WHEN Trinidad & Tobago calypsonian Penguin sang and won the twin-island republic’s 1982 Road March Title with the ever-popular ‘A Deputy Essential’, politics was farthest from his mind. But deputies are indeed also essential to any party political leader, who normally has multiple overall responsibilities beyond his or her sole ability to perform.
It’s also simply in the interest of teamwork that all leaders — whether of youth organizations, businesses, sporting teams or constituency groups — have as many deputies as necessary to assist in implementation of overall organizational goals.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) now has new 1st and 2nd Deputy Leaders. But their roles remain the same: to assist the Party Leader in carrying out his leadership functions; and to perform any other assignments assigned by the Leader or the Leadership.
It all depends, however, on what a Deputy Leader sees his or her main role(s) as: To assist or to replace the Leader, to be a trusted and reliable Number Two or Number Three to Number One, or to move-on-up the leadership ladder towards eventually being Number One.
There’s been much to-and-fro, for-and-against discussion since the election of the new 1st and 2nd SLP Deputy Leaders exorcised the previous Number Two from the top three leaders, the latter strongly hinting he preferred to sacrifice himself on the altar of preserving national party unity than to engage in a dividing battle with a very determined challenger.
Election of the new 1st Deputy Leader has also resulted in growing in-house public comparisons between the new Number Two and the existing Number One.
The SLP will be well advised to handle this new dispensation very carefully between now and the next general elections.
The Political Leader will want to lead the party into the next polls with a reliable team that will give him all the assistance needed to ensure the party makes the right moves at the right times in what’s left of an election campaign already well under way.
Between now and then, therefore, the party will need to focus on issues that will preserve its unity and studiously avoid distractions from concentration on effectively implementing a winning strategy.
History has shown that parties can easily be deflected into costly debates, discussions and quarrels, even fights, over matters deliberately flagged in the public domain for that purpose that either have nothing to do with it (the party), or over which it had/has no control. That history can only be repeated at similar cost.
If they haven’t done so, it will also help for both new SLP Deputy Leaders to internally and publicly affirm — and reaffirm whenever necessary — their full support for the Political Leader throughout the campaign and up to Election Day; and there must be absolutely no doubt, as of now, as to who will be Prime Minister if and when the party is victorious.
Everything said above also applies in different ways to the UWP, where there’s also widening discussion about the party’s election chances under its present Leader, vis-à-vis allowing a former Leader and ex-Prime Minister to lead it into the next polls.
Also worried that this may be the SLP’s turn to take the next rotating one-term try given each party after the last three elections to make a difference to an impatient electorate, more UWPees are openly questioning whether their party, in government, will be able to deliver in two years — or less — what it hasn’t been able to in three.
Unlike the SLP in office, there’s no position of Deputy Prime Minister in the UWP administration, with some ministers clearly more influential over Cabinet and party policy than others; and others with competent records seemingly selectively sidelined.
It’s also hard to determine who the real Deputy Leaders of the UWP are, the extent of their influence on party policy and which, if any, may be nursing leadership ambitions. The ruling party has also recently changed the way it selects its Political Leader, which leaves less room for challenges of any kind, from any quarter.
But to return where we started: A Deputy is always essential, even vital — and especially for Political Leaders.
What also matters – and always — is whether the Deputy sees himself or herself as a friend or foe, to help or hinder, to be a dependable ally of or a competitive rival to, the Political Leader.
It always all depends – and that’s what matters!