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ALL AH WE IS ONE – Selection rumblings

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE – Selection rumblings

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Recent news in Barbados has been dominated by rumblings over the candidate selection process in the two main political parties. In the case of the ruling Democratic Labour Party, two former candidates have expressed disappointment over their non-selection, despite their victories in internal constituency primaries. 
In the case of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), the rumblings were sparked by the over-zealous endorsement of Clyde Mascoll by Opposition Leader Owen Arthur as a possible candidate, despite the fact that no constituency group has thus far indicated its intention to endorse Mascoll, and indeed, no selection process has been mooted.
In the BLP’s case, the situation has been compounded by the fact that both the Opposition Leader and Mascoll himself appear to be in “search of a constituency”, preferably a safe one, a quest which is offensive to democratic sensibilities. 
It is this situation which has prompted at least one Government minister, of course opportunistically, to remind the goodly gentlemen that the route to office is from the bottom up, by direct engagement with the people, rather than by “parachute” from above.
It is clear that both political parties, insofar as candidate selection is concerned, suffer from the same socio-historical reality of an underdeveloped democratic consciousness.
In both cases, what exists is a failure not only to develop the institutional structures of internal party democracy, but also the habit of grassroots democratic participation as a respected and cherished value. 
In both cases, what is on display is the conflict between instinctive authoritarianism of the upper leadership versus the democratic aspiration of the membership at the base.
The late Trinidadian thinker C.L.R. James always warned that the Caribbean should not take too seriously its claim to being a democratic society. He felt that our reflexive instinct was towards crude authoritarianism on the part of the leadership, and either cowed obedience or naked rebellion on the part of the mass base. 
Those habits were formed in the harsh school of plantation slavery. The current age demands the careful nurturing of new democratic instincts.
Part of the challenge for the emergence of the new democracy, however, is the reality that modern government demands certain administrative, technical and political skills.
In clamouring for democracy, we must be mindful that our party leaders are faced with the burden of ensuring that sufficient “governmental material” is at their fingertips to handle the business of the state. It is perhaps this challenge which has weighed on Arthur, both in his earlier call for the end of the “grassroots politician” and in his current insistence on Mascoll. This concern may also explain Freundel Stuart’s choices. 
Grassroots democracy, therefore, cannot take place in a vacuum. Also required is a deeper political maturity of the base to recognise, with apologies to CLR, that “not any cook can govern”. However, few constituency branches appreciate this fact.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in analysis of regional affairs. Email [email protected]