the nakedly expedient sake of pre-election party unity, the list of younger FNM colleagues he has alienated is far more depressing, in that it represents a hollowing out of the party’s intellectual ranks in favour of politically tribalist lackeys. Zhivargo Laing, Darron Cash, Phenton Neymour and countless others are noticeably absent from the FNM’s senior ranks these days. Their replacements are all too often united in one singular qualifying attribute: loyalty to Doc.
Long before he wore out the patience of those who had to work most closely with him, Dr Minnis struck a discordant note with many of the most principled and intelligent members of his party. That alone is troubling, but not conclusive. When added to all of the other factors in his disfavour, it paints an ominous picture of a possible stint in actual political power.
4 ‘Bobo’ and ‘Toggie’
While he loudly deplores the government’s delay in passing Freedom of Information legislation and asks where the VAT money went, Dr Minnis has sunk his party to shameful levels of secrecy and shadiness.
At times the Minnis-led FNM has been so indistinguishable from the private interests of groups like Save The Bays and the supporters of Sarkis Izmirlian, that it is unclear where the one begins and the other ends.
Shady, anonymous (but clearly expensive) newspaper advertisements appear these days, full of scandalous innuendo aimed at such nebulous foes as “the Chinese”, and usually bearing the markers of personal or commercial grievance.
The crowning event of this new, backroom style was the revelation that the leader of the FNM had met privately (unbeknown even to his parliamentary colleagues) with two men allegedly involved in a murder for hire scandal and that, instead of passing what he knew on to police, had instead used the situation to build political capital. That anyone would consider voting for a party led by him after this revelation demonstrates how politics bests not only sense but sanity among so many otherwise balanced Bahamians.
5 Your own eyes and ears … and his mouth
Despite whatever his more sensible colleagues say in their embarrassed attempts to explain away their leader’s constant stream of verbal asininities, sensible Bahamians will never give up the well-founded suspicion that he says such foolish and ill-judged things so often for no reason other than that they are the genuine products of his mind.
The threat to take back or cancel the arrangement with Chow Tai Fook Enterprises and to ‘sell’ Baha Mar to someone else instead (as foolish, ignorant and dangerous a statement as was ever made in Bahamian politics), far from being an ad hoc and unreasoned comment, was actually backed up by what passes for reasoning in Dr Minnis’ mind. He apparently stands by such absurd statements, however determinedly his apologists try to gloss the lips that uttered them.
6 Occam’s Razor
The medieval English cleric William Occam offered a timeless and useful mechanism for solving problems. Using the metaphor of a razor (as if cutting away the detritus of over thought), he held that, when faced with a choice of competing explanations, one should select the one that relies on the least assumptions. Said another way, it means that the simplest and most obvious explanation is usually the correct one.
With Dr Minnis, we are told constantly by his supporters that the broadly evident examples of secrecy, hypocrisy, bad judgment and insincerity do not tell the true story and can all be explained away as verbal flippancy, not being a good public communicator, being misunderstood or just ‘not being a politician’. But these explanations require far too much faith in untested assumptions. It would be foolish to deny that outward characteristics are often a distraction from deeper qualities in a leader.
Leadership has emerged in the most unlikely of political specimens throughout history. The crucial matter, though, is that, when it does emerge, it generally does so as a triumph of substance over style or image, with “substance” signifying at the very least some commitment to enduring principles, rather than merely another convenient narrative, like the rags-to-riches tale the FNM’s image-makers are now furiously spinning.
All of our political leaders since 1964, from Symmonette to Christie, have come from relative poverty. So have many in our wider region. Abroad, examples abound of those who, despite image, presentation and background, have shown themselves worthy of national leadership. But that is a far cry from a politician who offers nothing apart from the fact of an uncouth and shady exterior as proof that some redeeming qualities must lie hidden within.
• Andrew Allen is a lawyer and son of Sir William Allen, former Minister of Finance in the Free National Movement government