An open letter to a prime minister

Columnist Reggie Dumas completes a two-part commentary titled Dear Prime Minister Pt II, originally written in November 2008 but reproduced as it finds relevance in developments in TT today. Dumas returns to his regular column next Monday.

Part II

YOU AND Conrad Enill have put blame squarely on the media’s shoulders, and you have even raised the possibility of court action. I think you both exaggerate the media’s sins, but I’m not unsympathetic to your position. It’s undeniable that the performance of too many of our media practitioners is well below par.

Their reporting and commentary often lack clarity and depth, largely because they seem only minimally familiar with the issues of the day; “facts” not infrequently put fiction to shame; good taste, particularly among some radio hosts, is a disappearing commodity; the English language is not certain to survive the battering it receives daily…

In the instant case, the two radio presenters mixed comment with news. Media moguls here say that was unprofessional and wrong...However, Prime Minister, even if you felt the two persons had overstepped the mark, your visit to the station has been widely interpreted as an attempt at intimidation within the framework of your perceived desire to bring institutions – in this case, the media – under your sway.

You have denied that, of course; I expected you to. But you could not have been surprised at the interpretation. You must by now know that concern over your style as Prime Minister, your manner, goes well beyond the media at which you and Enill point such accusatory fingers. It has become a subject of national – and, I assure you, regional – interest, even alarm. I won’t repeat here some of the things that are being said.

One year ago I gave you, in worried admiration, “full marks for consistency and tenacity in (your) pursuit of one-man preeminence.” I was far from being alone in this judgment of your behaviour and performance. Since then, as the country knows only too well, there has been a mounting pile of government and governance negatives: rising crime and cost-of-living; skewed developmental priorities; too many Cabinet members who are manifestly not up to the task; the executive jet affair; the Rowley episodes; Udecott and Calder Hart; the absence of national discussion on proposed union with the Eastern Caribbean; and so on. Public opinion of your role in, and attitude to, these and other matters has become distinctly antipathetic.

It gives me no pleasure at all to say that you are now increasingly described as puffed-up, uncaring, control-obsessed and self-righteous. None of that may bother you. It certainly bothers me as a citizen. In essence, you are charged with being afflicted by what the ancient Greeks called “hubris,” or overweening pride or arrogance. It is a common condition among leaders, politicians especially, who have been in office long (it is for others to say “too long”).

Thus when the Sunday Express, in its November 9 front-page editorial, dismisses out of hand your explanation of the radio station visit as “dangerous self-serving nonsense that could only have been uttered by a politician powerstruck enough to have come to believe that he is the country and the country is he,” it isn’t voicing merely its own assessment or that of the media. It is encapsulating a position held across the country by many “ordinary” men and women, including a widening swathe of your own party membership. It is for you to take their sentiments into serious consideration and examine your approach, Prime Minister.

Lord Owen, who as David Owen was the UK foreign secretary in the late 1970s, published a book earlier this year called In Sickness and in Power. In it Owen, who is also a former neurologist, dissects the behaviour in office of several heads of state and government. He writes the following about Tony Blair and the war in Iraq.

“(Blair’s conduct) was triggered by three characteristic symptoms of hubris: excessive self-confidence, restlessness and inattention to detail. A self-confidence that…does not seek advice and fails to listen to or is contemptuous of the wisdom of others, particularly if it conflicts with the leader’s own viewpoint, is hubristic. If this is combined with an energy that is restless for action and is ready to intervene on the basis of a loose sense of the broader picture rather than the detailed study of all the relevant information, then serious mistakes are almost inevitable.” He writes also: “‘Deliverology’ as developed by Blair had one all-pervasive weakness, the wish to exercise central control from No 10 (Downing St) of services that should be decentralised and are decentralised in every other large nation in the world.”

I wonder, Prime Minister, whether you would be good enough to reflect on those passages and discuss them with persons close to you whom you can trust to speak candidly?

(Original unmodified article written November 2008 and published in the Express under the title “Dear Prime Minister Pt II”)


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