Imminent departure of Arthur
Although the recent announcement by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur that he intends to leave elective politics sounds vaguely familiar, most of us believe that on this occasion his statement will be followed by positive actions to leave the political frontline in the not too distant future.
There might be some amount of curiosity regarding the stimulus behind this announcement, but there seems to be general agreement that Arthur has now genuinely stared the countdown to his departure from Parliament and as such is prudent to reflect on the logic of his decision and impact that it might have on Barbados Labour Party (BLP) politics at this time.
It is perhaps not surprising that I support Arthur’s decision based on my principled position that no leader who has held the office of Prime Minister here should continue in that post beyond ten years, and thereafter should certainly not return to that post.
Contrary to popular belief, this view has less to do with any “issues” with Arthur himself and more to do with a philosophical commitment to term limits.
However, there is a practical reality that Arthur faces on account of his failure to capture the Government in February this year. Notwithstanding the narrowness of his defeat, his concession means that he will not have the opportunity to challenge Prime Minister Freundel Stuart again until 2018, by which time he will be approaching 70. A decision therefore to remain as an “ordinary” Member of Parliament for the next five years and thereafter to continue on the Opposition benches or assume a role in Mia Mottley’s government seems unnecessary for a politician of his stature.
Over the years, there have been many prime ministers across the world who have persisted in various parliamentary roles after relinquishing that lofty office. Foremost among them is Sir Winston Churchill who spent several of his post-prime ministerial years on the Commons backbench, although the majority of his time was spent at his home in Chartwell and not in parliament.
Closer to home, there are the Sir Harold St John and Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford models. The former returned to Parliament during the Arthur years, while the latter served on the Opposition benches and retired after losing.
These “models” are worthy of emulation, but no less worthy than the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown models that propelled these former British prime ministers into other important, extra-parliamentary work after leaving office.
Suffice to say, therefore, that Arthur’s decision is logical and provides him the opportunity to shape his legacy while he is yet strong enough to do so. It will avoid any accusation that he is loitering on the steps of Parliament or “warming” a seat after having achieved the ultimate objective of any politician.
The next issue is the effect that this will have on BLP and Democratic Labour Party politics. Naturally, I am more inclined these days to focus on the politics of the BLP which has received a boost in several ways from Arthur’s announcement.
The more significant benefit to the BLP is that this will put any lingering questions of the future leadership of this party to rest, which cannot help but boost Mottley’s image. Moreover, a politician of Arthur’s stature will no doubt remain available to the BLP and is an unquestionably useful resource to the party, both inside and outside of Parliament.
Arthur will forever speak as a former Prime Minister who carries the distinction of having led this country in its most prosperous times. One might think that he would do so with equal or greater distinction when his actions as an active politician are no longer under scrutiny.
A “safe seat” vacancy is always useful to a party, especially one under the leadership of a person like Mottley who is attempting to frame a political model which to some extent “reaches across the aisle”. There is, therefore, the option for the BLP to place a candidate in that seat who fits that mould, but who would otherwise have faced challenges being elected.
The matter of the selection of a future candidate, however, appears to provide the broadest hint as to why Arthur might release the seat sooner rather than later, since the BLP’s chairman is central to this process and the current chairman might be more partial to him choosing his successor than Mottley might be in the event that she assumes the chairmanship in October.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).