Former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, passed away 2 weeks ago today in Trinidad after a battle with leukaemia. Mr. Manning was in office as PM from 1991-95 and from 2001-10. In addition to this held the record as the longest serving MP in the country’s history.
Following the passing of the erstwhile political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), reactions came flooding in. While the vast majority of them were positive – including from former United National Congress (UNC) leader, fellow former prime minister and chief electoral foe for quite a while, Basdeo Panday – there were a few less than rosy comments by some who chose to use their public platform to render a tainted retrospective of the 4 decade long political career of our Republic’s second longest serving prime minister to date.
One narrative goes that Mr. Manning can be summed up as follows:
1) He was an MP who stumbled upon the leadership mantle through pure circumstance: in 1986 the PNM was at its lowest point after suffering a 33-3 electoral drubbing at the hands of the NAR coalition. Of the 3 MPs forming the PNM opposition, Manning was the most suitable to assume party leadership to guide it through its rebuilding phase. He was suitable, not because of his managerial qualities or political acumen, but rather because there was just hardly anyone left at all.
2) He had an irreparably bad sense of political timing: with his faulty electoral crystal ball in tow, he called for elections over a year early in 1995 and became leader of the opposition for his trouble; he then committed the same faux pas a decade and a half later in 2010, leading his party to its most lopsided election loss since the one that elevated him to his position as leader in 1986, drawing the ire of incredulous party supporters who jeered and chased him away from party headquarters in the wake of the People’s Partnership coalition victory. It was an ignominious end to his tenure.
My take on Mr. Manning comes in the form of a comparison to an English businessman and politician from centuries ago – one Richard Whittington (1354-1423).
Have a look at the following side by side comparison:
|RICHARD WHITTINGTON||PATRICK MANNING|
|Had a non-political profession: fabric trader||Trained as a geologist.|
|Served as an alderman before becoming mayor of London||Served as an MP before becoming PM 2 decades later.|
|Became mayor of London by default upon the death of the incumbent mayor.||Became leader of the PNM more or less by default after the 1986 NAR defeat.|
|Served 4 terms of varying lengths as mayor of the city.||Served 4 terms as PM – 4 years, then 1 year, then 5 years, then 3 years.|
|Whittington was the impetus for vast public works projects in London – including drainage systems, libraries, churches and hospitals – as well as the setting up of facilities meant to help the less fortunate over a century before the Poor Laws came into effect in England.
|Manning spearheaded the Port of Spain waterfront project, among a myriad of other infrastructural projects.|
|The Whittington Charity organisation still benefits the underprivileged in London.||Calls have been made to set up a fund in Mr. Manning’s name to tackle the issue of housing in the Caribbean.|
Uncanny, isn’t it?
One final point of comparison is that when King Richard II was deposed in 1399, Whittington eventually ended up in a stronger position than he had been in before – not that he was involved in the coup, but he was well acquainted with the coup leader, and was able to thrive in his business and as London mayor. The 1990 attempted Jamaat al Muslimeen coup preceded the electoral downfall of the government of the day. From 1991-95 then for the entire first decade of the new millennium, Patrick Manning succeeded as PM. It has even been said that he came to be “well acquainted”, so to speak, with the 1990 coup leader. Just like Whittington, though, he was not involved in said coup in any way.
What can definitely be said is that, just as Londoners can still see and feel the effects of Whittington’s work, Trinbagonians will also be able to see and feel the benefits of Patrick Manning’s vision and work for years to come.