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PURELY POLITICAL: Budget snaps poll call

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Budget snaps poll call

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FORMER?PRIME MINISTER OWEN?ARTHUR, in his reply to the 2010 Budget last?Tuesday in the House of Assembly, derided it as “inviting catastrophe” and taunted his opponents to call an election and put the Government back in his hands.
He was obviously trading on his training as an economist, his 14 years at the helm from 1994 to 2008, and the hype that surrounds his vaunted skills as a manager.
Now, we all, I think, understand something of Opposition politics, and most of us would quite readily dismiss Arthur’s baiting of the two-and-a-half-year-old Democratic Labour Party (DLP)?administration as just that – Opposition politics.
But we should also bear in mind that since the untimely and unfortunate death of David Thompson, some pundits and DLP supporters have been urging new Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to call a snap election and secure his own mandate to govern.
Harsh imposts
However, in my view, the question of whether or not Stuart should call a general election within a given window of opportunity in the aftermath of Thompson’s passing is no longer a question in the wake of last week’s Budget.
The harshness of the imposts it contained rules out any consideration of anything other than the mandatory by-election in St John which is impervious to any adverse happenings at the national level in its support for the ruling Democratic Labour Party.
The political arena is now set for a general election that post-dates the end of the suggested temporary nature of the recent hike in the value added tax (VAT) rate that carries an 18-month attachment.
This more than any other factor gives an indication of the thinking of the current administration with respect to the politics of the DLP in the immediate post-Thompson era.
According to Prime Minister Stuart, the hard politics is still to come.
The evidence of this may be seen in the retention of his main rival newly minted Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, thus giving him the opportunity to present his first and what some wags suggest may be his only Budget in a Stuart administration.
One analyst averred that the way Sinckler read and delivered the Budget was enough to tie the hands of the Prime Minister from shifting him from the post given by his predecessor.
But that same analyst admitted that the contents of the Budget were questionable.
In one sense, the style of the Budget is of greater worth to Sinckler than its substance.
In another sense, some have argued that the difficulty of the environment, and certainly the contents of the Budget, were enough to cause Prime Minister Stuart to avoid such an undertaking at this time.
In essence, the right political move was to keep his main rival Sinckler in the hot seat.
Prime Minister Stuart, when he was deputy, vowed in his address to the DLP’s annual conference in August this year that either he or then Prime Minister Thompson would deliver the next Budget.
Either there was a change of heart or the move to position Sinckler to assume the top post might have altered Stuart’s thinking of Stuart.
In short, the political environment has changed remarkably since the annual conference of the Democratic Labour Party.
Not only has Stuart survived the CADRES Poll, but he emerged the victor by a convincing majority much to the chagrin of some political analysts who remain steadfast in their support for Sinckler; and sufficiently so to prompt at least one resignation in the form of the prominent political advisor Hartley Henry, the self-professed kingmaker.         
Stuart’s speech in the Budget has signalled what may very well be the changing face of politics in the post-Thompson era at least until the next election.
His was an attempt to keep the debate at the level to which it was taken by a refocused Leader of the Opposition Owen?Arthur.
It was as though the absence of David Thompson in the Budget Debate for the first time in 23 years created an atmosphere of unusual compromise in which there was more focus on the need for a new direction in the Barbados economy on both sides.
Except for Stuart’s attempt to do a Thompson-like singling out of individual members on the other side for special attention with the use of ridicule, it was Sinckler who seemed intent on retaining the style of drawing on correspondence to humiliate those on the other side.
This practice was popularised in the past by Arthur and Thompson.     
In recent times, change has also occurred on the other side of the aisle.
The return of Arthur at this critical stage in the country’s economic development  added to the drama of the 2010 Budget in the sense that there was a clamour for an alternative perspective.
To me, he delivered that alternative, and perhaps more important was the manner of the delivery. Arthur had become as well known for his skills to engage in the cut and thrust of politics as he was for his economic management skills.
His presentation, however, showed some elements of the statesman, and it was particularly evident in the comprehensive nature of the content and offered alternative approaches to the pressing issues confronting the economy.
But most of all were the insights offered with respect to the balancing of the social entitlements with the country’s future economic prosperity.
The political environment was also tested by the contribution of Mia Mottley, who is obviously still affected by her removal as Leader of the Opposition. In an environment in which the one she perceived to be her biggest threat is no longer with us, she has obviously not recovered from her demotion.
But her political aspirations are definitely linked to the manner in which she responds to rejection – the Constitution is still paramount.
After delivering of herself a forward-looking perspective on some of Barbados’ challenges and proposing possible pathways, the former Leader of the Opposition allowed the residual political pressure to take hold.
In the circumstances, her final comments masked the wholesome effort but unmasked her political scars.
The hard politics which are to come from Prime Minister Stuart must certainly include what portfolio he intends to hold.
His failure so far to hold a significant ministerial responsibility is the one reason there still has to be some anxiety in the Cabinet as to its composition once Stuart puts his stamp on his administration.
It is long in coming, but come it must.
In many respects, the political environment today is as tenuous as the country’s economic environment.
?• Albert Brandford is an independent, freelance political correspondent.