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The BLP’s dilemma


SANKA PRICE

The BLP’s dilemma

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THE DECISION BY former Prime Minister Owen Arthur not to contest the next general election highlights the dilemma facing the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
That is, how to replace their successful, ageing warriors with new recruits to keep the party’s profile fresh and appealing to a majority of voters, while at the same time have a competitive team to wrest power from the Government.
This challenge is even more daunting given the Barbadian tradition of voting out governments after two terms. And in 2018, when the next poll is constitutionally due, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) would have had that time in office.
If the BLP was in power they could determine the pace of their replenishment programme and blood new recruits in a manner that ensures their popularity prior to the poll.
But being in opposition, they have to hold onto every seat and keep their tried, tested and proven soldiers on the front line, hoping they could deliver their seat again to assure overall electoral victory.
A look at the ages and records of the most affected parliamentarians demonstrates this.
Most significant of these is George Payne, who turns 65 this year. He is older than Arthur and the longest serving member in Parliament after Arthur.
He first won the St Andrew seat in 1991 with an 810-vote majority, and up until 2008, successfully regained it with majorities of more than 1 000 votes. However, in 2008 and last February, his victories against the younger, energetic Irene Sandiford-Garner – 43 and 292 respectively – were close by his standards.
The BLP needs to ask whether Payne is losing sway with St Andrew voters and if he should be encouraged to leave on a high as Arthur is doing, with sufficient time to groom a suitable replacement to continue winning?
They also need to seriously ask themselves if Payne, who will be 70 years old in 2018, will be as invigorated for that inevitable battle? Will his health be as good as it is now? Will he be able to manage the rigours of the St Andrew hills to do door-to-door canvassing? And will he be able to connect to the younger voters, in particular, who may view him as a grandfather who should be at home in a rocking-chair?
What the BLP has to be mindful of in St Andrew too is what I call the “John Boyce effect”. That is, after losing three consecutive general elections in Christ Church South, Boyce triumphed on his fourth try in 2008, then repeated that success in February.
Sandiford-Garner could possibly do the same thing if the DLP persists with her, as they did with Boyce. For sure, she has age on her side and is a determined woman who considers it her destiny to represent the people of St Andrew in the House of Assembly.
The fact that with this second stint as a parliamentary secretary she would qualify for a hefty parliamentary pension by 2018 means she would have nothing to lose if she ran a third time. She is therefore unlikely to withdraw as a candidate, and is sure to give whomever her opponent is a no-holds-barred fight.
This situation with Payne is a real dilemma which the BLP cannot ignore, wish away, or dismiss. They must face it.
But Payne’s case is not the only one. Trevor Prescod in St Michael East is another. Like Payne, he is older than Arthur, celebrating his 64th birthday last week on June 1. He will therefore be 69 years old come 2018; so, as with Payne, the BLP has to query his health and stamina to take on another gruelling electoral contest.
What’s more, when one examines Prescod’s margins of victory since the 1999 poll and his one defeat, it strongly suggests that St Michael East can be won by the DLP.
In 1999 Prescod won by 687 votes; then in 2003 he defeated Kenny Best to triumph by 598 votes. Best turned the tables on him in the 2008 poll with a 579 vote margin, and in February Prescod won by only 119 votes.
The situation with Gline Clarke in St George North and Cynthia Forde in St Thomas is only different to the Payne and Prescod scenario in that they have been able to win with comfortable margins, but even so, those margins continue to decline though they have not faced the same DLP candidate twice.
At 62 and 61 years old respectively, questions over Clarke’s and Forde’s ability to continue must be politely asked.
For Ronald Toppin in St Michael North and Dale Marshall in St Joseph, age is not the concern, only their margins of victory. Are they losing their voters’ appeal?
Clearly, if the BLP hopes to recapture the government, these challenges have to be addressed.
• Sanka Price is a NATION Editor. Email [email protected]

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