The war of politics
If as some philosophers and politicians believe, politics is the moral equivalent of war, then we should not be alarmed at the periodic skirmishes coming from the political trenches, even if these eruptions involve what may be described in military circles as “friendly fire”.
It seems that these flashpoints occur whenever the office of Prime Minister appears to be up for grabs, due to the death or disabling infirmity of a Prime Minister, or when a party is in Opposition and some members become restless and believe that a new leader will do a better job than the incumbent.
The keen expert observer would see that both of these circumstances have arisen in this island together for the first time, and hence both parties are concurrently involved in their respective local difficulties.
Let us look at some of these skirmishes here and abroad.
In the early 1990s, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both restless about the leadership of John Smith, the British leader of the Labour opposition, and when Smith died from a heart attack with his party 23 per cent points ahead in the polls, the prime ministership beckoned.
Brown and Blair were rivals for the leadership. They famously settled their rivalry in a North London restaurant, and recorded the truce on a paper napkin in 1994. Three years later Blair was sworn in as British prime minister.
In 1973 the BLP kept away from full public gaze an incipient eruption in which a plan was made to remove Tom Adams as Leader of the Opposition. A letter had been prepared. It came to Tom’s attention.
Suffice it to say that the Budget Reply of that year was delivered by the Lionel Craig, while Tom was away attending to professional obligations in a neighbouring island. The letter never went, and the restlessness dissipated.
Three years later Adams was sworn in as Prime Minister.
In 1987 Prime Minister Barrow died suddenly and Mr Erskine Sandiford was swiftly appointed Prime Minister without a single political shot being fired before his appointment. Neither Dr Richie Haynes nor anyone else stood a chance.
In horse racing language, Sandiford had slipped the field, and climbed to the top of what former British prime minister Disraeli had called “the greasy pole”. The Prime Ministership had been at stake, and Sandiford had seized the moment. The king was dead. Long live the king!
Thereafter, however, internal warfare broke out ending in the major flare-up in1988 when Minister of Finance Richie Haynes resigned and soon left the DLP and formed the NDP. Three years later, Mr Sandiford was sworn in as Prime Minister in his own right.
The immediate cause of Haynes’ resignation was the appointment over his head, as he alleged, of the Governor of the Central Bank; but that was only a minor trophy. The main attraction was long gone.
In 2006 Clyde Mascoll was leader of the DLP Opposition. The party had lost the 2003 election, and friendly fire started soon thereafter. The weapons of choice were verbal shots from the muskets of two elders within the party.
Behaving like the proverbial “men in grey suits” at Westminster, they brought Mascoll within the cross hairs of their focus and fired off two letters to him.
A fourth consecutive victory for the BLP was improbable and the Prime Ministership would be at stake in 2008, and the end would justify the means. Mascoll went.
Two years later, David Thompson was sworn in as Prime Minister.
There is a third situation in which there is potential for internal warfare, and it too, concerns succession to the Prime Ministership. It happens when an ailing or retiring incumbent Prime Minister tries to determine the succession.
In 1963 Harold Macmillan tried to do it from his hospital bed. Stricken with inoperable prostate cancer, he ignored the strong claims of his able and capable Deputy Prime Minister R.A. Butler, and with the connivance of the magic circle or “the men in grey suits” or “grandees” – (all names for what we call in the elders) – he resigned and advised the Queen to appoint Lord Home as prime minister.
The party lost the next election in 1964.
Some observers interpret the recent reshuffle by an ailing Mr Thompson as his “Macmillan” moment. I wonder!
The common factor in all these instances of inter-party conflict revolves around the acquisition of power, because each aspirant for that office believes that he or she can better manage the country.
The BLP overcame its internal problems in 1973 to win in 1976. The Dems similarly won in 1991 after eruptions in 1988, and they won again in 2008 after eruptions in 2006.
It seems to be true after all, that politics is the art of the possible. Forbes Burnham once defined politics as the “science of deals”, but sometimes after the friendly fire has ended it may not be possible to do any deals.
Some of Macmillan’s ministers refused to serve under his hand-picked successor.
• Ezra Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former Deputy Speaker of the House under a Barbados Labour Party Government.