PM reflects on six years as ULP head
October 1, 2004
PM reflects on six years as ULP head

Two months from now, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves will mark his sixth anniversary as the leader of the Unity Labour Party (ULP). On December 6, 1998, on the verge of a new century, the Party crossed the threshold into a new era of leadership when Dr. Gonsalves was elected as its leader. {{more}} Under his leadership the ULP, which was formally established in October of 1994, has reaped many fortunes, with the formation of Government, in 2001, being one of its pivotal achievements. One Tuesday evening, after most workers at the Administrative Complex had long left for their homes, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves conceded to SEARCHLIGHT’s reporter Hawkins Nanton, the following interview in which he reflected on his Party’s accomplishments during the past five years and eight months since becoming leader of the ULP.

This is an edited version of that interview.

l NANTON: Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves, I am sure that you will never forget December 6, 1998, one of the most significant days of your life. That’s when you defeated Stanley “Stalky” John, 254-94, to claim the leadership of the ULP. In your maiden speech that afternoon you made the famous quote before Party supporters, “I have come to you with strengths and weaknesses; and possibilities and limitations; and I want you to help me in enlarging and enhancing my strengths and my possibilities, and reducing my weaknesses and my limitations.” Reflecting on the past five years and eight months have you been able to achieve these goals?

l P.M: First of all, in that speech, I also promised the people that there would be General Elections before they were constitutionally due by 2003. You would also recall, that I said […] when these elections are called, sooner rather than later, that the ULP would win the elections.

At least, in those two things, I’ve delivered, because we had elections in 2001 and we won them. In that speech, and the one that followed in 1999, in the analysis, I promised change. You would also recall in my personal manifesto I raised the issue of change, and I put forward, broadly speaking, the framework, “The Social Democratic Philosophy Applied Appropriately Within The Context of Our Caribbean Civilization and Its Vincentian Component”.

I detailed the philosophical framework and I would say, that framework built upon our Manifesto of 1998, was strengthened in our manifesto of 2001. Today, that is what is carrying the Party. That 1998 Manifesto was drafted largely by Vincent Beache (former leader of the ULP) and myself. Stalky John did editorial work on it and Ken Boyea didn’t read the Manifesto until it came out.

In November 2000, we published “The First 100 Days of a ULP Government”, what we will do in the first 100 days. Even before that November, on July 31, 2000, we published a paper entitled “Constitutional Reform: A Discussion”. We also published “Ideas Towards a Social Contract Between the ULP and Civic Society”, setting out 20 principles of the partnership between ourselves and civic society, outlining the obligations of a ULP Government, the obligations of the union movement, the obligations of the business community, the obligations of civil society, which were not organised as business groups or a trade union movement. Before 2000 was out, there were three vital documents. Early in 2001 we drafted our manifesto and by the time elections were announced in early March we had our manifesto, and we had a youth manifesto. And then in March, just as the campaign started, I published “The Politics of Our Caribbean Civilization, Essays and Speeches”, outlining the development over 25 years, things which I’d written.

l NANTON: Was that a carefully crafted plan?

l P.M: It was carefully crafted, for this reason: we knew we were going to run. One political scientist in Jamaica called the campaign which we ran a Caribbean classic. That campaign could have only been grounded on a body of ideas. If some other organisation did it without the body of ideas, it would appear as though they were mounting a campaign of entertainment; and also, if we did not have the prolonged struggle from April 2000, the election in 2001 was the culmination of a year long struggle. People think that Hartley Henry came in and guided us through this campaign. What Hartley helped us with, is what he is good at, presentation, in the election itself. The concept and direction and body of ideas came from the bowels of the Party.

l NANTON: The Unity Labour Party was formed out of a merger between the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party and your Movement for National Unity (MNU). How early in your personal career did you realise that you had to, not abandon the MNU, but get closer to the Labour Party which had a mainstream Party almost on the right of your politics back then?

l P.M: The night when NDP won all seats in 1989, there was a discussion with Julian Francis, Alison Thomas, and Ferdie Toney, who had voted for Labour in my constituency. He was my good friend and of course is a very strong supporter of mine today. We listened to the results by Ferdie’s apartments.

I said, “Julian, tonight we have the second best results for the MNU,” because we had only run four candidates, so we couldn’t have formed Government. The best result is for one or more of us to be in Parliament. But the second best result is for the NDP to have won everything, and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party zero.

I said, what this means is that, one, from here on, this is the highest point the NDP can be. From here on, is downhill. How fast downhill would depend on how they perform, how they function, and how we in the Opposition behave.

I told Julian, Ferdie and Alison we have no control how Mitchell and the NDP would run the Government and their Party. I said, they will make a lot of mistakes. I said, they will get very arrogant with this 15-0. I also told them, the project we are about to embark on is a 10 year project. I said, unless there is a complete disaster with the NDP, the best the Opposition can do in 1994 is to win a few seats, and 1998-1999 is the time when we would take them.

