The progressive spirit and the movement for racial, gender and economic equality predate the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953. Over the ensuing decades that spirit and the movement for equality were sometimes advanced by the party, though just as often abandoned or merely tolerated.
The more gradualist, accommodationist and conservative mindset of the PLP’s founders were eventually superseded by a bolder progressive agenda and more aggressive politics thanks in large measure to the National Committee for Positive Action (NCPA) and others.
Still, at critical junctures, Sir Lynden Pindling, a product of the relatively small black Bahamian middle class of his day, often proved cautionary and conservative as party leader and as head of government.
It was Sir Milo Butler and others who pushed hardest on the course of direct action which came to be known as Black Tuesday. While visiting London after becoming Premier, Sir Lynden was tentative about a date for independence. It was Arthur Hanna who steeled Pindling’s back and who, among others, insisted on an earlier and firmer date for independence.
Notwithstanding the encomiums by the current PLP leadership of the leaders of the suffragette movement, a number of the leaders were cautious of the PLP for various reasons.
There was often tension between that movement and the PLP hierarchy with some of the suffragettes wary that while the party was happy to have their political support, it might not be as motivated to advance a broader agenda for Bahamian women. On key issues they proved prescient.
While the PLP did advance various progressive items over the course of its 25-year rule from 1967 to 1992, it was not only some of these suffragettes who would come to discover that the party would prove to be hostile or indifferent to key progressive and liberal ideas and policies.
A critical element in the break of the Dissident Eight with the PLP was the cult of personality consolidating around Sir Lynden alongside his discomfort and sometimes hostility of various progressive ideas.
Sir Lynden and his court were content to accommodate and mimic the very sort of kleptocracy of the United Bahamian Party (UBP) which the progressives sought to dismantle.
Over the decades, many other progressives left the once progressive and liberal PLP, which had now become reactionary, lacklustre and fully enthralled to corporatist interests. One of those who left was the late Charles Maynard.
Maynard’s death evoked many reflections about his life and political journey. Two of the more telling of these were by those who served in the PLP with his father and late uncle.
One of the reflections, by a senior PLP now retired from frontline politics, was a lament that the truly more progressive party in the Bahamas is now the FNM, with the progressive spirit greatly diminished in the PLP.
In his moving tribute at Maynard’s funeral, Dr. B.J. Nottage, formerly the head of the now defunct progressive Coalition for Democratic Reform (CDR) spoke of the role that money plays in politics.
Before the political elite gathered at Christ Church Cathedral for Maynard’s last rites, Dr. Nottage was humorous, yet wistful, mourning the passage of his friend and former colleague. Nottage also appeared to grieve the loss of other possibilities, including the inability to advance various progressive ideas through the PLP.
Today, Perry Christie exemplifies and is the chief enabler of the deeply-rooted PLP entitlement mentality, wholly committed to the self-interests of this combined political and economic elite. Moreover, with a somewhat similar economic background as Sir Lynden, Christie has proven himself to be a champion of the status quo rather than progressive ideals.
Hands down, he is the least progressive prime minister in an independent Bahamas. His progressive record is one of words, with precious few accomplishments.
The sad failure of a once-promising Christie is that given the historic opportunities to reform the PLP and to advance an ambitious progressive agenda, he made the party less democratic internally, and proved reactionary and often regressive in his policy outlook.
Christie’s bungling attempt to force through a referendum to secure windfall profits for select numbers houses reveals the true politics and mindset of the man who now leads a party that ideologically and intellectually is a mere shell of what it could be.
In 2002, Perry Christie could have said yes to greater constitutional equality for women and no to the shameful betrayal of Bahamian women. Yet, his thirst for power was decidedly more important than his commitment to equality and social justice. This is not an anomaly. This is who Perry Christie has proven to be over the decades.
From 2002 to 2007 he again ignored the question of women’s equality, even saying that Bahamian women were not really harmed by this continued discrimination, which he had the power to end.
Today, Christie again sits at the pinnacle of power. Yet, at 70, history has mostly surpassed him, whether he realizes it or not. He no longer has the time to match the progressive and far-reaching record of Hubert Ingraham who will only grow in stature in the years to come.
On gender equality and the advancement of Bahamian women alone, Ingraham has far surpassed anything that Christie may accomplish. The FNM’s record on women is presently unmatchable by the PLP.
Hailing from a less privileged socio-economic background than Pindling and Christie, Ingraham often pursued a highly ambitious progressive agenda, evincing a commitment to social justice that seems all but lost in the PLP.
While the PLP has proved capable of winning elections, it has, for several decades now, proved unwilling or incapable of advancing progressive ideals and a dynamic and creative agenda committed to social justice.
Hubert Ingraham and the FNM signalled a change in Bahamian politics in 1992, fielding six women as candidates in areas considered winnable by the party.
Four of the six triumphed. Two went into the first FNM cabinet, one became a Deputy Speaker of the House and the other, Chairperson of The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation. Three additional women were appointed to the Senate, one of whom also became a member of the first FNM cabinet.
It was Ingraham who first appointed Bahamian women to the most senior posts in the cabinet after a multiple decade drought of women in the cabinets of Sir Lynden’s PLP.
The referendum to make women more equal constitutionally is long overdue. It is more than time that the PLP and Christie make right on the justice and the right it has been responsible for denying Bahamian women for 40 years.
Rather than any self-congratulations, the party which helped to usher in majority rule should ask itself why it was content to buttress such discrimination for four long decades.
Still, the PLP’s commitment to equality will not be realized by holding a referendum that will likely pass comfortably. A more genuine commitment will be the championing of other pressing matters which will require more than posturing and rhetoric.
If Perry Gladstone Christie and the PLP want to demonstrate that a mere spark of the progressive spirit still resides in the party, they should pass a marital rape bill without delay and the insipid and lame rhetoric of process. What a fitting tribute to Bahamian women 50 years after their right to vote and in the fortieth year of independence.