Perry Christie is one of those politicians typically at his best when he feels threatened. Tellingly, despite a landslide of seats in the House of Assembly, though not of the popular vote, he executed a defensive manoeuvre to diminish threats to his leadership.
Despite a sizeable House majority, to forestall the possibility of losing the confidence of a majority of government MPs he appointed what the Opposition labelled a gussimae cabinet.
Of the 29 PLPs in the House, 21 are in the cabinet, three are parliamentary secretaries and one is the Speaker, leaving only enough backbenchers to comfortably fit in a compact car, which can be driven to the comfortable appointments they will likely be assigned.
Christie is playing the political version of carrots and sticks. He unsheathed his Damocles sword, quickly announcing the possibility of a midterm cabinet shake-up, the effect of which is to keep his cabinet guessing while tantalizing ministers of state and others with the possibility of future full ministerial appointment.
A prime minister has other bulwarks against losing his status as first among equals. Controlling the votes at a national convention is such an indispensable measure.
Christie learned this lesson from Sir Lynden Pindling who was nearly overthrown in what became known as the attempted Christmas coup of 1962 and the revolt of 1970. Christie also learned it of necessity, as reportedly much of his first cabinet in 2002 appeared not to have supported him as Leader.
Still, he is a survivor. He has stacked the PLP with scores of Stalwart Councillors loyal to him, making him seemingly unbeatable within the party. Dr. B.J. Nottage and other contenders for the top spot learned this lesson well.
So has Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, who is building his own base in the PLP, and who would like the qualifier, “Deputy” dispensed with as quickly as possible. But before there is a Brave new PLP, Mr. Davis will have to contend with how to accomplish his ambition.
Mr. Christie did not win the 2012 general election for the PLP as much as he was a beneficiary of a punishing global economic crisis. What he can claim, is that he didn’t lose the PLP a golden opportunity to return to power.
Given that the PLP lost the popular vote, likely in part because of what arguably most view as Mr. Christie’s leadership deficits, he still seemed a plausible prime minister in the minds of enough voters to return his party to government. Having recaptured the top prize, he will jealously guard its privileges and powers from covetous cabinet neighbours.
Uneasy may lie the head that wears the crown, but those seeking to seize the prime minister’s crown must heed Machiavelli’s warning that“he who draws his sword against his prince must throw away the scabbard”.
There is something of the air of the UK’s Tony Blair versus Gordon Brown rivalry in the Perry Christie and “Brave” Davis drama. As with the former coupling, have the latter already reached a private understanding on handing over power?
The rivalry between Blair and Brown was stretched to near breaking point, Brown seething that Blair had reneged on a reportedly private agreement by overstaying his time at 10 Downing Street.
All of which was exacerbated by Brown’s influence as a mighty Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the power of the public purse, able to dispense largesse and favours. With a formidable intellect and as keeper of the purse, Brown directed wide swathes of public policy, almost as a seeming co-prime minister.
In our political system, all roads in the executive branch lead to the two central arteries of power, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance, the latter another powerful tool in Christie’s hands.
Given the extensive arsenal of power at Christie’s disposal, Davis’s campaign to succeed him has been curiously lacking in subtlety. Some of his colleagues appear alternatively amused and bemused, among other more colourful verbs, by his posturing as a sort of co-prime minister.
After the death of PLP stalwart Al Jarret, Davis hurriedly released a statement of condolence on behalf of him and his wife, dispensing with the protocol that an initial statement come from his Leader on behalf of the party and the government
The interplay between the principals was displayed at a press conference at the House after the Budget Communication. As Davis attempted to speak over his Leader, Christie shushed him, basically advising him to wait his turn.
It is remarkable how a single incident in a drama can reveal the plot, the motivations, the subtext and the character of the main protagonists, though one has to wait for the denouement. Timing makes all the difference as do “Events, dear boy, events.” The banana peels on which we slip are often of our own placement.
This brings to mind a curious editorial in The Nassau Guardian helpfully advising Perry Christie, merely over a month in office, as to how he may make a graceful exit. How kind of the editorial to be so solicitous of Mr. Christie’s welfare.
He must have been especially pleased by this concern for his legacy. In terms of helpfulness, missing from the editorial was an approximate or exact departure date. Perhaps these are to come. What’s next, an office for the Deputy Prime Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister?
When, in the UK, Michael Hesseltine directly challenged Margaret Thatcher, he succeeded in helping to bring down the Iron Lady. He also fulfilled a political maxim that the one who strikes the first blow is often also felled in the offing.
With Thatcher defeated and Hesseltine deeply wounded, the compromise leader was, unexpectedly, the nondescript John Major. The denouement of the Thatcher versus Hesseltine drama ended as neither expected, which was, quite badly.
Still, Perry Christie is a survivor, overcoming many challenges including the 2007 defeat. He is as ruthless as others, but it comes with a smile and charm.
He knows that there are many a slip between cup and lip. The contenders for his crown are well advised to appreciate the same. Christie initially declared that were the PLP re-elected he would demit office before the end of the term. He abandoned that pledge for reasons an inquiring mind might readily conceive.
If one takes him at his latter pledge he may serve a full term, towards the end of which he may advise the party to choose a successor. There is no telling whom he may back. And, there is no telling who will become Party Leader.
Christie’s successor may swoop into the top job like a deus ex machina, surprising those who calculated that they were next in the line of succession.
Like the paraphrase that those who enter a papal conclave as a favourite to become pope often come out a cardinal, those who go into the cabinet as a favourite to become prime minister often leave as a minister.