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Estwick’s threat

Albert Brandford

Estwick’s threat

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I fed up wid it. It’s either that my administration will take it seriously, or I gine resign. Simple as that. I don’t waste my time. I don’t butt my head against the wall. I either move the wall, or I gone. I ain’t nuh idiot.  – Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, protesting Government’s treatment of the sector, at a National Consultation, May 31.
IT IS COMMON KNOWLEDGE in political circles that Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick is not one of the favoured sons of the late David Thompson’s faction of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) or of the Elders and sundry kingmakers.
Indeed, some of us would recall that in late 2005, during Thompson’s spirited resurgence to retake the leadership of the party from Clyde Mascoll, other aspirants to that appellation sought to punish Estwick with expulsion from the DLP for his support of the man who had named him Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Fortunately for the DLP, wiser, and I daresay, saner heads prevailed during that time of crisis, probably encouraged by threats of legal action that might have spilled more than party blood into the public domain in Coleridge Street.
But the calls for the expulsion of Estwick, party leader Mascoll and the fiercely independent minded but loyal party stalwart Denis Kellman, now appear, with the benefit of hindsight, to have presaged the later attempts to marginalize and frustrate the St Philip West MP.
Who could forget the strident call by political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham for the “Three Musketeers” to fall in line and support Thompson as the newly re-elected DLP president
or face the prospect of being ousted from the party?
“I’m wondering whether the Dems should not look to consolidate their position as a party and take out, physically remove, the individuals who are causing trouble, if that is the position,” Wickham told the media after an “extraordinary” extraordinary general conference in November 2005 to determine who should lead the DLP into the then widely anticipated general election.
“I mean, they are candidates now, but the party has the power to determine whether they are candidates in the next general election.”
Wickham said the three MPs could have run as independents in the general election if they felt their constituency base was strong enough, but added he did not think they could win.
“If they are winning it within the Democratic Labour Party, then they ought to conform to the DLP’s principles. Those principles are articulated by the leadership – the president and the executive – and if they are unhappy
or uncomfortable with that, then they should just go.
“Right now, to remain in there, they are causing trouble and it is clear they are causing more trouble than it is really worth.”
Public support
Wickham said that Thompson was running out of options and needed to have public support by them, and if “he can’t get it one way, then he has to get it another”.
“I think that the time for negotiation and kid gloves has ended. Thompson needs to take off the gloves and start boxing and if he is going to shed blood, shed it now, get it over and done with and start building the institution because an election will be around the corner before you know it and he doesn’t have a lot of time.
“If it means he has to take out people, take them out now.”
Of course, history will record that Thompson opted for a less ruthless approach to dealing with his internal opposition, and probably, in the name of political expediency, set out on a path of accommodation, which unfortunately was strewn with the pimplers of marginalization and frustration.
But one need look no further than the glaring and wilfully ignorant exclusion from the first Thompson Cabinet, after the electoral success of January 2008, of Kellman, the next most senior MP, and the refusal to settle Estwick in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs that he had so ably shadowed in Opposition.
In the succeeding years, Estwick was callously shifted, in the Bajan parlance, from pillar to post, in a series of Cabinet reshuffles that each time landed him in a succession of ministerial portfolios far removed from his talents and interests, especially the plum position he so obviously craved and deserved.
That Thompson’s successor, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who would have been fully seized of the cold winds prevailing between Estwick and other members of the Thompson group – having himself felt the pain of their Arctic nature – did not grasp the opportunity to appoint Estwick to the Ministry of Finance immediately upon taking office, is a matter of regret both for himself and the Government he heads.
Still, it would have come as somewhat of a surprise, despite those circumstances, that Estwick could have found himself numbered among the so-called Eager Eleven whose concerns with Stuart’s leadership were so widely publicized.
Some people, among them his friends and supporters, sought to explain that away as merely a manifestation of the depths of the dissatisfaction within the parliamentary group, more particularly, the remnants of the Thompson group, with Stuart’s leadership.  
But then, one would have to ask what would explain Estwick’s appearing to go against the very core of his beliefs about the Thompson faction to join with them in opposing Stuart?
Holding hands
Surely, the real David Estwick is not going to hold hands with the likes of Wickham, Chris Sinckler and Hartley Henry?
That is not who he is!
So, we are therefore left to believe that this cri de coeur from the voluble and highly excitable Estwick, who had appeared also on the verge of resignation after Thompson moved him from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, is a public protest by a committed minister against what he perceives as the deliberate starvation of the food ministry by a Minister of Finance with whom, it is said, he is not particularly enamoured.
Does this latest development with Estwick mean that the difficulties in the DLP run deeper than mere dissatisfaction with Stuart’s leadership?
And just what implications would Estwick’s resignation from the Cabinet hold for the party, especially so close to a general election – one that Stuart last week indicated is closer than people think?
Given the findings of the just published opinion poll, maybe the DLP should be placed on suicide watch.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]