PEOPLE & THINGS: No time for stunts
Last week’s Owen S. Arthur exclusive interview with THE NATION’s Ricky Jordan gave rise to a headline entitled A Gimmick, which referred to a suggestion made by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley that an “eminent persons” committee be set up to help the Government come up with a plan to save this economy and public sector jobs.
Like several others, I read and reread this article in an attempt to establish that my initial reading which implied that Mottley was being accused of “gimmickry” was incorrect and he was accusing the Stuart administration. There was, of course, no such luck, since his reference was clearly intended for his successor and not his political opponent.
This is one of those unusual occasions when one can appreciate the substance of the point being made, but equally understand how it is compromised by the manner in which it is advanced.
Arthur’s central thesis is logical and I agree that the fate of thousands of public servants and our economy is a fait accompli as this Government has made commitments to the International Monetary Fund regarding specific actions.
I can also agree with the idea that with days to go before the self-imposed deadline for the first phase of public sector cuts, there is little that any eminent persons body can do to advise Government out of this mess.
Like Arthur, I believe that the economic calamity that we are hurtling towards can be averted only by swift and decisive action taken by a single person and this person is either incapable or unwilling to act.
It is at the same time equally true that this “single person” is not Mia Mottley. She can neither be accused of creating the problem since 2008 nor of presiding over its creation between 1994 and 2008. It therefore seems inappropriate to target her as an architect of “gimmickry”.
In much the same way that Mottley has now been handed the leadership of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), she has also been handed the “responsibility” of helping to solve a crisis that was not of her creation.
In response to this crisis, there are many who believe that the appropriate response should be for Mottley and the BLP to offer help in the form of alternative policies. This was expressed jocularly in yesterday’s SATURDAY SUN in the form of a Question Time comment from a supposed “BLP Old-Timer” who suggested she “unveil a plan” instead of “spewing hot air”.
The reality is one that both Arthur and I understand, but I also understand (and so should he) that the BLP will never have the opportunity to genuinely help Barbadians if “we” are not convinced that Mottley leads a team that is both “competent” and “united”. These two “convictions” arise from a political perception that is highly subjective, and the latter has been elusive for the BLP of late.
If nothing else, the last election demonstrated that Arthur’s competence alone was insufficient to win an election, and this is presumably why the BLP has now turned to Mottley.
Although Arthur seems loath to admit it, Barbadians (like myself) have a high regard for his competence, but rejected him nevertheless in preference for a leader whose shortcomings are as obvious as Arthur’s competence. An appreciation of this fact should equally highlight the logic of a BLP strategy that pays greater attention to the projection of unity and support for the new leader.
If one accepts this logic, one should equally accept the illogic of any member (even Arthur) running off on a political frolic of his own and attacking a position taken by “his” leader.
This type of political distraction Barbados and the BLP can do without and is the type of “stunt” for which Arthur would himself have probably acted against a BLP MP were he the leader. It is entirely possible that Arthur’s objectives are noble, but such considerations are irrelevant, especially if one believes that the “readiness” of the BLP could inspire a collapse of the Democratic Labour Party at this time.
There is also an entirely unrelated issue that Arthur should speak to and about which the public is very curious: the matter of his retirement, which he has thrice promised.
He spoke of it while he was Prime Minister, during the first BLP term in Opposition and more recently as he sought to ensure that his successor was no “carpetbagger”. It is curious that on each occasion, Arthur’s intentions to retire are contradicted by his political actions that speak to a different motive.
Therefore, in much the same way that our Prime Minister needs to have a frank conversation with the nation about our economic direction, I think we also need to have a frank conversation with our former Prime Minister about his political intentions.
• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).