by Larry Smith
“It’s better to have a debate about where we are going, because frankly whoever is the leader, unless the direction is right, I’m afraid the rest won't be right." - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 2015
Blair was, of course, talking about the current leadership contest in the British Labour Party, which is in a deep funk after losing two consecutive general elections since he resigned as prime minister in 2007 - after 10 years in office.
But he could just as easily have been talking about the Bahamas, where we have yet to see this kind of debate play out for either the FNM, which suffered its own big loss at the polls three years ago, or the governing PLP, which was turfed out after a single term in 2007.
We assume that FNM insiders have painstakingly analysed their 2012 loss. But my perception, as a relatively detached observer, is that there has been almost no public debate on the way forward for the opposition since Dr Hubert Minnis was hurriedly named leader right after the election debacle.
The PLP is in the fortunate position of being able to implement its own way forward for the time being - whether you like it or not. But most observers agree that Perry Christie’s 18-year reign as leader will soon sputter to an end one way or another. Yet there is little debate about that party’s future as well.
In Britain, four candidates are vying to become Labour Party leader: Shadow health minister Liz Kendall is the centre-right contender; former health secretary Andy Burnham has strong union ties but lost a leadership bid in 2010; shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is a policy wonk married to another senior Labour politico, Ed Balls, who lost his seat in May; and Jeremy Corbyn is a veteran angry leftist who some say now has the upper hand.
For the present, former solicitor-general Harriet Harman is acting as leader. But she will step down once one of the four candidates is elected by party members and registered supporters over the next several weeks. Balloting begins in mid-August and the result will be announced at a party conference on September 12.
Some have argued that Labour should continue with a caretaker leader while staging an in-depth debate about the future and how the party can rebuild support. But, as Yvette Cooper said recently, "The key is to have the energy and the sense of vision and direction, while having this wide-ranging debate. It cannot be a lethargic drift for months or years before we get our mojo back."
This is the situation in which the FNM finds itself today. Many thought of Minnis (one of the few ministers left standing in 2012) as an interim leader who would hold things together while a despondent party licked its wounds. As former education minister Desmond Bannister said at the time: "the country supports him for his ability to bring people together."