In the mid-1990s, with the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in opposition, I graciously accepted their invitation to deliver the Friday lunchtime lecture. On that occasion, I cautioned the DLP that the then Prime Minister Owen Arthur appeared to be claiming the Barrow legacy for himself. Ironically, around the time of my talk, the students at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) were protesting an increase in amenities fees, and I suggested to the DLP that the incident provided an opportune moment for the party to reattach itself to Barrow’s legacy.
It is clear, however, that both in and out of Government, the current generation of DLP leadership has exhibited great intellectual difficulty in crafting a development programme that can sustain the legacy of their founding father. While proud to wear the cloak of Barrow they, either out of ignorance, political mis-education, or ideological choice, continually violate his spirit.
There are myriad examples since the mid-1990s to support this claim.
Among all the leaders of Barbados, Errol Barrow stands out as the foremost regionalist. Yet, it was Owen Arthur’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) which placed itself at the centre of the CSME and regional integration discourse. In contrast, the first major decision of the re-elected DLP government was a new immigration policy aimed at “managing migration” of CARICOM nationals.
Significantly, the rationale was an economic one, with claims of Barbados’ inability to sustain its social services under the weight of the claimed “regional peril”. Barrow’s regional ship has indeed foundered on the sharp rocks of his children’s narrow “economism”.
Given the above, it was unsurprising that it was Arthur’s BLP which championed the cause of republicanism to continue the legacy of self-determination established by Barrow. Again, the DLP in its responses has not shown an awareness of the link between Barrow, Independence and republicanism. On this occasion, the culprit has not been the “economic burden”, but simply a missing political will which militates against the expansion of the Barrow vision.
On free education, enough said. It is interesting however that in the middle of ongoing debates about the financial burden of UWI, we were treated to news that “tourists” will be paid a voucher at taxpayers’ expense. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Interestingly, the 2013 general election was one moment when the DLP craftily painted itself as the party of social democracy, in order to seize the Barrow mantle from the BLP. However, subsequent events suggest that at that time, Barrow’s banner was merely a flag of convenience.
My economist friends may squirm, but political decision-making can never become a slave to economic calculation of costs. Politics is always about choices, which are determined by power relations. Perhaps, only with a future adjustment of the power relations will we see a sophisticated reformulation of Barrow’s vision.
Despite setbacks, the struggle to sustain the Independence project continues!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]