There are no fundamental philosophical differences that would make it impossible for Dr. Hubert Minnis and the MPs who oppose him to come together and defeat the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said yesterday.
“They’re not arguing over some different policy issues,” said Ingraham in an interview at his law office in western New Providence that came ahead of the start of the Free National Movement’s (FNM) convention today.
“These are leadership traits, interaction between groupings, communication, discussions and the rest of it. So there is nothing fundamental about it.
“I was surprised this morning when I read in your paper that the leader, Dr. Minnis, would not commit publicly that should he win again, yes, they would be treated like any other FNM and accommodated like any other FNM, that this is a big tent. And the same thing should apply on the other side. That’s the way it’s going to work.
“If it’s going to be one side wins and fracture…you know, this happened to the FNM before in 1976 and some of the same people who are in the papers now were the cause of that. They were right there in 1976 urging this. So the MPs went one way and the leader, Grand Bahama and a couple others went the other way.
“What should not and must not happen is for a repeat of that to take place.”
This week’s convention is taking place four months earlier than the party’s convention was originally scheduled for.
Six FNM MPs — Loretta Butler-Turner, Hubert Chipman, Neko Grant, Richard Lightbourn, Theo Neilly and Dr. Andre Rollins — forced the early convention.
Butler-Turner is challenging Minnis for the leadership.
“…There are six MPs. They are in the House today. Whatever the FNM decides at its convention, they are still MPs,” Ingraham noted.
“They have the ability to determine who is going to be the leader of the opposition, and so the FNM could be reduced to a minority status in Parliament and they could become the official opposition. That makes no sense.”
Butler-Turner has said Minnis has pledged to “deal with the six” if he is re-elected leader.
On Monday, Minnis refused to say what the fate of the MPs would be if he wins the leadership race.
In his interview yesterday, Ingraham said, “I want to pledge my support to the party’s leadership, whichever group emerges following the election. But I want to make one point very clear. The FNM is a movement. It calls itself a movement and that’s what it is.
“It’s not a party in the traditional sense of the word. People move in and people move out. It’s a big tent. I want us to find a means by which you can accommodate all these different interests in this tent, and that’s why I ended up with a situation where a Pierre Dupuch and a Tennyson Wells and I could be in the same party, hopefully that will never happen again, but that’s how it happens.
“That’s why after I won the election for leader and after I won the government in 2007, Tommy Turnquest, who I ran against for leader, was made a senior minister in the government.
“Dion Foulkes, who also ran against me, who lost his seat, was also made a senior minister in the government.
“Carl Bethel, who ran against my deputy, Brent Symonette, for deputy leader, he also was a part of the government in a senior position. That’s how parties behave and when parties and movements don’t behave like that, you have all sorts of fracture, and so it is my hope and expectation that the FNM will learn its previous lessons and history.”
Ingraham again spoke about the critical responsibility a leader has to hold the party together.
“Nineteen years was a long time to keep a group together and you know, they’ve said many things about me. But the one thing they could say, I kept the group together,” the former prime minister said. “There is no more important a job for a leader than to keep the party together.
“Never mind all the other things that you have to do. Your job is to keep the party together. Now, again, there may be one or two persons who may have to leave. You may have to do this or the other, but you have to keep the group together.”
Ingraham said he will not endorse anyone for leader and will support whoever wins the leadership race.
“l talk to anyone who talks to me,” he said.
“I mean, I’ve spoken to all sides. The Loretta side has spoken to me more than the Minnis side, but no. I will not seek to tilt the scale.
“I’ve not had a good record of supporting people as leader of the FNM. I honestly supported Tommy Turnquest. The public did not buy my view. I honestly believed that Tommy Turnquest was the best fellow in our group to lead the FNM and to lead The Bahamas.
“I was disappointed, surprised at the extent to which the public did not buy into that. I had to accept it. I would not have accepted the challenge to go in 2005 to return as leader of the FNM if I thought that Tommy was going to win, but I thought that my coming back was critical for the party to win and of course at that time, Perry Christie had recently suffered his stroke.
“As I told him, I really didn’t want…Some of the people who were lined up to replace him if he didn’t run were not persons I considered to be appropriate to lead The Bahamas, so all of those things jelled in my head.”
Speaking about more recent events, Ingraham revealed that the FNM MPs invited him and Turnquest, the former FNM leader, to help resolve their problems with Minnis.
The revelation was made when he was asked if he is disappointed in Minnis’ leadership.
Ingraham said he was not in the business of grading anyone.
He said, “The FNM won nine seats in the last election. I resigned my seat. That left the FNM with eight seats only, which meant that Minnis had a team of seven, plus himself.
“Well, if five of them expressed no confidence in the leader, the party has a very serious problem. That’s a problem the party has to resolve.
“Tommy Turnquest and myself were invited by the five MPs last year, toward the end of last year, because they said that they had decided that they were going to ask the governor general to remove Minnis as leader.
“I communicated back to them through Tommy that, that was a totally unacceptable thing, that I will be willing to meet with them with Tommy so that I can speak with them about whatever their issues were and I would then speak to Minnis or anybody in the party.
“We met at Tommy’s house with the five MPs; they’re known — Neko, Loretta, [Neilly], Chippie and Richard Lightbourn. They expressed their views. They had very strong views, etc.
“We asked them for their bottom line problems. One thing that they were concerned about was the continued nomination of candidates.
“They thought that the deck was being stacked in one direction, and secondly they wanted a convention of the party. We undertook to speak to Dr. Minnis and we did.
“Tommy and I met with Dr. Minnis. We made each of those MPs tell us precisely what their reasons were. We also told them that we were going to see Minnis and we are going to ask Minnis to see them and we wanted to make sure they were going to be willing to tell Minnis to his face those things that they were telling us they were opposed to.
“Well, we met with Minnis, we went over that. He met with them. As far as we were concerned, we expected that there was going to be a convention earlier this year based on our discussion with Dr. Minnis. That didn’t happen. Two other persons joined the FNM, Rollins and [Bamboo Town MP Renward] Wells, and I heard no more about it after that.”
Ingraham added: “I was out fishing last month, whenever it was, just before the announcement was made about this convention. I got a call from Dr. Minnis who explained to me what had transpired at a meeting the night before and he wanted my assistance.
“I met with him when I got back to Nassau, gave him the benefit of my advice and he decided on this convention now and so, that’s where we are at.”