On REFLECTION – The job has just begun
THE BY-ELECTION has come and gone with a predictable victory for Mara Thompson, based on her own work for 22 years in the constituency of St John, the additional sympathy votes emanating from the death of her husband former Prime Minister David Thompson, and the below-par strategy of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
The excuse has been made that the BLP had very little time to get itself ready for last Thursday’s event; but that is the way of by-elections. They come suddenly as a result of the death, sickness or voluntary exit of the sitting Member of Parliament.
If there is one lesson that may be learnt from the recent campaign, therefore, it is that the scouts’ motto “be prepared” has timeless value. If perhaps, the BLP had not thrown its hands in the air because of a well-nigh impossible mission to win the seat, and if it had not made it a habit of leaving St John bereft of a BLP presence after each general election for 52 years, then there would have been the possibility of making a dent in the much maligned “dynasty”.
Instead, the BLP resigned itself to the same dynasty it criticized in the last three weeks, making little or no attempt to erode it over the years, except to send out the party’s “big guns” when the by-election bell rang this time. By then, however, it was a classic case of too little, too late; and throwing mud into the campaign didn’t help.
Work cut out
So now, whither St John? The new representative has her work cut out for her, because Barbadians, despite her massacre of first-timer Hudson Griffith, will remember the fact that poor roads and inadequate infrastructure in St John were given the full glare of public attention in this high-profile, attention-grabbing campaign.
I once lived in St John, and must agree with the losing candidate that it is now high time for the parish to join the rest of Barbados on the path of progress by – among other things – having Government and the private sector work together to create commercial activity and build a business centre in the parish, improve sporting and cultural programmes there as a developmental forum for the youths, and provide basic necessities such as better roads and lighting.
While St John is an agricultural base and is unlikely to totally absorb the trappings associated with suburbia, its population is rapidly growing, and most of its talented young people should not have to continue for the next 20 years leaving the parish every single day to go to Bridgetown in order to make a living.
So Mrs Thompson, with an unprecedented majority of almost 90 per cent of the vote, must hit the ground running as an MP and constituency representative – not as a minister as many observers and her thousands of supporters seem to be expecting.
Thompson has created history in Barbados and probably the region with her record-breaking majority last Thursday – since the most any MP in the Caribbean would have received was about 85 per cent; but the Parliament of Barbados is not yet ready for her as a minister, even if she has the requisite ability.
Even though a portfolio that includes Family and Youth would be a perfect fit for Mrs Thompson, having worked alongside her husband in the innovative Families First programme, I would caution against giving her such an exalted position too soon. Let Mrs Thompson get her feet wet first in the comparatively low tide of the back bench.
Throwing her in at the deep end too quickly would, I believe, have dire consequences for the morale which Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and senior party members boasted about at the end of the by-election.
Whether we want to face it or not, the heartfelt belief on the ground in Barbados is that she has inherited this seat as part of the dynasty of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow.
At the moment, this belief has created minor waves within the Democratic Labour Party – mainly among supporters of St John “sons” like Leroy McLean, Anthony Walrond and Peter Carter who had offered themselves to contest the seat – but for her to inherit a ministry would create a scenario akin to that expressed by the Opposition relating to “dynasty”, “queen” and “foreigner”.
In other words, if she is given a ministry without earning her place on the back bench, there will be views on both sides that she is being treated like a prima donna.
For such feelings to fester within the very bosom of Parliament and the DLP could be disastrous for a Government which, though riding the crescent of a massive by-election victory, must now return to the unforgiving arena of dealing with a rapidly rising current account deficit coupled with little hope of a turnaround any time soon, unless things change dramatically in Europe and the United States.
Mara Thompson’s season as the grieving widow is basically over; she is now a politician and will have to pay her due.
It was truly refreshing last week to hear a historian associating the Right Excellent Errol Barrow with another fundamental aspect of this landscape besides Independence.
Barrow’s legacy as the Father of Independence is accepted and was well articulated by Robert “Bobby” Morris in last week’s The People’s Business on CBCTV, but fellow historian Trevor Marshall pointed to an area by which Barrow changed the landscape of Barbados as definitively as Independence did.
Marshall addressed the exorbitant fees at older secondary schools such as Harrison College, The Lodge, Queen’s College and Combermere in the colonial years, and showed the wide gap in those fees pre-Barrow – about $28 per term – and post-Barrow which was about $7.50 or less. This information was made even more refreshing because Marshall, a former Lodge student, had clearly lived it.
He had also lived the “means test”, an experience which my mother related to me as being the norm among primary school students prior to the 1960s. Around the age of 12, my mother, similar to Marshall’s, was asked questions by her headteacher such as:
• Does your family fetch water from a standpipe?
• What do you cook on: a hearth, oil stove or gas stove?
To answer these questions in the affirmative, I am told, could immediately rule out one’s chances of being given a place at any of the older secondary schools – no matter how bright a student was.
Today, young black Barbadians can attend any of those schools, and nurture and realize dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, economists . . . journalists.
Great observation, Mr Marshall! And thanks for further informing Barbadians that Mr Barrow, while attacking the oligarchical system of the day, showed, via academia, that every person deserves a chance.