In commenting on the event, Dorothy Thompson a journalist for the New York Tribune wrote: “They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic. They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond a question of doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery….” A further comment on this comment suggests that: “Dorothy Thompson foresaw that the broadcast revealed the way politicians could use the power of mass communications to create theatrical illusions, to manipulate the public.”
I have taken the time to present this illustration with the hope that I could conjure up, for your reflection, some of the images that came to my mind. The first call I received concerning the “circus act” came from overseas. When asked whether there was any truth to the rumour I replied: “Rubbish!” I knew full well that it would take more than a casual conversation to trigger such a serious action as the Governor asking the Chief Minister to resign immediately and call for fresh elections.
First of all, Section 63 of the Anguilla Constitution that deals with Prorogation and Dissolution requires a number of actions before the House can be dissolved. Some of these actions are included in the section while others are part of the established practice. The most appropriate clause in Section 63 would be clause (2) which states: “The Governor, acting after consultation with the Chief Minister, may at any time, by proclamation published in the Official Gazette, dissolve the Assembly.” But in the context of the matter of reshuffling, the relevant section is Section 27 where it states: The Governor, “acting in accordance with the advice of the Chief Minister, may by directions in writing, assign to any Minister responsibility for the conduct of any business of the Government of Anguilla.”
With regards Section 63 (2), let me make it clear that even though the Governor acts after consultation with the Chief Minister he is not required to act based on the Chief Minister’s views. He simply needs to fulfil the requirement “to consult”. However, in practice no sensible Governor would dissolve the House of Assembly, even if he felt he had strong grounds to do so in the “public interest”, until he would have received such instructions or approval from the Secretary of State, most likely via the Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories. Such a statement as asking the Chief Minister to resign would therefore definitely be accompanied by an official letter to that effect not simply on the basis of a “casual conversation”. There would therefore be no need for the present situation where persons are now trying to determine whose word they should accept --- the Governor or the Chief Minister.
With regards Section 27 (1) the Governor must act on the advice of the Chief Minister in assigning Ministerial responsibilities. The Governor is obliged to accept the advice of the Chief Minister. However, for the time being the Constitution allows for only four Ministers. The Governor cannot therefore be asked to create a fifth Minister unless the Constitution is amended by some instrument or decree. Frankly speaking, there is no need for the Chief Minister to make a fuss --- he has a number of options available to him if he wants to achieve his objectives, as follows:
1. He can remove one of his Ministers and give the portfolio to Jerome Roberts.
2. He can make Jerome Roberts the Parliamentary Secretary instead of Haydn Hughes and give him the portfolios.
3. He can take the portfolios himself and make Jerome Roberts a special adviser to assist him in managing them. In such a case the Governor will not even be required to assign the portfolio to anyone.
I have quoted and commented on these sections of the Anguilla Constitution to illustrate that there is no believable basis for last Thursday’s theatrics. And given the glowing picture which the Chief Minister and his gallery of supporters painted for Mr. Bellingham, the Minister for the Overseas Territories less than twenty-four hours earlier --- I found it incredulous that the situation could have deteriorated so rapidly. As a consequence I immediately advised my many callers that this was probably another one of the “circus master’s” “smoke and mirrors” illusions.
There is an old Caribbean saying: “If you give a dog a bad name you may as well hang it!” In plain language (lest I be deliberately misinterpreted) it means that if someone is known for a particular pattern of behaviour --- he/she will always be accused of behaving in that way. The “circus master” is notorious for misinformation so I naturally concluded that he must be up to his misinforming ways again. I also suggested that based on the immediate state of panic created in the community by the phrasing of the communication --- the architect of such a hoax should in my view be subject to some civil or perhaps criminal suit. In fact there was a Radio Station in Anguilla where a young and overly zealous DJ/Announcer seem to have bought this communication “hook, line and sinker” and sensationalized the situation to the extent that many private and public businesses and institutions were contemplating closing, in anticipation of the incidence of major civil disobedience and likely violence.
While the “circus master’s” statement used the phrase “democracy is under siege”. I was looking back at the recent public consultations and reflecting on how little some of the AUM supporters seem to understand about the notion of democracy and freedom of expression, in practice. It was scandalous the manner in which they sought to silence Clive Smith in the Anguilla House of Assembly when he tried to present a different viewpoint of the relationship with the Governor to the Minister of the Overseas Territories. It was perhaps the most classic display of “mobocracy” I have witnessed in a long time.
The entire episode in the House smacked of being “stage managed”. A fact that may have been inadvertently exposed when a self-proclaimed human rights activist mentioned that she was asked to speak. In the circumstances of that fiasco, I believe that Clive Smith must be commended for his determination and courage. Indeed it can be said that he was practically a “lone voice in the wilderness.”
