The decision by four Free National Movement (FNM) MPs to vote last week against the government’s plan to increase value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent endeared them to many in the wider public, but has naturally strained relations with their party.
Not surprisingly, some are already stirring talk of the MPs crossing the floor, but that seems a premature discussion at this time.
Given that politicians make strange bedfellows and do strange things at times, this ought not be ruled out completely; however, it appears unlikely.
It is still early in the term, and it will be interesting to see what path the dissenting four take in the coming months.
The youngest of them, Travis Robinson, the MP for Bains and Grants Town, has received permission from Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie to address Parliament today.
We do not know what he plans on saying.
Robinson has had a week to think about what direction he wishes to go in politically, what moves he intends to make and what relationships he intends to forge, strengthen or let go off.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis fired Robinson and Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller as parliamentary secretaries last week Tuesday.
It means they will both suffer a $45,000 a year pay cut.
Many people found it commendable that they voted against VAT knowing what their fate would likely be.
This was particularly so in the case of Robinson, who is in his early 20s and has not yet had an opportunity to build a career.
Robinson has seen his star power rise in the hours and days after his ‘no’ vote, which appeared to tap into the pulse of the wider community.
It is why he, Miller, Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine and Centerville MP Reece Chipman were roundly applauded when they rejected the controversial and non-palatable plan to increase VAT.
It came as many were feeling that they had been misled by the FNM.
In opposition, Minnis, current Finance Minister Peter Turnquest and the rest of the FNM’s parliamentary caucus spoke strongly against the introduction of VAT.
They felt so strongly that in 2014 they voted against the VAT Bill and the entire budget.
The ‘no’ vote by Robinson and the others took place on June 18, 2018.
Coincidently, The Nassau Guardian of June 18, 2014 reported Minnis’ announcement that the FNM planned to vote against the 2014/2015 budget.
“We will stand with the poor and vote no to this heartless tax and spend budget,” he said at the time.
“We are voting against reckless, secret and wanton spending. We are voting against an unconstitutional budget, which does not provide the details required by the constitution.
“We are voting against a callous betrayal of the scores of thousands of Bahamians who voted no in the [gaming] referendum.
“We are voting against a heartless and regressive tax. We are voting against a government which refuses to cut spending.”
Those four FNM MPs who voted against the VAT Amendment Bill last week also decided that they were voting against the rise of a heartless and regressive tax.
The question now is what’s next for them, if anything.
Because of the nature of our political system, it is difficult to go far in politics without being a member of a major political party.
Just ask Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney or Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins.
Over the course of the last Christie administration, Rollins, who joined the Progressive Liberal Party ahead of the 2012 general election, quickly made a name for himself in national and political circles.
He was dynamic, aggressive, but sometimes slightly confusing in his actions.
At times, he was entertaining.
Some days we saw him as a young politician who ought to be taken seriously.
Other times we questioned his overzealous nature.
But we never doubted that he was a sharp mind with much to offer on the national level.
Rollins played an important role in demanding accountability from the Christie administration and in highlighting the significant leadership challenges of the then Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Rollins eventually left the PLP and made his way as an independent.
Today, his name is rarely mentioned in political or national circles.
We believe he is okay with that, but we also suspect he too felt there is more he had to offer politically.
The lesson there is that the next political darling is always around the corner.
His one-time political twin, Renward Wells, the Bamboo Town MP, also rolled the dice.
After a tumultuous period in the PLP, Wells’ gamble paid off.
With clear signs the SS PLP was sinking, Wells, like Rollins left the PLP.
They both hitched their wagon to the FNM.
But Rollins was one of the FNM MPs who opposed Minnis.
Today, Wells is a minister in the Minnis Cabinet and leader of government business in the House of Assembly.
He was given a political lifeline.
McCartney, meanwhile, appears flat out of political lifelines.
He was unhappy as a member of the Ingraham Cabinet and resigned.
Roughly a year before the 2012 general election, he founded the DNA, which got eight percent of the vote in the election.
Its performance worsened in 2017, however, and McCartney has faded from the political scene.
There is not much that one is able to accomplish as an independent in the House, or as an isolated backbencher.
But the opportunity to speak on behalf of constituents for the next four years might be enough for some.
There are already signs that the FNM MPs who stood against their party in the VAT vote are receiving a frosty response from the party and might become increasingly isolated.
Last Thursday, an odd article appeared on the front page of the Tribune.
It said the FNM’s Centreville Constituency Association regreted backing Reece Chipman’s nomination for Parliament and will not recommend he be re-nominated in 2022.
Association Chairman Juan Cartwright claimed Chipman was neither the association’s first nor second choice to represent the constituency.
Earlier this year, the prime minister fired Chipman as chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation, but never provided an explanation.
Chipman announced he was exploring the possibility of suing the prime minister for defamation, but pulled back.
While the Centreville MP is out in the cold, he still has time to figure out what political maneuver would be in his best interest.
We do not doubt that he will seek to provide the best political representation he could.
His future with the FNM does not appear bright, however.
McAlpine’s criticisms of the government and his decision to vote against the VAT increase did not seem to take many in the party by surprise.
One party insider observed yesterday, “McAlpine was expected to cause problems. From the onset his intention were clear, which was to be disruptive. The expectations are that he will cross the floor. His future in the party is finished.”
McAlpine on the other hand views his outspoken nature as a plus in politics. He told us last week he won’t stop acting out of conviction and fighting for his constituents.
It may not happen anytime soon, but it would not be surprising if McAlpine relocates to the PLP’s tent down the road.
When he appeared on a Love 97 program last Friday, Miller was noncommittal on a number of matters, but assured that he still supports Minnis as leader.
He said, however, that going forward he expects the playing field to be leveled.
He did not explain the comment, but anyone reading between the lines could easily conclude that he did not think the prime minister was even-handed in the past.
Prior to the budget debate, Miller indicated he was not happy with the way the Minnis administration was performing and warned that many in the public are not happy either.
With the House of Assembly preparing to go on its summer break, the political temperature is likely to drop.
The direction the dissenting four decides to take, how they relate to their party and how they will be treated in party circles is likely to be of some political intrigue in the coming weeks and months.