Branville McCartney’s diminishing stock
Published: Jul 18, 2013
W. A. Branville McCartney is a Bahamian version of the American showman and entertainer P.T. Barnum, who was also a politician for a spell. Barnum gained notoriety for circuses and grand productions.
He was known as the Prince of Humbugs using humbug or hype to seduce, entertain and cajole audiences and customers with all manner of flashy hoaxes and stunts. Branville McCartney has precious little substance when it comes to public policy. But he is a showman, and people do like a good show.
McCartney, like Barnum, learned early the tools of the showman’s trade: Supreme self-confidence, stylized gestures and rhetorical flourishes, hype, easy generalizations, grand promises, among other tools of razzle-dazzle meant to impress others.
Gifted with the safe Bamboo Town seat in the 2007 general election, McCartney also enjoyed the quick fortune of becoming a junior minister immediately after that election. He must have been giddy with anticipation that he was on the fast track to becoming prime minister, despite having just arrived.
His already outsized ego ballooned. It was soon thereafter deflated when in a Cabinet shuffle he was not promoted as a portfolio minister, though the late Charles Maynard was given his own ministry.
There was a lesson here for McCartney, which he refused to learn, because the pupil already thought that he was the master.
If he is smart, a minister of state will use the opportunity to demonstrate to his minister, the prime minister and to his colleagues, good judgment and the ability to be a team player. This may put him in good stead for higher appointments, or even election to the top spot. McCartney seems to have understood none of this.
McCartney’s Cabinet colleagues were generally not impressed with him. While verbose on the public stage, he reportedly had little to say around the Cabinet table.
As a junior minister, he was constantly grandstanding in ways that did not befit a minister much less a junior minister. His often bellicose language about migrants and publicity stunts related to repatriation exercises were gratuitous.
A politician can have legitimate reasons for leaving a political party, but leaving because his leader has a different assessment of his ability than he does, or because he is unwilling to wait to fulfil any personal ambitions, are more about vanity than principle.
Yet that is exactly what McCartney did. He grumbled his displeasure that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham failed to fully utilize his self-judged brilliant talents. So he left and started his own party. It was a temper tantrum masquerading as high principle.
The desire for something new is often in the air, and it is a frequent phenomenon that any new thing in politics, religion, etc., will attract some followers, sometimes a considerable following, whether it is a thing of lasting substance or not.
McCartney’s ego and impulsiveness got the better of him. With the PLP and the FNM approaching a cycle of inevitable change, any would-be leader should have had sufficient judgment to work within the party, and gain the confidence of his or her colleagues so he or she could be at least in the competition for the top spot.
McCartney has now connived for himself a straitjacket of limited options. Support for the DNA has likely reached its high mark. Having overpromised outright victory or at least a few seats or at least Bamboo Town, the party failed to secure a single seat in the House of Assembly.
A leader who cannot secure his or her own seat comes to resemble a conductor with an ever diminishing orchestra. At some juncture, no matter how furiously one waves the baton, the music grows wan and dismal. One is then left conducting an orchestra that is mostly in one’s mind, or one of amateurs.
Already Mark Humes, one of the party’s more able members, has left the fold. He not only resigned as chairman. He left the party altogether. Expect more to follow.
McCartney does not enjoy the history and personal appeal required to win his seat without the backing of a major party. Some bigger personalities in Bahamian politics tried that and failed.
In 1987, Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie won their seats as independents but they had the support of the FNM which did not field candidates against them. In 1967 and 1968, the great Randol Fawkes ran and won as a Labour candidate with PLP support. When he did not have a similar arrangement in 1972, he lost.
The DNA’s impact on the 2012 general election resembles something of an onion with layers of irony. The more one peels away the layers, the more one tears up, depending on who is doing the peeling.
While the DNA may have contributed to the FNM’s loss, its presence did not make it impossible for the party to win reelection.
With close margins, the DNA may have cost the FNM a number of seats. But it was the latter’s showing among undecided voters that appears to have been the overriding factor in its defeat.
Undecided voters proved to be a larger bloc of voters than the DNA was able to capture. It was a sizeable enough cohort to swing the election in the FNM’s favor had it won the undecideds. The PLP appears to have taken three out of every five undecided voters, resulting in its victory.
A considerable irony is the Bamboo Town result. Of the nearly 5,000 votes cast, PLP victor Renward Wells captured 1,940 votes. But the combined vote between Cassius Stuart of the FNM and McCartney totalled 2,683.
Had McCartney remained in the FNM, he would have won re-election in Bamboo Town, with a chance of becoming party leader and leader of the opposition. In helping to deny Hubert Ingraham’s return to the prime ministership he has likely torpedoed any chance to succeed his nemesis.
Having jumped the gun and jumped ship, what are his options? He could remain as DNA leader. But this will mean remaining as leader of a minor party that will attract some support at every election but can be nothing more than a spoiler. While McCartney enjoys being a big fish, will the DNA pond suffice?
The DNA should realize that given a better offer, McCartney will be bush, crack, man gone. He is not a party man. His loyalty is to his overweening ambitions. Just as he was disloyal to the FNM, he can do likewise to the DNA.
For their part, the PLP’s leadership contenders are unlikely to see him as such a brilliant catch that they would be willing to step aside for him.
McCartney may be calculating that a return to the FNM is his best bet. But more importantly is what is in the better interests of the FNM. The party can win without McCartney, including winning over DNA voters. His relevance and stock are diminishing assets.
McCartney has taken to criticizing FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner, suggesting that she should resign as deputy because of certain actions. He went so far as to urge that party leader Dr. Hubert Minnis should seek to have her removed from her post.
Imagine that, the man who barely has a sustainable party is giving political advice to the party he dissed. Old Barnum would delight in young McCartney’s gumption, which of course is also mischief.
Is McCartney targeting Butler-Turner because he wants to become deputy leader of the FNM? Those considering or possibly negotiating a return of McCartney to the FNM might ponder a few things.
With Christie and Ingraham no longer at the helm of their respective parties at the next general election, the appeal of McCartney and the DNA is even more diminished.
There is the famous tale of a scorpion who asks a frog for a ride across a pond. Wary of the scorpion’s nature the frog tells him of his distrust. The scorpion responds that if he stings the frog that they both will perish.
Of course the scorpion stings the frog half way across the pond. As they are about to perish the scorpion reminds, “I can’t help it, it’s my nature.”
The same Branville McCartney who vilified the FNM, abandoned the party and contributed to its 2012 loss has not changed his political nature. He is that type of politician with loyalty to no party.
Though attributed to P. T. Barnum, it was another who coined the saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” One sincerely wishes that the leadership ranks of the FNM are not so naive or so asinine as to believe that McCartney is much of a catch.
If Branville McCartney wants to return to the FNM, so be it. But he must return on the party’s terms. And he must get in line, and wait, before even being considered for any party office.