One week ago, former Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley turned a new page in her relations with the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) by signalling her intention to pursue the chairmanship of the party.
This is a move which carries considerable political significance, especially in light of her recent history within this organization that dislodged her from the post of Opposition Leader.
It is likely that Mottley’s move will be viewed with both suspicion and hostility by the leadership of the BLP, which is unfortunate because it provides both sides of the BLP “family” with a unique opportunity to impact positively on their future political fortunes.
It is important that this move be properly contextualized, especially since the last occasion that Mottley pursued the leadership resulted in a major rift that ultimately led to her removal as Opposition Leader.
That attempt brought her into conflict with George Payne, who continues as chairman, and ironically inspired Payne and Arthur to mend the political fences that separated them since Payne was fired from Arthur’s Cabinet.
On this occasion Payne’s interest in the post is not relevant since he would have served three consecutive years and therefore could not continue as chairman. This leaves the way clear for Mottley to pursue her goal once more without needing to challenge Payne, and moreover prove that she was genuine in her desire to be chairman and not just being vindictive as some might have thought.
There is, however, another side of this issue that relates to the fact that with an election due any time before January 2013, and consistent with BLP custom, the political leader should consolidate his leadership position at this time. Mottley’s move could therefore be viewed with suspicion by supporters of Arthur who might consider this inappropriate right now.
This line of logic can however be challenged by virtue of past events that could, theoretically, have forced the BLP into an election scenario with Payne as chairman and Arthur as political leader, if the death of the former Prime Minister had precipitated a general election, as many believed that it would have.
The fact that there is some similarity between these two scenarios forces Arthur to either accept Mottley’s proposed chairmanship or object to it.
This question of the party being led into an election by two people has already faced the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and it is a matter that political observers should take an interest in, especially in a political environment that appears to be moving away from the “maximum leader”.
Historically it was believed that our model democratic socialist politics worked best if the same person who led the party in Parliament (Government or Opposition) also led the mass party, since this was the tradition.
Recent events in the DLP, however, forced a rethink of this model since the DLP’s president walked away from that post, but retained the leadership of the Opposition until an election in which the president led the party.
The DLP lost this election, but Thompson took his place among the regular members of the Opposition, allowing Mascoll to lead him, consistent with his agreement to surrender leadership of the party.
The BLP’s scenario is very different, largely because the parliamentary leader has rejected the leadership of the party and could possibly be elected to this post in the next election.
This distinguishing feature however does not mean that the concept of a “co-leadership” might not be a good option for the BLP to consider at this time.
Ironically, this is a concept that Arthur has previously explored in a convenient manner and he could now revisit it more soberly, allowing the BLP to harness the tremendous resources of Ms Mottley to whom the leadership of the party is likely to fall eventually anyhow.
If this were to work, it could see Mottley ascend to the chairmanship of the BLP, with Arthur in control of its political future, paving the way for the unification of these two posts under Mottley’s leadership at a later date. This would appear to offer considerably greater benefits than the unification of the leadership under Arthur at this time that essentially gives him control of the candidate selection process, which is for all intents and purposes already complete.
Apart from the obvious strategic advantage, there would be considerable developmental benefits to a comprehensive review of the BLP’s constitution, which is what Mottley promises, should she win the chairmanship. Presumably she anticipates moving the BLP toward a popular selection of their leader instead of the present “delegate” system that both the DLP and BLP maintain.
This popularization of the leadership has been introduced in the British Labour Party, which is the parent to both the BLP and DLP, and this creates a direct relationship between the leader and the “led”. The United National Congress and Congress of the People in Trinidad and Tobago have also moved in this direction, which most progressive political analysts agree is consistent with democratic trends.
Interestingly enough, this was also proposed for the DLP by now Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler in 2001 when the DLP also faced its crisis. The Dems rejected the proposal then, but this does not diminish its attractiveness for both progressive political organizations in Barbados.
In the final analysis, the concept of shared leadership will rely on the willingness of both parties to accept it, and this acceptance is directly influenced by the extent to which it helps both leaders achieve their objectives.
This option is clearly attractive to Mottley since it helps her to appear as a reformer that is interested in the long-term development of the BLP, while remaining relevant to its politics in the short term. Arthur might not yet realize this, but the fact that it excites Mottley is perhaps the main reason why he should embrace it, since her acquiescence might be the key factor that determines his success in the 2013 election.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and
a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).