Darcus Howe denounces a former ally

My one-time ally let moral and spiritual values go out of the window

Basdeo Panday, leader of the opposition in my birthplace, Trinidad and Tobago, was until last year the prime minister. He is now in London. Panday, leader of the United National Congress, called an election late last year. He won 18 of the 36 constituencies. The People's National Movement also won 18. A tie.

Power-sharing was the obvious answer. Both parties agreed on this and left the president to choose the prime minister, as is his constitutional right. He chose Patrick Manning, leader of the People's National Movement. Panday would have none of it. If he couldn't have the cake, then no one would have it.

The president chose Manning "on the basis of moral and spiritual values". What he meant was that, under Panday's premiership, huge sums of government money disappeared into the pockets of parliamentarians of the ruling party. Just before Panday left home for London, journalists alleged that a UK bank account, containing a million Trinidad and Tobago dollars, existed in his wife's name, plus properties in Kensington, even though there is no evidence of his wife having any history of employment or entrepreneurial activity in Britain. His former minister of finance, meanwhile, is on bail for fraud and corruption, along with several other leading politicians.

Panday went on BBC Radio London saying that he was in England to recruit those who wished to fight for democracy in the Caribbean. But I was also interviewed, and was able to put the listeners right. In the 1970s and 1980s, I plunged into the fret and fever of Caribbean politics. Panday was then an ally. Half the Trinidad and Tobago population is African (the descendants of slaves); the other half is Indian (the descendants of indentured labourers). Panday fought for the inclusion of the Indians in the mainstream of Caribbean economic and social life.

He succeeded where others failed in bringing the Indians in from the margins. But he brought in the dross as well. He was the first Indian premier to enjoy a majority in parliament - and he blew it. Chaff overwhelmed wheat; moral and spiritual values went out of the window. Now he hurls racial allegations at the president, the prime minister, the judges and any others who come to mind. But this column has had the measure of the man for years, and I doubt that many in Britain will listen to him.