The time comes in a person’s life when they have to go on. I have already told the leadership of the party, as I have told the members of the branch in St Peter, that I would not be contesting another election as a candidate.– St Peter MP Owen Arthur, announcing his retirement from elective politics, May 20.
THE EXIT OF FORMER PRIME MINISTER Owen Arthur, MP for St Peter, from the political stage will mark the end of an era.
His departure removes any contact with the political cast of the 1970s and 1980s that is highly regarded by analysts as the most impressive of the post-Independence Parliaments.
Arthur brought to the stage the quintessential intellectual mix of economics and politics, which represented a shift from the law and politics and, to a lesser extent, medicine and politics.
The unique mix of skills served him well and especially so when he assumed leadership in the immediate aftermath of Barbados’ most troubling economic circumstances in the early 1990s.
In the face of another period of prolonged economic troubles, it is difficult not to notice that the one skill which the country most needs will leave with him.
This leads me to the issue of his replacement in St Peter. Already two names have surfaced in the Press – hotelier Colin Jordan and radio personality Alex Jordan. And another, economist Clyde Mascoll, is being bandied about.
In the circumstances, and given the nature of the times, one would expect the well known economist and politician to be the obvious choice of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), and a country so desperately in need of this particular kind of skills set.
It should not have to reach the stage where a man with such a résumé would have to be engaged in a struggle to represent his adopted parish of 13 years. Further, the former Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance has proven that his economic insights are much sought after, especially when it comes to the Barbados economy.
In the face of the dearth of such talent on both sides of the political divide, it seems obvious to all – apparently except those who matter most – that the Opposition needs his skills.
He was appointed economic adviser to the current Opposition Leader, having served as economic spokesman to the previous Opposition Leader.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between being an adviser and being a spokesman.
The question is: why would the party leadership promote a political neophyte to replace Arthur, when Mascoll is the prime candidate for these difficult times?
The answer may take us back to a political journey that seems to suggest that history could repeat itself.
Once again, out of insecurity, a political leader may find ways not to accommodate skills that are available in the party, only because of a perceived threat. To this day, the ruling Democratic Labour Party is suffering from that insecurity as Chris Sinckler continues to stumble as Minister of Finance.
Mascoll, having only recently crossed the floor, was referred to by then Prime Minister Arthur as a co-leader of the BLP during the 2008 general election campaign. This reference incensed two clearly chosen political leaders who, ironically, had locked horns in the 1996 by-election campaign in St Michael North-West, in which Mascoll emerged the winner for the DLP.
Over time, the political insecurity gave rise to an assault on Mascoll as the new leader of the DLP who had replaced a willing David Thompson for the leadership in 2002.
A carefully choreographed plot saw the return of Thompson, when clear evidence of the pending demise of the Arthur administration came to light in a 2005 CADRES poll.
The light would eventually become reality in 2008, by which time Mascoll had joined the ranks of the BLP.
Arthur’s talk of co-leadership would be a bitter pill that led to the feeling that a conspiracy across the political aisle contributed to Mascoll’s defeat in 2008. He would sit out the 2013 election to focus on his academic career.
Though he has not expressed a desire to lead another political party, it may be believed in some quarters that a safe seat in Parliament would make him too secure as a politician and, by extension, a threat to yet another political leader.
There is no way in which the leadership of the BLP cannot persuade the St Peter branch, and the party as a whole, of the wisdom of accommodating this candidacy.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email firstname.lastname@example.org