Buoyed by party and people supportHarold Hoyte
By HAROLD HOYTE | Sun, October 14, 2012 - 8:00 AM
OUR IMPENDING general election (December 2012 or January 2013) will have a unique and appealing feature about it: two young and aspiring political leaders who enjoy the recognition of the public, Chris Sinckler of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), will be required to play significant campaigning roles in their parties’ quest to win supporters and influence voters.
In my lifetime of elections it is the first occasion there will be this focus in both parties on single candidates other than the leaders.
The leaders themselves, Freundel Stuart of the DLP and Owen Arthur of the BLP, are unlikely to be required to do quite the same level of heavy lifting as these two younger heirs apparent. The reasons are not difficult to discern.
Stuart’s national popularity (September CADRES/NATION poll) at about 11 per cent does not afford a coat-tail on which weaker members of his team can attach themselves for survival. And Arthur, who polled at 27 per cent national support (a two per cent decline since May), has a coat-tail which, though still relatively long, has been so heavily used in past elections (We Goin’ With Owen in 1994, Winning With Owen in 1999 and Arthur Now More Than Ever in 2003) that it shows signs of wear and lacks durability.
Indeed, when the BLP left Arthur out of its slogan and changed in 2008 to No One Left Out, No One Left Behind, it lost the election.
Chris Sinckler at 24 per cent and Mia Mottley at 26 per cent sit in positions where they enjoy the confidence of a sufficiently large slice of support to be persons of substantial value to their parties in an election. Sinckler accumulated a 56 per cent vote to be regarded as the person to lead the DLP if the current leader became unavailable, while Mottley’s tally on that same matter stood at 71 per cent. They both glory in comprehensive endorsements from their own people, those on the opposite side, as well as uncertain voters.
These are numbers that cannot be ignored. In addition, they both positively run the whole series of adjectival starting letters that make up our alphabet: articulate, bright, charismatic, dynamic, engaging and forceful.
But it has not always been smooth sailing for either of these two leader aspirants. At the time of Prime Minister David Thompson’s death in October, 2010, Sinckler was in the ascendency and there was a sliver of a chance he could have been chosen by his colleagues to succeed Thompson. But in the secret ballot of MPs that morning at party headquarters, he lost badly to Stuart who had also acted as Prime Minister throughout Thompson’s indisposition, and who Barbadians had become accustomed to appreciate in that role.
He appeared to be Thompson’s chosen one; there was much sympathy for all, including Stuart, and no one wanted an upheaval at a sensitive time like that.
Sinckler also suffered some public humiliation during the Eager Eleven episode, as his name was tagged to that group of concerned Cabinet ministers who felt Stuart should have been persuaded to review his own position as leader. Sinckler was seen as the principal beneficiary of such a scheme and as such was suspected, wrongly I am told, to be its originator.
He immediately announced he had no interest in the party’s leadership in the “foreseeable future”. That statement has however not stopped the clamour among a sizeable number of people interviewed in the poll for him as a leader, particularly as he has sought to bring intellectual muscle to the troubled yet pivotal finance portfolio he holds.
Mottley would have suffered even more public humiliation. At the time of the loss of Government in 2008, Arthur anointed her as leader and her colleagues elected her as Opposition Leader. But after two short years her peers reversed their support when a majority, including Arthur himself, chose to replace her as the person enjoying majority support among elected BLP MPs, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many Bees, as well as independent voters.
Mottley retreated while Arthur showed who was really boss. She bore this repudiation stoically. It is this demeanour and her well respected ability and grasp of issues that earned her the plaudits of those polled in September.
Neither Sinckler nor Mottley is a designated deputy. Mottley once enjoyed that status (2003-2008), but Sinckler has never ever been invited to deputize for Stuart in his absence. Thus both he and Mottley have tasted the bitter sop of political disappointment in recent years, yet have pursued the rainbow even in the rain. The hymn writer reminds us:
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
As each awaits that bright morning, most Barbadians see them as prepared to play leadership roles in their parties and their country. But what roles? We must be aware that there is no constitutional position of Deputy Prime Minister, and not many who were so named have gone on to capture the golden trophy, except in tragic circumstances of death.
Only Sir Harold St John and Freundel Stuart were designated deputies and succeeded in office at the time of the passing of J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams in March 1985, and David Thompson in October 2010 respectively. In the traditional way of choosing deputies, Prime Ministers have looked for reliable surrogates, not rivals – which both Sinckler and Mottley may be seen to be.
In any case an anointment as deputy does not guarantee a path to the ultimate prize. Deputies, although seen as “essential” by Trinidad calypsonian Penguin in his song A Deputy Essential, are often regarded as “safe” alternatives, not as eager beaver competitors for the top post. Hence the comfort of Prime Ministers with the likes of a Philip Greaves (DLP) and a Billie Miller (BLP) as deputies.
Sir Lloyd Sandiford was not officially designated Errol Barrow’s deputy although he consistently acted as Prime Minister when Barrow travelled and was proclaimed by Barrow at a mass meeting in Bay Street: “After me comes Sandiford and after that any number can play . . . ,” amending that later in the House of Assembly to say: “After me comes Sandiford and Philip Greaves, and after that any number can play . . . .”
