PEOPLE & THINGS: To reshuffle or not?
It is now five months since Prime Minister Freundel Stuart assumed the leadership of the country and by extension the leadership of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), and for five months there has been a national discussion on the need for a Cabinet reshuffle or major policy pronouncement by him.
This author previously discussed this issue and concluded that both of these initiatives are options which the Prime Minister need not exercise.
However, I did argue that Mr Stuart needed to urgently address the fundamental issue of whether he will or will not exercise these options, lest we come away with the impression that he is not leading the Government but drifting in its “political winds”.
Against this background it is fortuitous that last week’s faux pas in another section of the Press prompted the Prime Minister to state categorically that there would be no Cabinet reshuffle and, moreover, that he was satisfied with the performance of his ministers. Certainly, this declaration can be considered the type of definitive statement that would be considered politically appropriate at this time.
The abovementioned faux pas and indeed the excellent NATION Editorial of January 26 can both be considered reflections of the Fourth Estate’s clamour for action on the political front. In such an environment, the regime can choose to defend its right to remain silent, act in a reactionary manner or do what it has done now, which is state that it has no intention of doing anything.
Certainly each of these responses has its advantages and disadvantages. However, the major issue here is the relevance of the questions being asked by the Fourth Estate and by extension the wider society.
Both questions are relevant and appropriate, and while we might question the manner in which these issues are being posed, it would be naive to expect that such issues would not emerge, and politically unwise to challenge the legitimacy of such queries.
The facts here are compelling. The new Prime Minister was sworn in on October 23, 2010, and one member of the Press immediately asked whether a reshuffle was imminent. At that time, the Prime Minister responded appropriately that it was not the time to consider such things.
As time passed, the country looked with anticipation to other notable political events which might prompt a reshuffle or policy statement such as the Budget; the New Year; the St John by-election and St Valentine’s Day. As we approached the most recent political event (the Estimates), the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) advertised a major retreat and this too raised expectations regarding a major political statement.
Hence the rumour which emerged and suggested that a reshuffle was imminent was perhaps not surprising. In this political business when speculation is added to expectation with a dash of uncertainty, such a rumour is perhaps the most subtle way to ask: “What’s happening?”
The fact that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party is in a bit of a pickle now might lull the DLP into the belief that it has the next election “put down” and there would be little need for the Prime Minister to “tweak” his political machine.
One could also argue that Sir Garfield Sobers’ response to Malcolm Nash in 1968 was inappropriate. In politics as in cricket, one needs to treat “sweet water” with contempt and it is for this reason that Owen Arthur handed the DLP a 26-2 result in 1999.
Frankly, the only thing that seems to be standing in the way of a similar outcome in 2013 is the absence of a stint of “Sobers-like” batting by Prime Minister Stuart, who seems comfortable with political singles. Like cricket, politics is a game of glorious uncertainties and the current global environment appears to be dynamic enough to significantly reverse this political game.
We now accept that there will be no reshuffle and I agree there is no need since there is not much that requires being fixed, other than the small matter of what exactly Minister Kellman will be doing now that Minister Lowe is back to work.
The issue however goes beyond the matter of administrative or ministerial efficiency and leads to the Prime Minister himself.
Like it or not, we have grown accustomed to a particular style of leadership, and if this Prime Minister has no intention of “batting” like his more successful predecessors, he should perhaps tell us in clear and simple language what to expect, less more dangerous rumours about his administration emerge in the future.
Sadly, I must now draw reference to Mr Ezra Alleyne, who is one contributor I have frequently encouraged readers to ignore.
Last week he uncharacteristically penned an article that made some salient points. He noted that the Prime Minister is under no obligation to reshuffle his Cabinet at any time, and this we know.
However, he continued to argue that Mr Stuart would be well advised to take some action that sends a clear signal that he is firmly in control of this ship of state and has a plan for our voyage.
I?have no doubt that the Prime Minister is leading and has such a plan, but it is equally clear that an increasing number of Barbadians are less convinced of this than I am, and this uncertainty is not in Mr Stuart’s best interest.