FOR THE RECORD – After our leaders step down
The recent demission from office of Governor General His Excellency Sir Clifford Husbands and a pointed question from a caller to the Brass Tacks programme provide the background for this week’s jottings.
The caller pointed out that on elevation to the knighthood of her husband, a wife takes the title and dignity of “Lady” and uses that prefix before her name, and he wondered what “happened to a husband if his wife becomes a Dame”.
It is a good question. Why should the achievement of a female not bestow on her husband a courtesy title similar to that which she would be entitled if the situation were reversed?
Fittingly, the contribution of Sir Clifford was recorded in the annals of Hansard when the House of Assembly paid tribute to him on behalf of itself, and I am sure all Barbadians, for his dignified tenure as our Governor General.
In my opinion, he embodied every aspect of the form and substance one requires in that high office and it would not be improper to say that he was in all respects our de facto head of state.
But his leaving office and the caller’s question raised in my mind the manner in which we observe the conventions and courtesies that make for the smoother management of our system.
Former American presidents carry the courtesy title of “president”, and former prime ministers in Britain are elevated to the peerage, becoming a member of the House of Lords, entitled to the title and dignity of a peer of the realm. In this way, they are thanked for their service to the country as prime minister.
But apart from tributes paid in Parliament, how we treat our former chief public officials is a matter of serious public interest. Membership of the Privy Council and the right to use the prefix “Right Honourable” is accorded to some of our prime ministers while in office. Sir Lloyd Sandiford and Owen Arthur are both members.
But the trappings of the office of prime minister are severed once the electorate has spoken and the security detail and the official car and matters of that ilk disappear almost at once. In Britain, the new prime minister comes in at the front door so to speak, and the outgoing prime minister exits in a less grand manner, so that we may be following the British at least in one respect.
In the late 1970s, an article appeared in the British Press about a former prime minister seen forlornly hailing a cab in the street, and questions were immediately asked about providing official cars and security details for former prime ministers. In these security-conscious days, even aspirants to high elective office, especially in the United States, are accorded security.
It is a valuable national characteristic feature that our leaders and former leaders should be able to move about freely and fearlessly as they do, but the issue remains an important one. Should trained official drivers be made available, for instance? Should secretarial and other assistance be provided so that memoirs could be produced?
In the absence of the traditional markets in larger metropolitan capitals for the publication and sale in large quantities of such works, should some consideration be given to these matters?
We know, for example, that academics and journalists are able to distill much valuable material about governance from these memoirs in other places, but what do we do, or what should we do? These are issues which I believe are best thrashed out in the corridors of power, but they affect the public weal.
The caller’s question is easier to answer. The husband of a female raised to the dignity of “Dame” does not become a knight, but in these days of the equivalence of the sexes, one wonders why not?
Now consider this. The year after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office, a “baronetcy” was created for her husband Denis. Simply put, a baronetcy is a hereditary knighthood, and on Sir Denis’ death their son became Sir Mark Thatcher. A neat solution honouring the husband of the first British female prime minister, and making the system work!
Ezra Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.