I told them that night how we’ll proceed. I said, the Labour Party is completely demoralised. I said it would take them two years before they catch themselves, and there would be tremendous bickering and confusion. I said, the MNU will take a rest for one month and from now until the next election, among other things, we will hold at least 3 public meetings a week, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays or on Sundays. I said, we would run a two-track campaign; that the MNU would present itself as the alternative, but we would prefer if Labour and MNU would come together. I said, our very working that we would do establishing ourselves as the opposition on the ground, would make the Labour Party… I remember the phrase exactly that I used. I said they will sue for political peace as we get close to the elections and will form an alliance. I said, what happens to that depends on the mechanics. Then Julian said to me “you know you are completely crazy,” seeing that we were just out of an election and I wanted to start campaigning right away.

l NANTON: How did this plan materialise?

l P.M: In September 1993, Vincent (Beache) and I had a Rawacou meeting along with Terrance Parris, then General Secretary of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party. A merger rose out of the discussion, it was an idea which was to prove irresistable and when Mitchell call the election earlier than many people thought it would come, this irresistible idea was taken up by the Concerned Citizens. There were some comrades in the MNU who wanted no deal at all!

l NANTON: Stalky John and Ken Boyea fell out of favour with the ULP in 2000, thereabout. Had they remained members of the Party, it is believed by many that the Party might have still won the 2001 General Elections. Do you think the ULP would have achieved this much if they had stayed?

l P.M: No, no, no, no, because in a Government there can only be one leader. In a political party there can only be one leader. Neither Stalky nor Ken, in a ULP Government, would have reconciled themselves to the idea that they were number two and number three. In whatever order they were in number two and three. They would never have reconciled to that idea. There would have been tensions and less camaraderie in Government today. Much as I respect Stalky as a professional lawyer, and I respect Ken as a businessman, I think in political terms they would have sought to create divisions and confusions, and therefore the kind of unity of direction and purpose which we have currently in Government, we would not have had that.

Maybe with Ken, he probably would have reconciled himself. He said to me repeatedly, since we have been in office, that had he known I would govern the way I am governing, he never would have left the ULP.

l NANTON: As a reputable businessman, is there a chance for him in the ULP again, maybe playing a key role?

l P.M: I don’t see that and I don’t think Ken would want that either. Stalky is a man with immense abilities but his political judgement has always been problematic. And part of it, I don’t think he grounds enough with the people and therefore the judgements and ideas which he has in his head don’t necessarily have connection with what is taking place on the ground. I was never in any doubt that when Stalky and Ken left, that they would be washed away by the masses. I told Ken himself, because we still spoke, even though there was certain bitterness on the platform, and he is easier to communicate on these matters than say, Stalky. I would say to him, the people will not permit any entity to interpose between themselves and the ULP to prevent a ULP victory.

Early o’clock Ken and Stalky tried very much in Parliament to embarrass me as leader by taking positions which were very different from mine.

l NANTON: With the passage of time, did the Party make a correct decision in dealing with John and Boyea the way it did?

l P.M: Absolutely correct, correct.

l NANTON: What is the current status of the ULP?

l P.M: The ULP remains arguably the best organised mass political party in the Eastern Caribbean. The structure and the way the people function attest to that.

l NANTON: What are the challenges facing the ULP as a Party in Government?

l P.M: Our agenda is so ambitious that there are unfinished tasks from this period, which will go into the next term. The challenge for the Party is to run an election campaign the next time, which is appropriate to the position as a Government of change having completed its first term. We’ll have to run a different kind of campaign, content wise. Obviously, the documentation before you, where hitherto you will say, “this is what I will do now.” You’d say this is what we have left unfinished to do and to craft what campaign you are going to put to the people in the context of achievement and unfulfilled agenda.

We are very conscious of the fact that a Party can assume power and concentrating on governing the Party can suffer. We try very much to involve our Party machinery in our work on an ongoing basis. We have a challenge and we don’t believe the Cabinet of the country is the executive of the Party. I am satisfied the Party will be in top shape whenever the General Elections are called.

Julian has stated that he wants to leave the Ministry of Communications and Works in January 2005. He naturally wants to spend a lot of time in the last one year and three months of the mandate of the Government.

l NANTON: So, Prime Minister, is it safe to say your administration will be completing a full term going right down to the end?

l P.M: Nice one! Ha! Ha! I’m only telling you about the life of the mandate of the Government. If elections were to be called soon we are in order. So far there will be three new candidates for the Party in the next General Elections.

l NANTON: You have often said you will only be serving this country, a period that will last two terms. Do you still have that plan?

l P.M: What I would like to do is to win this election in 2006, win big so that I can go to the polls in 2011 again but to stay just two years of that term so that some other young person can come on. So it’s two terms and two years. I know when I’m ready to go, I know there would be a lot of people who would come knocking on my door and writing letters and saying no, don’t go, but no one man can believe himself to be indispensable. You have to know when you must go home. I am now 58, in 2011 I will be 65.