FOR THE RECORD – By-election won’t change squat
Whatever else the St John by-election is, it represents a departure from the norm in Barbadian politics; but it will not solve a number of searching problems for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
In the past 25 years, Barbados has lost three of its sitting Prime Ministers to the grim reaper, but this is the first occasion on which a widow has succeeded her husband in the by-election following his death.
Now this is a safe seat, indeed a very safe seat; and in the previous deaths the parties invested in a young candidate of exceptional promise – in one case (David Thompson), and in the other a candidate whose presence was needed in the Assembly, his having lost in a previous election (David Simmons).
On this occasion, the DLP candidate has gone where Mrs Barrow and Mrs Adams didn’t, and this decision may be fortified on many grounds, including the particular circumstances leading up to her candidature.
For, unlike the earlier situations, the cruel and fickle finger of fate permitted time for reflection on the probability of death.
As a result a near 22-year “canvass” provided an impregnable obstacle for her opponent, as well as a platform on which the inevitable sympathy vote, fertilized by ordinary humanity, would propel her majority even above that of her late husband.
A four-week canvass by a most committed of opponents was no answer.
If therefore the by-election was billed initially as a referendum on the performance of the DLP in the past two years, it was truly nothing of the sort. It would be more properly interpreted as a by-election “decided on its own special circumstances”.
It is not a reflection of the national mood, and those within and without the DLP who argue otherwise are in effect challenging the wisdom of the Prime Minister in calling a by-election rather than a general election to “cash in” on the alleged feeling before further austerity measures bite.
Others have argued that given the special circumstances and facts known before Nomination Day, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) should not have contested the election. The superficiality of this argument is exposed on two grounds.
Firstly, in a democracy the people must be given a choice; in dictatorships they have none. The BLP was duty-bound to contest the seat, and to discuss the pertinent political issues of the day.
It is a price to be paid in a democracy, and is no doubt, willingly paid by the BLP which fought the British tooth and nail for each adult man and woman in this country to have the right to vote.
We observe the 60th anniversary of that momentous piece of legislation this year; for without that law, Barbados would today be an economic and political wasteland.
In the second place, it is that undiluted right of the voters to choose (sometimes against the odds) that allowed the people of St John to change the course of our social and political history and to turn against the then monolithic popularity of the BLP and “by-elect” the late Right Excellent Errol Barrow in 1958 as their MP from the ranks of the DLP.
So, the by-election result changes little or nothing. The economy is still the major issue confronting the Government and the mantra that whereas the BLP in Government was building and boasting of an economy the DLP Government is building a society, conceals the reality that a sound economy is the foundation on which the society is best built.
In this respect, it is worth recalling that the construction of the St John Polyclinic was terminated as a casualty of the 1992 economic troubles, suggesting that the horse of economics must come before the cart of the society.
Now on Sunday last at the Errol Barrow Memorial Service, Prime Minister Stuart spoke on the challenges of finding steady work for all, and noted that it was only during slavery that full employment was achieved.
This is cold comfort for those who are unemployed, but it also indirectly magnifies the excellence of the first Arthur administration in creating 30 000 jobs and leaving office in 2008 with single digit unemployment.
This speech was made after the disclosure by Central Bank Governor that unemployment has increased to a rate of 10.7 and that many of those still in jobs have suffered reduced hours, poor sales, and reduced income. And, for many families earnings are substantially lower than they were before the recession.
Given this expert assessment, one wonders if the Stuart administration still thinks that the Thompson 2008/2009 Budgets were the correct approach given the advent of the recession which Mr Stuart noted in his Independence Message was affecting the world “from about September of 2007”.
Some may begin to second-guess the Prime Minister’s decision not to go for a general election if the downturn in the economy hardens opinion against the Government; but as Clement Atlee, a former British prime minister once said, “you must have confidence in the judgement of the man in charge. If he hasn’t got that confidence, he’s not fit to be prime minister”.
The by-election has not changed that truth.
• Ezra Alleyne is an attorney at law and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.