THE ALL-PARTY CONFERENCES
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After the split in the PPP, Burnham on the one hand and the Interim Government on the other made many efforts to win over the supporters of Dr. Jagan and the PPP to their side. The Interim Government led by the new Governor, Sir Patrick Renison, tried its best to destroy the leadership of the people by restricting and imprisoning leaders of the PPP. The authorities also prevented the Party from holding public meetings to bring the people up-to-date with the events happening in the country. Despite these drawbacks, the PPP did not lose the support of the Guyanese people. The supporters of colonial rule realised that the Party's strength was not being diminished, and this fact urged the Chairman of Bookers, Jock Campbell, to call early in 1956 for all political parties and groupings to form a common front against the PPP.
To attempt to fulfil this aim, W.J.Raatgever, Sugrim Singh and Rev. D.C. Bobb, members of the interim legislature, sponsored an All-Party Conference when they called a meeting of political parties and social groups at the Auditorium in Georgetown on the 5 April, 1956. The PPP also attended the meeting even though the general objective was to organise all the groupings into an anti-PPP coalition. But the meeting did not achieve this objective since most of those attending agreed with Dr. Jagan's view that there should be united action against the state of emergency, and also for the holding of a free general election. Dr. Jagan tried to get this moved as a motion but the sponsors of the Conference opposed it, and Raatgever, the chairman of the meeting, ruled against any discussion.
Despite this, the meeting agreed to a compromise motion moved by Dr. Jagan for the Conference to prepare a new agenda to discuss ways and means of achieving the aim of struggling for a free general election and for united action against the emergency. The next meeting of the Conference was fixed for the 26 April, but the announcement by the Governor of the new constitutional proposals [See Chapter 142] on the 25 April frightened the sponsors into calling off the meeting.
Recognising the urgent need for unity, Dr. Jagan took the initiative and urged three other members of the legislature, Dr. J.B. Singh, Hugh Wharton and Leslie Davis to set up another All-Party Conference. The PPP, the UDP, Burnham's group, and a few independents participated. The National Labour Front, formed by Lionel Luckhoo after the UDP was split, refused to attend.
The objective of this meeting was to put joint pressure on the Governor and the Colonial Office to bring about an end to the emergency, the removal of restrictions and the restoration of the suspended constitution. There was also a general understanding that later, the parties, by agreement, would face the general election jointly and form a broad-based government.
The All-Party Conference wrote the Governor to request a large measure of self-government and an end to the restrictions under the emergency. The PPP also wrote separately asking for a meeting with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd. The Secretary of State, in an arrogant reply through the Governor, stated that he was not prepared to discuss with the leaders of the PPP, or any other political leaders in British Guiana, the issues which they were championing or any amendments to the constitutional proposals which had recently been announced.
With some form of unity now showing in the All-Party Conference, the Governor attempted to get some anti-PPP elements to split the Conference. In a calculated plan he announced in the Legislative Council on the 26 July, 1956 that "the question of British Guiana's participation in Federation would not be raised for decision or be brought before the next legislature by the Governor or the official members."
This statement was made because the constitutional proposals had also been attacked by the anti-federationists who were also supporters of the Interim Government. However, since these persons felt that the new legislature would commit Guyana to the West Indies Federation, they joined the All-Party Conference in attacking the constitutional proposals. The Governor's plan, thus, backfired.
After some delay, Governor Renison eventually met with a delegation of the All-Party Conference on the 28 July, 1956, but he was very uncooperative and was not prepared to engage in any discussion. This meeting was thus a total failure.
The All-Party Conference disbanded later in 1956. This was due to the apathy of the convenors and the "bad blood" which the 1956 city election in Georgetown had brought about between the contestants, the UDP and Burnham's group. The latter having won two seats, declared that it would be contesting all the seats in the general election under the Renison constitution. The UDP also made a similar announcement.
With the collapse of the All-Party conference and country gearing for another general election, Dr. Jagan made a last effort to achieve national unity. This happened in Ghana in March 1957 where both he and Burnham were invited to attend the independence celebrations. There Dr. Jagan suggested to the other West Indian leaders - Grantley Adams of Barbados, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Patrick Solomon of Trinidad and Tobago - that the presence of both Guyanese leaders in Ghana afforded them the opportunity to discuss common problems with the West Indian leaders acting as convenors of a meeting. Dr. Jagan hoped that the West Indian leaders would assist in forcing Burnham to reunite with the PPP or join in a united front government. He also spoke with Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister of Ghana, to exert his influence on Burnham.
However, Dr. Jagan's efforts failed and no meeting was held between the West Indian and the two Guyanese leaders. But later, when Patrick Solomon returned to Trinidad, he announced that the West Indian leaders met with Burnham on three occasions in Ghana, but that Dr. Jagan was not present. This was the first time Dr. Jagan heard about these meetings and he immediately corrected the impression given by the Trinidad leader that he was uncooperative. It was obvious that Burnham had convinced the West Indian leaders and Dr. Nkrumah that he would not only win the elections but that under his leadership, Guyana would join the West Indian Federation.
On his return from Ghana, Burnham then issued a letter calling for the defeat of Dr. Jagan. Commenting on this letter, Sydney King, in a message to the Fifth Annual Congress of the PPP in April 1957 declared that the campaign of the All-Party Conference and efforts towards national unity were "stabbed in the back" by Burnham's letter which called for the defeat of Dr. Jagan.