Owen’s third coming?
HERE WE GO AGAIN, I thought.
Or will we?
My initial reaction was the resignation born out of several years of covering politics and an unfortunate manifestation of the cynicism engendered from watching the petty antics of politicians in their single-minded pursuit of power.
Upon reflection, however, I realized that there ought not to have been any surprise that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who was also leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), would once again publicly express a lack of confidence in current leader Mia Mottley, who many thought he had been grooming while in office as his heir apparent.
But Arthur’s problems with Mottley as a potential leader are not the result of any December 30, 2013 epiphany.
The charges he levelled against her in the shockingly revelatory “note” he sent to Kerrie Symmonds MP, Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly, could be regarded by some as an accusation of a breach of trust.
The very public spat that ensued between them over a Mottley proposal that an eminent persons group be established – with Arthur as a member – to advise Government on dealing with the current economic crisis served as a reminder of Arthur’s determination that she was not accepted by most Barbadians as a future leader.
Some may recall his scathing remarks about Mottley’s “leadership challenge” in October 2009.
“I cannot say there is not a challenge of leadership in the BLP, but the challenge is not about a struggle between Ms Mottley and myself.
“The challenge is, as represented in the Peter Wickham poll, that Ms Mottley . . . faces a problem of being accepted by the society at large and faces a problem of being accepted by a cross-section of the BLP,” he told the media at his University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill office.
Arthur said there was one facet of the issue which neither he nor Mottley could do anything about, and that was that after being leader of the BLP and country for 14 years, a large measure of support for him remained in sections of the society and the party.
“And she has to live with that . . . I can’t do anything about that, but there’s a part of it that she has to deal with, and it has to do with what she symbolizes in the minds of the people of Barbados and how she comes to get the people of Barbados to accept her as their leader.
“The BLP has a challenge and we have a situation where there’s not a contest for leadership within the party, but there is a problem in the wider Barbados society, where there is unacceptance and unacceptability of the present leader of the party.
“I would like to see Ms Mottley succeed in politics . . . I made Ms Mottley my Deputy Prime Minister . . . I also stepped down voluntarily as leader of the party,” Arthur said, reiterating that the vote confirming Mottley as leader of the party could not settle a leadership issue with was rooted in the wider society.
Those “difficulties” apparently led to a campaign that saw Mottley being ousted from the BLP’s leadership in October a year later and replaced by Arthur, who appeared to again “voluntarily” step down after the party lost the February 2013 general election – the second under his leadership.
I deliberate highlighted “voluntarily” because in Arthur’s “note” to Symmonds, he voiced concern over the process by which Mottley was chosen the second time around, suggesting that a meeting proposed after the election to discuss relationships within the Parliamentary Group was instead used to select the leader in his absence.
I was particularly struck by Mottley’s lack of engagement in her apology statement with Arthur’s complaint that she had agreed to publicly withdraw his name from the proposal on the eminent persons group and had failed to do so.
Instead, she merely expressed regret at his “unwillingness” to serve.
A full and accurate chronological sequence of events leading up to Arthur’s “note” may perhaps offer a different perspective to a dispassionate observer. Suffice it to say, however, that even if Arthur had initially agreed to serve on the proposed group, and subsequently had a change of heart for whatever reason, the fact that he asked not to be associated publicly with the proposal before the announcement ought to have been respected.
But, further, that Mottley would apparently insist on the public nomination over Arthur’s objections and then fail to correct the public record takes the issue into another realm of political intrigue that does neither of them any good.
The real issue is that in any kind of relationship trust is an indispensable element, and in the hairy, exciting world of political intrigue, it is vital if such bonds, especially in voluntary associations, are to be strong and successful.
Still, many in the BLP and the wider society would have rested much easier when Arthur insisted that his going public about these issues was not the start of a campaign to regain the leadership.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]