Like in the old time days of the American wild west, at last Friday’s highly anticipated meeting of Parliament, the PACT coalition of independents ‘circled the wagons’ to repel the enemy, a Progressives onslaught.
And it worked…for now at least.
In a case of political strategy versus what appeared to be a bona fide issue of a constitutional conundrum, the political strategy won the day.
There’s no doubt that the constitutionality of the decision by the Deputy Speaker to disallow the opposition Progressives’ no-confidence motion against the Speaker will continue to be debated…and perhaps even legally challenged. And that includes whether the Deputy Speaker acted outside her authority. But on the day, the politics prevailed.
The decision of the Progressives to boycott last Friday’s meeting - and any future sitting chaired by the substantive Speaker until he leaves on November 30th - may well come back to haunt them, not on principles but politically.
Last Friday’s circling of the PACT wagons was a masterstroke of political strategy and a lesson in political opportunism.
If the Progressives were hoping to exploit any suggestion of factionalism or splintering among PACT’s coalition of independents, they clearly misread the tea leaves.
There’s much to be said about the discipline and policy commitment that the party system brings whichever side of the House that the party sits; whether in government or opposition. It’s said that independents have one loyalty; to themselves (and to their constituents they will quickly remind).
That’s not to suggest that they don’t take principled positions.
Take for example the current Premier when he quit the then Progressives government in 2020 in protest over allegations of misconduct against the Speaker (the incumbent), for which the Speaker was subsequently convicted.
Fast forward two years and the Premier found himself reprimanding the said Speaker over new allegations (yet unproven) of misconduct, and demanding - supported by the Governor - that Speaker Bush resign.
The September 23rd deadline set by the Premier passed relatively uneventfully. In other words, the Speaker ignored it and subsequently submitted a letter of resignation on his terms.
In light of the allegations against the Speaker, the opposition Progressives had also submitted a motion of no-confidence against him, but that was blocked by the Deputy Speaker. And their no-confidence motion against the PACT administration was thrown out on Friday as they weren’t in parliament to argue it.
However, a motion presented by Premier Wayne Panton to accept the Speaker’s resignation as dated, despite his previous ultimatum, was unanimously accepted by the PACT benches.
And a pro-government confidence motion tabled by independent PACT-supporting Parliamentary Secretary, Dwayne Seymour (health minister - independent - in the previous Progressives party administration), sailed through by acclamation.
The absence of the Progressives allowed the PACT administration free rein not only to highlight their past 18 months in office, but to set their upcoming agenda without challenge...and consolidate their hold on power.
That pattern is expected to be repeated for the next month and a half as the Progressives have pledged to boycott Parliament until the Speaker eventually leaves on his chosen date of November 30th.
It could also be argued that much of what transpired from Friday’s meeting of Parliament happened on the Speaker’s terms. But what seems clearer is that on the day that the numbers should have really mattered, the Progressives appear to have misread the proverbial political tea leaves.