When Vice-President of the New Democratic Party, St. Clair Leacock, announced on Dec. 2 that he would inform Parliament the following week about his political future, the nation took note.
His promised address was coming weeks after his party’s leadership transition in which erstwhile fellow vice-president, Godwin Friday, was elevated to party and opposition leadership amidst widespread anticipation that Leacock would have succeeded Eustace.
Even the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas, stretched the Standing Orders to accommodate the opposition member, who represents Central Kingstown, allowing him an opportunity to make a statement during the congratulatory segment of the meeting.
But many persons who tuned into hear what Leacock had to say were left more confused.
His presentation was another rehash of his long list of personal accomplishments and contribution to the nation and to his party, but, more importantly, an expression of disappointment in the way his party handled its leadership transition.
In previous meetings of Parliament, Leacock had maintained that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves not address him as “honourable friend”, but “Honourable Member”, as the Standing Orders dictate.
But he announced that Gonsalves was among those who gave him a conciliatory call after the NDP’s leadership transition. Further, Leacock walked across the floor to shake hands with Gonsalves, after doing so with his opposition colleagues, and embracing Friday.
Many persons wondered if Leacock was considering walking through the door that he said was open as he considered how he spends “the rest of my years, whether I want them to be in the wilderness or to make them available to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a principled manner”.
When iWitness News contacted the Central Kingstown MP on Sunday for clarification on his statement, he said that he had taken a decision to reduce his public comments over the next few months and had appointed longstanding NDP activist, Douglas DeFreitas, as his spokesperson in the interim.
DeFreitas, who is facing public alarm charges in connection to comments he allegedly made after the December 2015 general elections, told iWitness News separately on Sunday that what Leacock was saying in Parliament was “that he is a member of the New Democratic Party and it has nothing to do with Dr. Friday ascending as president of the party.
“His grievance is more to do with some of the things that transpired during this transition period but he wanted to assure the rest of the party that even though those things transpired, that he will support the party through Dr. Friday and that any enticement for him to do otherwise will not prevail.”
Asked if Leacock has been enticed to cross the floor and sit on the government benches, Defreitas said:
“If you were listening to the Prime Minister when he spoke, the Prime minister said the door is open and that, to me, is probably an enticement. I don’t know exactly what conversation may have taken place but I suspect that the prime minister would like to see Leacock change position.”
It was Leacock, who had in fact spoken, about the door being open, a point that Gonsalves noted that Leacock had made.
But DeFreitas said that he is confident that Leacock has no intention of joining Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration.
“Mr. Leacock says to me that he has no intention, because he believes that the NDP is the future of the nation, politically and developmentally. So there is no way that he is going to look at the ULP as any political future. From my discussion with him, if you look at what has happened with the ULP over the last 16 years that basically, we are going through a depression, so there is no attraction on that side.”
In his address to Parliament, Leacock suggested that moneyed interest in or around the NDP would not be comfortable with him as leader.
DeFreitas said he did not know how to answer iWitness News’ question regarding whether this was what the MP was saying.
“… some of the things that aggrieved him were some comments made by, probably, members of the NDP. He never stated who made those comments but he basically indicated that some people believe that somehow he is not attractive when it comes to the raising of financing for the party.”
DeFreitas, however, disagreed and pointed to Leacock’s business acumen, noting that he has run a business for 37 years, adding “and you had large businesses in St. Vincent, multimillion-dollar businesses in St. Vincent, who have come and gone”.
He said Leacock’s critics do not apply “the same standards to those people and personalities and businesses who have come and disappeared from the business landscape.
“So, he is proud of his record that the has held the company together for 37 years and hired around 36 people — not without his own difficulties and financial ups and downs, but to still survive in a market that is very volatile,” DeFreitas told iWitness News.
DeFreitas was also convinced that Leacock was clear in Parliament about his commitment to remaining a member of the NDP.
“He said listen, these are the things that concern me and I am an individual of strong character. But, members of the NDP have no reason to fear that he is going to do anything foolish, because he has given his commitment to Dr. Friday and Dr. Friday alluded to that that they did speak and he has the commitment from Leacock that he will support him in his presidency and Friday said that in the Parliament.
“And when Leacock shook the hands of all his party members, when he went to Dr. Friday, he said Dr. Friday said, ‘I don’t want a shake hand. I want an embrace.’ And both of them embraced,” DeFreitas told iWitness News.
But iWitness News pointed out that having embraced Friday, Leacock them crossed the floor and embraced the prime minister.
“Having gone and shaken that hand of the prime minister does not mean that you are going any other place,” DeFreitas said.
“It just means that you acknowledge the fact that there may have been a conversation and that conversation ends right here. Why can’t they look at it that way? Whatever conversations they may have had, that ends right there. You listen to what I said in my speech, and this is where it ends. It doesn’t have to end in hostility,” DeFreitas told iWitness News.