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Front Porch: In Politics You Need More Than Blind Ambition To Lead - Try Humility And An Ability To Learn

Politics is about the long game, with even the most egotistical and self-possessed politicians requiring the capacity for growth, learning and humility to succeed and to realize their ambitions, including becoming Prime Minister in our system of government.

Some succeed because they are able to check their extraordinary egos and ambition, sublimating and subsuming them when necessary to win a greater prize. Others fail, often miserably and spectacularly, because their massive egos and overweening ambition blind them to political reality and the exigencies of the moment.

Success in politics requires much more than intellectual acuity or exceptional ability in certain professional fields. Ambition can be a killing thing, if one is incapable of restraint and patience and the ability to heed good advice.

Such restraint requires humility and the capability to listen to others and not constantly believing that one is not the most brilliant or insightful person in the room.

Abraham Lincoln and other political giants who possessed extraordinary talent often noted that their success was due to talent, luck and good advisors, including family members and often former opponents.

From antiquity to classical literature to examples from Bahamas political history from the 1940s to today, there are numerous examples of politicians who failed to go the distance because they lacked the political stability, stamina and clarity of vision to both bide their time and to seize certain moments when they materialized.

Those who experience the roar and supposed love of the crowd, should also realise that such support can quickly dissipate or become a tsunami of disapproval, crushing the ambitions of those riding on the crest of public affection and acclaim.

Then there are those like Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, now 54, who entered frontline politics in 1991 at the age of 26, losing her first contest for the House of Assembly by less than 200 votes.

Over the ensuing decades, Mottley stayed the course, despite the sexist, misogynist and personal attacks on her, and the machinations of her mentor Owen Arthur, who seized the leadership of the Barbados Labour Party from her.

Today, she is the first female Prime Minister in Barbados, and widely acclaimed regionally and internationally. It has been a long and arduous slog, for which she has been rewarded because of her political resilience, stamina and stability.

Capacity

This week’s and next week’s columns will explore how the capacity for growth, learning and humility can help to tame the political ego and to cool political passions in the pursuit of power and the highest elected office in the land.

As a former senior journalist often reminds me, because of his knowledge of history: “It’s the long game! It’s the long game!” Like in all fields of endeavour and areas of life, the capacity to grow, to change and to mature are pivotal for success and personal contentment and a certain peace, especially toward the end of one’s life.

Before Sir Lynden Pindling was lionised as Moses, the champion of the masses who could lead The Bahamas to the promised land of racial equality and majority rule, there was another lion who was initially deemed the Bahamian Moses.

Sir Randol Fawkes (1924-2002) was an activist, attorney and trade unionist, who possessed tremendous charisma and talents and abilities in a number of fields. Though his cadence and voice were not as sonorous as Sir Lynden’s, Sir Randol was a good, articulate orator who was able to inspire and to hold a crowd.

The founder of the Labour Party and the Bahamas Federation of Labour, Sir Randol proved an exceedingly capable organizer. He was well-read and a progressive who studied the global labour movement. He single-handedly drafted a labour bill, though the bill was never enacted.

Because of his deep commitment to the labor movement and his progressive vision for worker’s rights, Sir Randol became known as the Father of Labour. He had a number of progressive ideas for national development. He was pivotal in the legislation for a Labour Day holiday, which now bears his name.

In 1956 at the age of 32, Sir Randol ran along with Sir Lynden on the PLP ticket for the New Providence South seat in the House of Assembly.

Prior to political reforms after the 1962 election, in which the PLP won the popular vote but not the majority of seats in a highly gerrymandered system, some constituencies had two members, and even three, as was the case in Harbour Island.

Because he was more popular than Sir Lynden at that time, Sir Randol won more votes than the former, becoming the Senior Member for the seat, with Sir Lynden as the Junior Member.

Unopposed

In 1962 and 1967, he ran unopposed by the PLP for the House, winning in both contests. He supported the PLP and became a member of the first majority rule cabinet as Minister of Labour.

On the evening of January 10, 1967, the numbers trickled in from the various constituencies, cut along farcical boundaries largely unchanged from 1962.

But this time, the PLP won the majority of the popular vote and tied the United Bahamian Party (UBP) 18 to 18 in the number of seats in the House of Assembly, with Sir Randol winning his seat as did independent candidate Sir Alvin Braynen.

The political arithmetic on the 10th meant that minority rule was effectively finished. The masses immediately understood the new arithmetic and the new political calculus.

Celebrations erupted that night as soon as the final results were tallied and despite the tie, which some revisionists putatively and incorrectly assumed and assume still to have been an inconclusive result.

Waves of celebrants marched from Over-the-Hill to Bay Street, flooding the precincts of the UBP’s political and economic power with songs and chants of freedom and choruses of appreciation for new-found empowerment.

Majestic sounds of cowbells and goat skin drums shook some of the oligarchy’s most hallowed grounds, announcing a new era for a mass of people locked out of economic and political power and historically allowed limited access to Bay Street where they were discriminated against and segregated into inferior status.

The celebrations were euphoric, spilling over into a new dawn. Throughout the night car horns trumpeted the victory. There were spontaneous rush-outs throughout Nassau with jubilant crowds gathering at various places such as the Taxi Cab Union complex on Wulff Road.

Now that the change had come, it was time to form a government. There is often the temptation to historical revisionism by some, for all manner of reasons. Yet the facts and reality of certain events often prove stubborn.

Sir Randol, a PLP ally, was part of the progressive movement, running with the full support of the PLP. It was inconceivable that the firebrand, often regarded as being even more radical than the PLP, would betray the movement and support the UBP. His expected support afforded the PLP a majority.

Blandishments

He famously and publicly resisted the blandishments offered by Sir Roland Symonette to join forces with the UBP. With Sir Randol’s support secured, there was the need to elect a speaker.

Had Sir Alvin supported the UBP, there would be a tie of 19 to 19, with another election almost inevitable, a contest in which the UBP would have been slaughtered, as they were in the 1968 general election subsequent to the death of PLP MP Uriah McPhee.

But it was widely known that Sir Alvin was not on good terms with the UBP and that the idea of becoming Speaker of the House of Assembly was not unappealing to him. The story is told that when Sir Lynden telephoned Sir Alvin the conversation began:

Sir Lynden: “Mr. Speaker!”

Sir Alvin: “Yes, Premier!”

For all of his giftednesss and the role he played in modern Bahamas politics, Sir Randol was often hobbled by certain political traits that should have served and may still serve as classic political lessons for contemporary politicians. Sir Randol often proved politically unreliable, volatile and impulsive, which harmed his political credibility and viability.

Over the last several decades as the country has developed politically, The Bahamas has witnessed a parade of ambitions and personalities, a number of whom never realized their higher ambitions because they kept bouncing from one political home to another, often creating vanity parties or undermining their own parties while in government.

Some proved so volatile, unstable, impulsive and recklessly egotistical that despite their initial promise and their talents, the country turned to others seeking stability, resilience and reliability, which citizens and voters crave and reward.

Next Week: The Conceits of Blind Ambition

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