By NICOLE BURROWS
THE duel for leadership in the Free National Movement (FNM) looks like infighting. It’s not a good or a strong look.
Albeit democratic, it is unsettling for an organisation to be divided enough to warrant a leadership challenge, no matter how friendly or how much they claim to like and respect each other.
Enter the candidates.
Hubert Minnis’ good qualities are that he’s humble, perhaps too humble, compassionate and committed (he must be if he’s still there after so much ridicule).
However, within the political arena, he comes across as being too “nice” or “soft” a person for politics. He doesn’t get a great deal of respect in Parliament and it’s painful to watch. He’s like the little kid who gets bullied in school; you want to run over and grab him from the midst of the bullies and give him a hug and put some Band Aids on him.
In this mad world, the average Jane/Joe will get lambasted for doing the right thing, for standing up for what she/he believes in; running a country is that times a million. Is Minnis ready for that? Can he ever be? Does the fact that he’s still standing mean that he can take what’s to come?
He’s not totally devoid of charisma, but he would need to be much more charismatic for people to gravitate towards him. And if he lacks this appeal, he at least has to be interesting. Is he?
He’s not a natural-born commander, but he must be able to rally the troops. Will he?
A leader has to deal with a country and a world full of liars and gangsters, and, sadly, she/he must be able to manoeuvre around them, sometimes even playing along with them. With this to deal with, even a leader’s “white lies” must be convincing. Are his?
A leader must make people believe everything is okay even when everything isn’t. There’s a very, very fine line between that and lying, but if the leader is not convincing enough the people won’t be confident in the leadership and they will not follow the leader.
Minnis is not convincing.
There’s also a lot of talk that Minnis doesn’t need to be a good speaker, he just needs to be a good man; I disagree. As a leader, he must absolutely be a good speaker, not a great speaker, but at least a good one. And the reason for this is because the ability to speak well is tied to the ability to convince.
As a leader, your voice is the vehicle for most of your messages. There are things you can say without words, but there are more things to be said that require them. Your voice, your speech, is how you convince people to follow you. And they don’t follow what they don’t believe in.
To be a good speaker doesn’t necessarily require a mastery of the English language, but a leader needs to be able to consistently string together grammatically correct, coherent sentences. The odd sentence mistake is tolerable, but every other line is not.
And since many like to compare him, former PM Ingraham’s speech imperfections had more to do with his rolling Rs, Ws for Vs, and Vs for Ws. It was more his Bahamian accent and native tongue than grammatical impediment that gave him a speaking challenge. Because it was so Bahamian, it made him more relatable. But bad grammar is never relatable or acceptable in high politics; it will always be viewed as a distracting communication deficiency. It obscures the message.
If a leader represents a country to the world, that leader’s words must be believable, because that person must be clear and convincing about the nation’s position on any world issue. The rest of the world will find it amusing if our leader is not able to demonstrate adequate speaking ability, whether or not we think it’s a problem.
You can’t be the mouthpiece if you need a mouthpiece.
Right now and going forward, we have some serious issues to deal with in our country; the next government will have their hands full like never before. National security and immigration, crime, trade and so many other important topics need to be discussed ad nauseam, many detailed conversations need to take place – and they have to be had with confidence.
The end result of having a leader with a lack of confidence who is not convincing is that you end up with someone who comes across as insincere or unaware, sometimes even puppet-like. You can’t be certain they’re in control and they appear unnatural as if giving a performance. And not a convincing, Oscar-winning cinematic performance, where the story is so vivid and well-acted to be believable, but more like a two-dimensional, lip-synced, really bad stage play.
In contrast to Minnis, Loretta Butler-Turner speaks clearly, coherently and confidently. She is able to counter the negative without appearing afraid. There’s little else to say of her speaking ability, other than no one intimidates her when she takes centre stage.
She, very smartly, also communicates (well and directly) in social media, where her actual voice is not heard and where she knows many of her supporters are. She is accessible in a way Minnis has not been; she uses a tool he really should use to compensate for his deficiencies but doesn’t. She is present and participating in the conversation in real time. You can tell from her responses that no one is communicating on her behalf all of the time, if any of the time. I mean, she tweets from Parliament.
