By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
THE current state of the Free National Movement is “distressing” to former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who told The Tribune yesterday the Official Opposition has to put in a lot of work to win over voters whose minds have been “poisoned” by months of public infighting.
In a break from his traditional silence on national issues, Mr Ingraham also revealed that late last year he staved off the first threat from five FNM MPs to have Dr Hubert Minnis removed as leader through a petition to Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling.
Mr Ingraham also stressed that the now six MPs who have voiced concerns with Dr Minnis should not face retribution, saying he was “disappointed” that the FNM leader refused to answer clearly when asked by the media on Monday what will happen to these politicians if he retains his post.
He also gave insight into the relationship he has with the man who has assumed control of the party he led for 19 years, revealing that he has counselled Dr Minnis on a number of party matters only to be frequently surprised when the Killarney MP made a decision that was contrary to the advice given.
And while he did not endorse a candidate for FNM leader, Mr Ingraham said he hopes whoever wins the party’s leadership race on Friday is more “inclined towards listening to what I say”.
Asked if he was disappointed in the state of the FNM, he said: “I think disappointed is a mild word, I am distressed by it.
“I have spoken to everybody who is anybody in that context and things get patched up a bit for a short while and go back to where they are. I hope that this convention settles it all. I was disappointed to see in the paper this morning that Dr Minnis did not give a clear and concise answer to the question as to what will happen to these six MPs if he wins – because if he wins, the six MPs will still be MPs.
“If he wins, he will be the leader so they will have to live and co-operate in this big FNM tent together. If either side feels the other side is seeking to be rid of them, they will do what is natural for human beings, take counter measures to protect their own interests.”
Many of the issues plaguing the FNM centre on the dissatisfaction in some quarters about Dr Minnis’ leadership. He has been criticised by members of his own parliamentary caucus as being untrustworthy and ineffective. Dr Minnis has not publicly responded to these critiques but has frequently called for unity.
When asked if he thought Dr Minnis had leadership deficiencies, Mr Ingraham did not answer directly. However, during the interview, he repeatedly stressed that it was up to the party’s leader to resolve any dissatisfaction in the FNM.
“Dr Minnis demonstrates that he has a great capacity, the energy that is being put into maintaining his position as leader, the active work that’s taking place in meeting delegates and discussing with them whatever needs to be discussed to get their support, etc, demonstrates somebody who has got a capacity for political activity,” he replied.
“So it is my hope that he would put that same kind of energy, or a part of it, into energising the FNM and its supporters. And the same goes for Loretta (Butler-Turner). She is demonstrating a lot of energy towards wanting to become leader. Well if they would do that same thing for the FNM, we in the party would be much better off.”
Asked if the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has the advantage in the next general election or if the FNM can pull off a win, Mr Ingraham said his party has to satisfy the public that it is unified.
“The next election will be the FNM’s own to win if the public is satisfied that they are not fractured, they put up a reasonable team of people and they put forward a reasonable programme – they would win.
“I think that what is happening now is poisoning the minds of many people and dampening their enthusiasm for the party, but that means that dormant feeling of wanting change can be activated if the party begins to show that they are together and demonstrate that the same kind of energy they are putting into this leadership race, they put into opposing the PLP and putting forward programmes that the public finds acceptable.”
Mr Ingraham also revealed that former National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest informed him late last year that five FNM MPs had plans to have Dr Minnis removed through a constitutional provision.
Mr Ingraham said he and Mr Turnquest met with these MPs – Neko Grant, Loretta Butler-Turner, Theo Neilly, Hubert Chipman and Richard Lightbourn – advising them against the idea.
He said the MPs wanted an early convention and a halt in candidates being ratified by the party because they feared the “deck was being stacked” in Dr Minnis’ favour.
He said after meeting with the five MPs, he and Mr Turnquest met with Dr Minnis and advised him to meet with the angry parliamentarians.
“We thought that we had arrived at an understanding that there would be a convention this year, early, by March for instance, and that the point they made about candidates would be taken into account. We got no particular commitment about that, I don’t recall a specific commitment about that. I heard nothing further from it ... the deal was that they would not go to Government House about Dr Minnis. Next thing I know, Wells and Rollins joined the FNM and of course that subsided, that meant that they no longer had the majority.”
“I was out fishing one day ... the week before they announced the convention, I was out fishing, Dr Minnis called me and told me that the MPs had put a gun to his head and demanded he do certain things, etc and he wanted to see me.
“I saw him, we had a discussion, he and his wife, subsequently to that they announced that they would have the convention (in July).”
Yesterday Mr Ingraham again stressed that he has no plans to leave retirement and pledged his full support to the leadership team that emerges from the FNM’s convention this week. He said he hopes the dissenting MPs as well as Dr Minnis accept the results of the convention.