But returning to the “circus act”, when it became obvious to some of us that the “circus master” was in fact promulgating the existence of a serious matter --- even though my understanding of the Constitution convinced me that it could not be so --- I found myself having to come face to face with the possible consequences. It was therefore a relief when the Governor’s press statement stated emphatically that he was not seeking the removal of the Chief Minister nor was he asking him to resign.
The “talking heads” on many radio shows over the weekend were seemingly at pains to come up with a theory of the incident which would neither offend the Governor or the Chief Minister --- since the Chief Minister’s response to the Governor’s press statement suggested that the Governor misrepresented the facts. In fact one commentator suggested that both the Chief Minister and the Governor were telling the truth --- as they understood it to be. If that theory is to be accorded any credibility it could only be derived from the premise that the Chief Minister misunderstood what the Governor said. Because the statement in question is purported to have been made by the Governor. Any other premise would only lead to the conclusion that the Governor is not telling the truth --- this would not fit theory being advanced.
Following the foregoing argument, my question now is whether the Chief Minster’s interpretation of the Governor’s statement is mistaken or deliberate. And if it is deliberate what is the motive and/or motivation. My strong view is that what the Chief Minister is suggesting would not have been said by any Governor if he possessed even basic training in foreign office diplomatic procedures. In fact, it is a part of the terms of engagement of every Governor of the Overseas Territories for matters of this nature to be approved by the Secretary of State.
Were I to be generous and suggest that the Chief Minister misinterpreted the Governor’ s statement I would then have great difficulty rationalizing the events that followed. It was very easy for the Chief Minister and his colleagues after the Governor’s statement to forget the whole thing and in the interest of national security, social stability and maintaining foreign and local investor confidence in a time of great economic challenge --- calm down his supporters as well as the rest of the community --- and move on. But on the contrary he incited his supporters with a speech that provoked, in fact, demanded discourteous, defamatory, discriminatory and even seditious responses. He then went on to promote a public rally at a newly dubbed “Freedom Park” where he would invite his supporters to choose between the elected Government and the British Governor.
At that point it became obvious to me that the Chief Minister’s response to his “one on one meeting” with the Governor was an opportunity for him to distract attention from the real issues which have been plaguing his Government over the past months and especially in the last three weeks. And perhaps some of the very concerns that the Governor discussed with him most of which he has been extremely vague in explaining. My conclusion therefore is that the Chief Minister’s response that he orchestrated through the “circus master”, was a “smoke screen” for some very serious issues that now face his government. I will speak of these at the appropriate time.
The reactions that followed the “circus masters” mass communication theatrics were mixed. There were the supporters of the Government who felt they were defrauded. There were supporters of the Opposition who felt vindicated. There were persons from both sides who felt that this could not be good for anyone. There were the skeptics, perhaps like myself, who always felt that this was a hoax --- another circus act. There were the young men in prison standing on the roof waving tree branches who perhaps felt that this may also be a referendum on their freedom.
Many Anguillians were in a state of anxiety on Saturday night as they awaited the outcome of the great meeting, touted by the AUM stage-managers, as a referendum on independence “Hubie style”. Their concerns were misplaced --- it was just another AUM political campaign rally. As usual Victor Banks was responsible for everything including the Governor’s alleged actions. (My comment: Wow! I don’t know my own power!) As usual the “Journalist” needs to stop writing about the Government and write about the airport project; transhipment, and; other topics of their choice. (My comment: Fat chance!! Don’t hold your breath!) As usual Haydn tries to employ more innuendo saying nothing worthy of my attention. (My comment: Keep on going my lawyers are waiting!) As usual there were conspiracies against the Chief Minister’s Government --- left, right and centre. (My comment: What else is new?)
I quoted Dorothy Thompson earlier when she spoke of “the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery”. Let give you the Oxford Dictionary definition of a “Demagogue” so that you may capture the essence of what we went through last Thursday. Demagogue: “a political leader who appeals to people’s desires and prejudices rather than using reasoned arguments”. The “circus master” found a way to rationalize the ongoing theme among the AUM supporters about going independence --- getting rid of the British Governor seem a solid first step. You will also recall how the AUM clerics rationalized the need for an Anguillian Governor (Soon!!!) at the recent public consultations with the FCO Minister. Is all this coincidental? A number of Anguillians have said to me that the probability of much of this has caused them sleepless nights. I continue to believe that Anguillians are a blessed people and like the Psalmist may I humbly admonish you not despair “joy cometh in the morning!”
Victor F. Banks
September 28, 2010