To some, Butler-Turner is rough and biggity; I do wonder if those who characterise her in this way would say these things if she was a man and not a woman.
Are women trying too hard to see themselves in her? Are men trying too hard not to see themselves in her? Are they seeing her for her, or are they seeing who/how they think she should be/act as a woman?
If this is the worst of her character then maybe that means we should accept her, because that’s already so much better than most other parliamentary representatives. I’m proud of her, taking her leadership to the next level. And while I do think she does have a slight tendency to be, well, thuggish, I’m guessing, for as beautiful as she is, she didn’t get where she is today by being a princess. In fact, if you line her up with the four other women in Parliament, she isn’t so different from them. She may be a bit louder and the most forceful among them, but none of these women are prissy. And we wouldn’t want them to be because that is as distracting as poor grammar.
My main concerns about Butler-Turner are that she’s the only FNM woman in the House of Assembly, and that she comes across as overly committed to party politics.
Does her solitary presence as an opposition MP speak to the larger ideology of her party with respect to women in political leadership in a country filled with women?
And when she says “for party and for country” – which Minnis has also said – it does unnerve me. That’s when I start to think that yeah, these politicians are really just all the same.
The “for party and for country” comment is troublesome, because the two aren’t necessarily harmonious. In fact, the way it looks most times is that what is done “for party” is diametrically opposite to what should be done “for country”. Nevertheless, the party politics persist and here comes the FNM convention.
Butler-Turner will probably get fairly good support in the leadership contest, but the problem is going to come with the twisted Bahamian mindset that men should lead, at least more often than women. This being the case, she could give Minnis a good run for his money, but he could end up the victor because Bahamian people still equate “man” with “Prime Minister”, and that portfolio is always the end game of the party leader.
But the real question, should either of them win their party’s top leadership, is “what happens next?”
The answer could easily be “not much”, because neither Minnis nor Butler-Turner is a strong enough leader today to guide their party to a win in the next general election, him because of his lack of political strength and her because of her perceived newness as a real leader ... and both of them because of sketchy political antics and hollow agendas. The people want more than reactive politics.
So, if Minnis emerges as FNM leader, there is a very good chance he will get hammered in the 2017 general election, whether by a retaliatory, “fighting-for-his-life” PLP leader, or a super-strengthened DNA leader who would have gained even more followers between now and then. And these followers would include disgruntled PLP and FNM voters, the latter comprising those who were recently on the fence with the FNM but jumped the fence when Minnis won the leadership and they had no confidence in his ability to lead the country.
And what will Butler-Turner do if Minnis wins the party’s leadership post? Will she remain a party faithful and deputy leader? If she offers herself in 2017, will this leadership run-off hurt her chances for getting re-elected as a Member of Parliament? Will she go on to vie for the FNM leader’s position again?
On the other hand, if she wins the leadership position this time and enters the 2017 general election as leader of the FNM, there’s a very good chance that she will get hammered, too, because the intensity of the next election will be extreme in every direction, something neither the current FNM leader nor the deputy leader are, to date, prepared for.
In truth, every party has its work cut out for it. Regardless of their internal turbulences, and considering that there will likely be three parties again in the running, any of the political groupings would need to win the general election in 2017 by winning the majority of the youth voters, the women voters, the first-time voters (mostly young voters) and the swing voters.
The DNA already has most of the young voters; the FNM can get more of them than the PLP, but probably not as many as the DNA. The DNA has a large number of women voters, but the FNM has usually inspired more of them to vote as FNM. Were she to become leader of the FNM, Butler-Turner could increase that number.
The first-time voters are predominantly young voters, so they will be inclined to vote for the DNA or the FNM.
But the real wildcard for 2017 will be the swing voters.
More and more Bahamians are becoming swing voters, being generally dissatisfied with Bahamian politicians. Predicting where they will land will be tricky. But will they be a large enough group to make a difference in the outcome of the election?
For the first time, this may be possible. If there are enough of them, they could make the difference between an unpredictable win and a loss. And the way things are moving now, there could be a host of swing voters consisting of both PLP and FNM supporters. But which way will they vote? Will they cross over to the usual, other big party, or will they give their vote to the growing party, the new kid on the block?
I think this will be the real surprise of 2017.
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