What Mia, no deputy?
TWO INTRIGUING DEVELOPMENTS in Opposition politics this past week caught my eye.
First, was the very quiet announcement from the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) that St James Central MP Kerrie Symmonds would become “Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly”.
The news item, written apparently from a BLP Press release, said: “The outspoken 47-year-old attorney at law and Member of Parliament for St James North (sic) was selected by Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley.
“This effectively makes him the number two person on the Opposition benches, after Mottley.”
My first reaction, after being startled by the choice of title (which, as far as I am aware, is not found in any other Commonwealth parliament), was why not go the conventional, traditional route and simply name a deputy Leader of the Opposition as she did during her first incarnation?
Some Commonwealth parliaments, most notably at Westminster, have officers who are designated as “whips”. These are MPs (or Lords) appointed by each party in parliament to help organize their party’s contribution to parliamentary business.
One of their responsibilities is making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants.
Whips are also responsible (together with the Leader of the House in the Commons) for arranging the business of parliament.
As noted in Britain, the job of the whips becomes more important if the majority of the party in government is small. This makes it easy for the government to lose in major votes. Therefore, it’s crucial that the whips on both sides (government and opposition) try to get as many members to vote as possible.
Clear evidence of this very real possibility was seen last Tuesday when the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which has a narrow 16-14 majority in the House, was outvoted, on a motion to send a matter involving two Opposition MPs to the Committee of Privileges, by ten to nine.
A fair warning.
But if Symmonds’ duties are no more than that of a whip, then what else would he be doing other than to liaise with the Clerks at the Table and the Leader of the House on parliamentary business?
But then, I thought I knew why Mottley did not name a deputy: her choice in 2008 – St Joseph MP Dale Marshall – was one of the MPs who supported former Prime Minister Owen Arthur when he supplanted her as Leader of the Opposition in October 2010.
Far be it for me to impute improper motives to any Honourable Member (as they are wont to say), but this piece of political sleight of hand is as transparent as gossamer and suggests that all is still not well within the bosom of the BLP.
It appears Mottley did not believe she could approach any of the other senior MPs – among those who had opposed her continuing in the post – to take the position of deputy Leader of the Opposition. Either she would not feel comfortable enough to work that closely with the one chosen or she could not be sure that her offer would not be rebuffed and possibly leaked to the public.
It meant, therefore, that she was left with Symmonds, he of the “10 000 pounds of blubber” fame, since Santia Bradshaw, her other supporter, who has promise, is still too green in parliamentary matters.
Symmonds then is the most senior of the other MPs, having already served a term in the House (2003 to 2008) and also having had some Cabinet experience as Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
But politics makes for some strange bedfellows, and this appointment not only blocks the path of any would-be rival to Mottley now, and quite possibly after the next general election, but also relieves her of the pressure to name a deputy who might then be seen as the anointed successor for the political leadership of the party, and certainly, the likely Deputy Prime Minister in any Mottley administration.
And it is that prospect of a Mottley administration that set some tongues wagging last week with suggestions of “kite-flying” when the neophyte Christ Church West MP Dr Maria Agard told a branch meeting that she was relaying a call from Mottley for members and supporters to “be on the alert and be ready”.
But Agard went further and talked about a no-confidence motion.
“We do not know the date or the hour when this country will need to move a motion of no-confidence against the Democratic Labour Party for [some things] that led to their re-election to a Government that they now cannot service.”
What lent credence to the “kite-flying” was that Agard had ample opportunity to ask the newspaper to clarify her remarks, but instead chose to use social media to “state categorically that at no time did I suggest the possibility of a no-confidence motion to be moved by the Opposition . . .”.
“Like I would be revealing opposition strategic operation a whole month ahead of time.”
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]