Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Mark Wignall | Party politics not for softies

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2020 | 12:12 AM
PNP President Dr Peter Phillips (left) endorses Dr Winston De La Haye, the prospective candidate for the St Catherine East Central constituency, during a party meeting at Cedar Grove Academy.
PNP President Dr Peter Phillips (left) endorses Dr Winston De La Haye, the prospective candidate for the St Catherine East Central constituency, during a party meeting at Cedar Grove Academy.

I cannot quite remember the exact day he called me, but I know that it was sometime in the early 1990s. Six weeks before that, he was selected as constituency caretaker for a rough garrison seat that was going through some changes, slowly but surely, from one party to the other.

As he and I had discussed, he knew that once it changed from ‘the other guys’ to his party, it was more than likely that the change would be there for a long time. He held no inflated ideas about himself. He was not naturally a party man whose ego was bigger than his bank account, plus he was not the sort of a person who was driven to serve. But being a successful businessman and having experienced the pangs of pulling himself up from poverty to enjoying a comfortable life, he believed that the time was right for him to give a little bit of himself back to the country.

That is, until the guys came knocking. Outside of his constituency office, there was always a group of guys who were called the regulars. They were always there, in their Clarks and dark glasses. Everyone else told him that if he had any worries in the constituency, he should call on them.

The Favour

One midweek as he did his usual visit, one of the guys among the ‘regulars’ asked for a personal one-on-one with him. Four of them came in the office. One had a beige canvas bag over his shoulder. His secretary got chairs for all of them.

As she left, the one with the canvas bag opened it and laid out the contents: four revolvers, two automatic handguns, and one machine pistol. “Dis is all wi have boss.” There was also some ammunition and bits and pieces of gun parts.

The caretaker tried not to let fear overcome him. “So what is this?” he asked.

One of the guys said, ‘Di (party name called) have 10 time dis. Wi caan face dem next election wid just dem mash-up tings.’ Then he told the politician the number of firearms he thought they needed. ‘Wi need bout five AK and 15 automatic. If wi nuh get dem, it no mek no sense wi have election.’

He felt his heart beating in his throat. He thought of his wife and two young daughters. “Guys, this is not something that I thought about before. Give me a few weeks and let me get back to you.”

The first thing he did was seek audience with the senior party member who had been instrumental in getting him into the party and representational politics. “Yu serious? Yu really want me to tell you what to do? Come on! That’s your call.”

He was devastated. He expected the senior party man to be as disgusted as he was. At home, he hugged his wife and confided in her. She told him that there was only one decision to make. He had long had travel papers for his family and him.

At the constituency office, the bunch of regulars had grown as word had spread that guns were on the way. In those times, there was almost a guard of honour as he entered the compound, with every man shaking his hand. Inside and alone, he was a nervous wreck.

At the time he spoke to me in person at our usual watering hole, his family was already abroad. “I am leaving tomorrow and I have a letter in my pocket to mail to the party before I leave.”

The official story to the party was that he had a family emergency that would involve his long-term engagement. And life went on. I wish Dr De La Haye well.

I am not going to bash Dr Winston De La Haye and accuse him of cowardice or, at the very least, political naivety.

Dr De La Haye just may be made of sterner stuff than saying to the nation and his party that he is leaving because he received a threat on his life. First, as a responsible citizen, he had an important decision to make along the following lines.

If indeed his life was threatened, does he know who did it? Why has he not reported it to the police? Did De La Haye conclude that walking away and keeping quiet on who threatened him was the responsible thing to do?

Not as simple

It may not be as simple as many are making it out to be. It could be that the doctor is really a virgin to politics and is not used to the first signs of aggression. That I can understand. But how much of that is noble and strong and worthy of good citizenship? Or maybe Dr De La Haye knows that in the end, there will be no one to protect him should his mouth decide to move far ahead of the electro chemical gears in his brain.

He must remember the PNP’s Heather Robinson. She was PNP to the core, and she walked away from active, representational PNP politics when she declared that she was not prepared to ‘hug up gunmen’ in reference to Bulbie, a well-connected PNP thug who wanted an alliance with her and the broader PNP politics.

Dr De La Haye would have known that even though no one is accusing him of possessing the ‘cojones’ and the strength that Heather Robinson displayed at those times, we know that every man must go back to himself and satisfy himself that he stood up like a man even if he couldn’t stand quite as tall as Heather Robinson.

Robinson called out her party, and she was made to feel alone as she was left out on a long limb and left out to dry as the party probably hoped the limb would break and damage her. She survived and did well.

We hope the same for the doctor.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.