Fri | Nov 17, 2017

Strange bedfellows

Published:Saturday | November 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMTony Deyal, Contributor

American journalist Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900) coined the expression, "Politics makes strange bedfellows." Helen Thomas, a columnist, disagreed and insisted, "War makes strange bedfellows."

The German general and strategist, Carl von Clauzewitz, combined the two, "We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means." Comedian Groucho Marx took the intercourse part seriously and quipped, "Politics doesn't make strange bedfellow, marriage does."

Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who often used the war and politics quote, was asked by a journalist about the coalition which Panday had formed with A.N.R. Robinson, Lloyd Best and others, "Mr Panday, isn't that a marriage of convenience?" Panday, with his usual insouciant smile, replied, "Aren't all marriages?"

The difference between politics and war is the behaviour of the bedfellows when it is time to change the sheets. This is when the dirty linen, and not just the dirty money, is laundered in the public domain and line of sight, partners are hung out to dry, the search for fresh sheets reveals many skeletons airing in the cupboard, and everything is not just on the line but online in the social media. Because money is the mother's milk of politics, there are more bread-fellows than bedfellows.

 

NEVER STRANGE

French playwright Marcel Achard had an even more interesting twist on the bedfellow theme, "The bedfellows politics made are never strange. It only seems that way to those who have not watched the courtship." Actually, those who were there at the genesis of the relationship are always surprised when the whole saga ends as the Bible does, with revelation (after revelation).

On December 9, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will have its general election to determine which of the two main parties will become the Government, and the United National Congress (UNC) of Trinidad and Tobago, the leading force of the People's Partnership that formed the Government from 2010-2015, will have its internal elections on December 5.

In SVG, the bedfellows business is being played to the hilt and even deeper. The Trinidad Express reported, "Prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, has found himself embroiled in a phone sex scandal. Two audio clips posted on video-sharing website YouTube on November 12 claim to be a leaked telephone conversation between Gonsalves and a younger female. The clips contain two sexually explicit conversations between a male and a female.

According to news reports from St Vincent and the Grenadines, officers from the ruling United Labour Party (ULP) have claimed although the voice bears a striking similarity to Gonsalves' own, it is not him. Addressing the issue, Gonsalves told the media the release of the audio clips is nothing more than a set-up to be used as leverage in that country's December 9 general election.

Despite the long-standing relationship between politics and bedfellows, some people are deeply shocked by what they think is behaviour unbecoming of a prime minister. However, it is doubtful whether Gonsalves, the original and only 'Mr Big Stuff' of Caribbean politics, will suffer any political slings and arrows from outraged voters and an even more outrageous fortune. Nobody expects the Apocalypse to follow the revelation because, in the Caribbean, nobody has ever won or lost an election on the basis of corruption, sexual misconduct, crime, drugs, racism, or all of the above.

 

OPTIONS

In the internal UNC election, the major issue is the party's loss of political power in the 2015 election. Deputy Political Leader Dr Roodal Moonilal and former Communications Minister Vasant Bharath are challenging former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the leadership of the party. Interestingly, Bharath is not an elected member of Parliament, so he cannot be the leader of the Opposition and, if he wins, will have one of three options - appoint someone who is an MP to become opposition leader, keep Mrs Persad-Bissessar as the opposition leader, or persuade one of the UNC MPs to give up his or her safe seat and then Bharath can contest it in the hope of winning. This last option is hardly likely to occur.

The real issue in the election is what Dr Moonilal describes as anger by party loyalists who believe the loss of power was caused by Mrs Persad-Bissessar's mismanagement of the 2015 election campaign. Political observers and even some diehard UNC supporters felt that in an election with 41 seats at stake, the emphasis was too much on Mrs Persad-Bissesssar (Kamla 2015) and not enough on the other candidates.

It would be useful to see if the anger is converted into votes or whether Mrs Persad-Bissessar and, for that matter, Dr Gonsalves, are so good at what they do that all their bedfellows will rally to their cause and help them save both face and their political careers.

- Tony Deyal was last seen repeating an appropriate Grouch Marx observation, "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."