A deputy essential
As someone who has a developed lifelong interest in our constitutional system, I have been intrigued by the role and place of our Deputy Prime Minister in the continuing and unusual circumstances that have challenged our constitutional arrangements.
Having given serious thought to these events, I feel obliged to opine that, from a constitutional and political perspective, the conduct and approach to the tasks at hand of Deputy Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has been exemplary.
Consider the instant circumstances. The Prime Minister falls ill and purports to “devolve” all the functions of the office of Prime Minister upon his deputy. The clear objective was that the ship of state should be kept on an even keel until the captain is able to resume his elected position as a functional Prime Minister.
Yet Stuart is given the fullest scope by his leader to do whatever he Stuart thinks needs to be done in the interim.
To those of us who understand the way in which individuals can put their personal stamp on the policies of a political party or an administration, a Deputy Prime Minister is always in an invidious position when his leader falls ill and as deputy he steps up to the plate. He is damned if he does, and he is damned if he doesn’t.
A point of primary interest is the well held view that the office of Deputy Prime Minister does not exist under the Westminster system.
This is a view held by some modern British prime ministers (for example, Harold Macmillan, Margaret Thatcher), and also by King George VI who refused the advice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill to appoint Anthony Eden as deputy prime minister on the grounds that “the office . . . does not exist in the British constitutional hierarchy”.
Into this vortex, Mr Stuart finds his ministerial patience tested when he is abroad and learns that another has been appointed “substantively” to be Attorney General, and by operation of law, he is not then performing the functions of Prime Minister because Mr Ronald Jones temporarily holds that position.
When he came back in from the cold, he restrained himself from using the weapon of reshuffle or dismissal of a minister to show his disapproval, even though his appointment as Acting Prime Minister gave him all the powers of the office of Prime Minister, and the purported devolution statement of Prime Minister Thompson gave him political cover.Held Cabinet togetherFurther, he did not disturb the ministerial arrangements of his leader; he held the Cabinet together; chaired the Cabinet meetings; and, as one learned professor would put it, he “was able to take temporary charge of the Government without controversy . . .”.
He behaved as properly as Mr R. A. Butler did when, in the role of deputy prime minister in Britain, Butler held together the government and cabinet for Eden (in 1956) and for Macmillan (in 1963) when they both fell ill during their tenure as prime minister.
They both resigned on grounds of ill health, under pressure from the British Press that questioned the ability of both men to carry on, given their illnesses.
It is one of the supreme political ironies of all time that Butler never succeeded either Eden or Macmillan as prime minister, and in a sense Butler was always the bridesmaid and never the bride. However, Macmillan’s successor lost the next election.
Whether Mr Stuart and the DLP may suffer the same fate is left to be seen!
I am still considering the implications of Mr Thompson’s appointment of Mr Chris Sinckler as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, and I am not one to rush in where angels fear to tread.
But if this appointment suggests that the Prime Minister prefers Mr Sinckler to eventually succeed him for the top spot, then it would reflect the political reality that Prime Ministers hardly regard their deputies, however excellent they may be, for elevation to Prime Ministership.
But in politics those who are restlessly ambitious are not of the material that makes for good deputies. Ask Julius Caesar!
• Ezra Alleyne is an attorney and a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.