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PEOPLE & THINGS: Farewell, Sir Branford

Peter Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: Farewell, Sir Branford

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My earliest recollection of Sir Branford Taitt was his membership in an exclusive club known as the “Knights Of The Round Table” which met at the Pelican Restaurant every Friday. This club included several professionals and politicians and Branford was considered a senior member as well as one of the more identifiable Dems.
My political consciousness matured around the time that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) faced its second defeat (1981) and while he retained his seat, I remember well the conversations where he valiantly defended his party’s performance in that election, which was interestingly enough strikingly similar to this one, but from the other party’s perspective.  
It was also difficult to forget another conversation when Branford rose to his full impressive height to deny that he regularly filled up his large American car at what was known as a “Privileged Pump” during the 1973 energy crisis. Although voices were frequently raised at the table, standing carried as much significance as it does when the Speaker rises in Parliament; hence the seriousness of Branford’s denial was clear.
When one encountered “Goldie”, it was easy to see why he was such a popular politician and that he enjoyed the more “populist” aspect of this work as a politician. It just so happened that he was the parliamentary representative of one of the Pelican’s employees and he therefore made it his business to greet and embrace this woman (and indeed several others) on each visit. Indeed, it was him who introduced me to the concept of the “socialist embrace” in response to a question about the warmth of his embrace with President Fidel Castro, who to the best of my knowledge he met for the first time when he visited Barbados.
Branford explained that the warmth of the embrace spoke volumes of the extent to which both individuals identified philosophically with the principles of socialism and reflected the fraternal love that was shared between Barbados and Cuba.
This type of response communicates the extent to which Branford was what is contemporarily referred to as a “lyricist” and why he was so popular on the DLP platform. His style was different from many other politicians of that generation since he spoke “with” people and not “at” them. At the same time, he was no “Sleepy Smith”; his phraseology was more complex, but still not as complex as that of Dr Don Blackman.  
He therefore seemed to strike a good balance and I guess one could be excused for thinking that his nickname “Goldie” was in some way related to his “golden” voice which was also used in his religious ministry at St Leonard’s Anglican Church. I am therefore grateful to one of his contemporaries who last Thursday indicated to me that this title could be traced back to his younger days when he was apparently an impenetrable goalkeeper.
Branford’s association with the DLP was in many ways characteristic of the relationship one has with one’s partner. He clearly loved this organization and gave his heart to it, but there were times when he had some issues and one noteworthy occasion was the time he challenged Errol Barrow for the party’s leadership. I have always thought this was a brave thing to do and once asked him about it. He agreed it was brave, very brave, “and perhaps in retrospect a little foolish too”, he quipped.
His justification nonetheless spoke to the fact that the DLP was a democratic institution with democratic contests from time to time. It was therefore strange to me and others that he did not ever challenge Sir Lloyd Sandiford for leadership since his “political fruit” were in my opinion hanging much lower than Barrow’s.
Branford’s explanation of his unwillingness to challenge Sir Lloyd remains with me as a clear reminder of the expectations of Cabinet membership. He said he challenged Barrow at a time when he was not in his Cabinet and while he did have issues with Sir Lloyd, as long as he remained in his Cabinet, he would never challenge him.
He assured a group of curious young Democrats he entertained one afternoon that whenever he lost confidence in Sir Lloyd or believed that he could do a better job of leading the country, he would resign from the Cabinet and challenge him. He then said with his characteristic smile that he presumed we realized that this time had not yet come. This made it clear to us that the Sandiford administration would rise and eventually fall with Branford on board.
The end of Sir Branford’s parliamentary career was surprising and in many ways unfortunate for several reasons. Like several other Dems, he was swept out with the wave of uncharacteristic Barbados Labour Party (BLP) support in 1999 and prudently decided to “call it a day”. I thought his defeat was unfortunate since it came on the heels of a sustained assault on his character in the shape of the St Joseph Hospital Commission of Inquiry.
In the final analysis, this commission contributed heavily to Sir Branford’s defeat but has done little to improve the governance of this country in the years that followed.  
Those among us who knew the gentleman were aware of his tendency to be “hands on” in the management of any ministry entrusted to him. We are equally aware of the fact that this was one of the bases of his success and his political demise has essentially thrown out the “baby with the bath water”.
The other important observation about his departure is that it signalled the end of an era in which the “Goldie” type of politician was politically invincible. He was always considered one of the popular ones and since he survived 1976, the presumption was that he could also survive 1999, especially as he was in opposition.
His style of politics was to stick close to the people in a way that was not dissimilar to Barrow’s approach. He would appear unannounced on his constituents’ doorstep on a Sunday afternoon to check to see “what was cooking” and it is difficult not to love a politician who behaves this way towards people.  
In the end, however, this personal touch was seen as less important than the tangible benefits of BLP governance at that time and he lost, which to my mind also marked the end of that type of politics, which is perhaps a shift that needs to be chronicled.
Sir Branford never resumed his political career in the same way after 1999 and in many ways politics moved on to the point where he appeared to be trying to catch up with the 2008 campaign which he managed for the DLP. I do feel though that he had already made his contribution to his party and country and it is one which was nothing short of outstanding.
Well done!
• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).