Manning needs a straight-talking friend

He seems not to possess the wherewithal to arrive at this conclusion on his own, so perhaps someone close enough to the former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, needs to impart to him the truth that he has in fact “lost it.” Whereupon Manning should be convinced to sit out the rest of his term as a member of the country’s parliament in relative obscurity, if the preferred option of someone else representing that constituency is not viable.

Since he contemptibly defied every school of political logic and called an election last year halfway through his government’s term – compounding the inanity by insisting on hanging on, in the face of obvious public rejection, as leader of his party – he has not, regrettably, been the shrinking violet he ought necessarily to have been. After first doing the silent bit, following the humiliation his party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), suffered in the snap election, Manning has made a few forays back into the limelight always, it seems, with pronouncements or actions that deepen our curiosity as to how tightly is this fellow wrapped.

In what was probably his first public comment about the confounding behavior surrounding his calling of last year’s election, Manning offered that having realized how unpopular he had become, he decided to give the electorate the opportunity to register its feelings (affirm its disgust, might be more like it). And you wonder how could anyone so brazenly sound off with such self-serving bilge. Adding insult to injury, Manning dared to acknowledge during the ill-advised election campaign that he was aware it was he, not the PNM, that the public despised. How’s that for hubris beyond measure?

Manning’s most recent assault on the public consciousness was conduct related to the PNM’s convention at which elections were being held for the post of party chairman and others. Manning did not attend the convention but instructed his constituency delegates to abstain from voting. He said he had done so because he didn’t want to be hit with the rap that he, through his constituency delegates, had influenced the election (that’s one constituency in a total of 41, let’s understand). Social scientist Selwyn Ryan, reviewing the convention in his Trinidad Express column, noted that everyone in attendance with whom he spoke found that Manning’s strange tactic made not a bit of sense. Truly, it would be a sad commentary on the collective I.Q. within the PNM had Ryan discovered otherwise. Yet unexplained, though, was the behavior of the one delegate group, falling in, like so many androids, behind the twaddle served up by Manning.

History will not dismiss Patrick Manning as having altogether misspent his record-setting years of service on the political frontlines in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s pretty clear that as a young man he considered himself a serious devotee of the founding principles which saw fruition in the creation of the PNM. When the party was left for dead after a blowout defeat at the polls in 1986, Manning, emerging as leader, would subsequently make proud reference to the hard work he put in to help the PNM regain its footing. Beginning in 1991, his earlier stints as prime minister were not without notable pluses.

But by 2007, when he last led the PNM to victory at the polls, the writing was on the wall, that Manning’s escalating arrogance was becoming a major problem and further, he too frequently exhibited bouts of aberrant behavior to refute any objective assessment of him as having a loosening grip on reality. Some observers saw unmistakable signs of megalomania. And how much an over-the-top fixation with religious considerations played into the equation became a focus of speculation as well.

The pity was that given all of this, with the citizenry duly registering its disconnect from whatever trip Manning had embarked on, the PNM community, in a stupefying dereliction of duty, turned a blind eye to it all, paying the consequences for such folly last May.

Manning has seen the man he tried his darnedest to bury, Dr. Keith Rowley, become leader of the party – a poetic justice turn of events, seeing as how Rowley seemed to stand alone in drawing attention to the cascade of problems to which the former prime minister’s out-of control imperiousness had given rise. Now, in these demonstrations, ostensibly, of the loyal party-man routine, Manning’s over-compensating oddball turns, such as the convention episode, only serve to underscore how essential it was, well before his jaw-dropping peculiarities of early 2010, that he either voluntarily relinquish control or be made to do so. That he could stay put to be commanding general for last year’s debacle wasn’t, in truth, Manning’s fault but that of a bunch of wimps content to fiddle while the party burned.

Particularly late in his prime ministerial tenure, one line of scuttlebutt about Manning was that he was very much given to solo flight – that while there were sycophants aplenty, there really was no one whose counsel he heeded. If that holds true, how tragic that is, now that walking the corridors of power is well behind him. This guy sorely needs a straight-talking friend – one who could unflinchingly deliver the word that in evidently attempting to rehabilitate a tattered legacy, Manning is more likely than not to sully the waters even further.

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