Other designated deputies have been (to Errol Barrow) Wynter Crawford as Deputy Premier 1961 to 1965, Sir James Tudor 1966 to 1971 and Sir Edwy Talma 1971 to 1976; (to Sir Lloyd Sandiford) Sir Philip Greaves 1987 to 1994; and (to Owen Arthur) Dame Billie Miller 1994 to 2003 and Mia Mottley 2003 to 2008.
Further afield, Dr Eric Williams chose the rather colourless George Chambers in Trinidad and Tobago, and in Britain Tony Blair chose a dour John Prescod over Gordon Brown.
The two people in Barbados who, according to the latest CADRES poll could be considered as candidates for deputy, Sinckler and Mottley, are unlikely to be asked, even if their party wins the election. Yet they will render critical service to their political parties in the coming crucial months.
But what factors about these two people will impact on the result? What facilitation roles will they play in the soon-to-be announced general election? How will their roles affect the eventual outcome? And indeed, what positions will they hold in post-election governance of Barbados?
Since both are good public speakers, they will be stretched to the limit to meet anticipated demand at national rallies. In the case of Mottley, she will probably be required to carry an extra load as Arthur’s handlers may not want to put his declining physical capacity to the test. In addition, for the first time since 1991, one of the party’s principal drawing card speakers, Liz Thompson, is no longer in politics.
The demand for Sinckler’s speaking role in the DLP is emphasized by Stuart’s own inexperience as a lead speaker and the need for his team to protect him from his own physical fragility in a gruelling campaign of at least three nightly speaking engagements.
Since both Sinckler and Mottley have been intimately involved in campaign financing and strategizing over the years, their experience and expertise would also prove very valuable to their parties.
Sinckler and Mottley enter this general election as essential members of their parties’ teams while getting no official recognition from either Stuart or Arthur. We are reminded in The Bible in Hebrews Chapter 12, verses 6 and 7 (New International Version): “The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
So after the election it will be interesting to see who gets what. Or who accepts what. A major succession fight could be anticipated within both parties, whoever is and is not named deputy. Sinckler may be ahead since many of the Eager Eleven may already support him, but Mottley’s uphill battle will be with those colleagues who ousted her, should they be re-elected.
Should the DLP win, and should both Stuart and Sinckler retain their seats, or should the BLP win and both Arthur and Mottley retain their seats, the decision as to who should become Prime Minister would reside with a majority of elected MPs.
It is unlikely MPs on either side would signal a preference for one other than the designated party leader. And Sinckler and Mottley would both be well advised not to grab at any juicy bait of leadership their colleagues may suggest.
They both have time and will naturally rise to the top, all things being equal.
Voters are less inclined to support a party based on the weight of perceived deputies. So to what extent would Sinckler and Mottley be comfortable pushing the envelope given all the water that has passed under the respective bridges? To what extent in the campaign will Stuart and Arthur concede the value attached to each pretender? And if they don’t, what message would that send?
The great public fascination is not only over these possibilities, but also over the prospect of generational change in political leadership. And what two young and articulate people will bring to the affairs of state as Barbados seeks to recapture lost glory and economic growth. (One is a former Minister of Economic Affairs and has given the reply to three Budgets in the last five years, the other is Minister of Finance and has given two Budget presentations.)
The two of them will therefore have to wait in the wings, sure, but not cocksure, in the knowledge that if they play their cards correctly, the prize is ultimately theirs.
For they will recall that the man whom Barbadians regard as the best Prime Minister Barbados never had, Sir Richard Haynes, has only known the unofficial title “Barbados’ second most powerful person”. He was closer to Barrow than any of those around the Father of Independence. Barrow never publicly endorsed Haynes. Rather, he repudiated him in the statement that “after me comes Sandiford”.
Able and anxious, Sir Richard enjoyed the respect but not the unbridled support of the majority of his peers. Sir Lloyd Sandiford, less charismatic, less articulate, was highly regarded by peers as the safer choice. So when the time came for a replacement for Barrow on a memorable evening of horse-trading when Barrow died (May 1987), with Sir Branford Taitt and Sir Wesley Hall both out of the country, it was Sandiford who was ushered to Government House to become our fourth Prime Minister.
That’s a story which Sir James Tudor died without telling. The course of the DLP’s history might have been quite different had Sir Richard been the chosen one.
Those of us interested in Barbadian politics had anticipated, and were keen on, a David Thompson-Mia Mottley duel by at least the 2008 election. That did not materialize.
When Thompson became Prime Minister and Mottley became Opposition Leader, we were excited over the prospect that after five years of a Thompson administration we would have benefited from a toe-to-toe encounter of these two young stars. That was not to be.
It now seems as though the enduring Mottley will be pitted against Sinckler, the one whom the people now seem to believe should be surrogate for Thompson.
Political promise and people popularity have their value, but Sinckler and Mottley must know Barbadians jealously guard the office of Prime Minister and retain it for those who, like David Thompson himself discovered during his tribulations before and after 2003, accept humiliation and await acclamation.
They would both be well advised to remember the Cyril Connolly caution: “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first call promising.”
• Harold Hoyte is Editor Emeritus of the Nation Publishing Company.
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