PEOPLE & THINGS: The Estwick factor
THE KEY QUESTION is whether Dr Estwick represents a serious political threat, or is he simply a loose cannon?
Arising from last week’s political drama, the foregoing question should be the most critical issue for a Prime Minister who thinks strategically and while I previously offered a conclusion that was inclined towards the latter, further reflection appears necessary.
A “loose cannon” of the political variety is a label that can be attached to a politician who is apt to make wild and unpredictable moves and moreover one that (proverbially) “shoots from the hip”.
In many ways Dr Estwick fits this bill perfectly; however if his most recent fracas is properly contextualised, the extent to which Estwick has become a threat to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration quickly becomes apparent.
One major contextual issue is the timing of this outburst which distinguishes it. On this occasion, not only can Estwick bring down the Government, he can do so with moral conviction, which is necessary since he would be denying the majority of his DLP colleagues the opportunity to earn their pensions.
Certainly Estwick and indeed any of the other 16 have always had these powers. However, the exercise of such power needs to be delicately approached since the one who “pulls the trigger” would want to emerge as a hero and not a villain.
In this regard, there could be no politician more popular with the public now than one who puts a stop to this orgy of public sector terminations. As such, Estwick can trade his popularity within the DLP for national popularity which cannot be understated for a Government minister who appears to have reached his political zenith.
The issue of timing is supported by the substance of Estwick’s comments which curiously coincide with much that has been said by the Opposition and other commentators.
His comments make reference to a $1.4 billion fiscal deficit, a troubling $10.9 billion debt-service figure and he even mentions the importance of divestment to his alternative approach. Several of these points are curiously reminiscent of points of departure between the Stuart administration and the BLP spokespeople who are also calling for alternatives.
In an environment where Estwick’s voice crying in the wilderness is in sync with a chorus of voices from elsewhere, he might find it much easier to negotiate either a philosophical or political accommodation with the BLP if this becomes necessary.
Having established the fact that Estwick has both a substantive basis and the moral authority to move against the Stuart administration at this time, the logical focus shifts towards the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
One presumes that the Prime Minister is aware of the political environment outlined above and also that he would wish to preserve his administration.
As such, his “decision” to allow the situation to escalate to this point is nothing short of reckless. One appreciates that a Prime Minister would not normally tolerate this type of behaviour; however, these peculiar power relations mandate that an astute Prime Minister demonstrates greater sensitivity to Estwick’s concerns. If this sensitivity is not for the Prime Minister’s own sake, it should be for the sake of the DLP MPs and supporters who will suffer badly if this Government collapses.
With regard to the Minister of Finance, this entire episode represents a political slap to the face and an indictment of his programme, to which the entire Cabinet was apparently committed.
This indictment comes from a person who was party to the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy, the Revised Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy, the 2013 Budget, and one who remained silent when the question of confidence in Sinckler was raised late last year.
The fact that such an insider now has fundamental difficulties with a path that purports to take us out of the worst economic situation we have ever found ourselves in speaks volumes.
If Estwick knows more about the Sinckler plan than any ordinary member of the public and is not comfortable, then how reasonably can one expect the average Barbadian who sits outside the Cabinet to repose confidence in Sinckler?
In all of this, Estwick’s colleagues who facilitated the Sunday Breakfast meeting also cannot escape condemnation, although these persons appeared to have been looking out for the best interest of the DLP.
Estwick has characterised this meeting as a PR exercise, which either means that the people attending are also not aware of the seriousness of this political problem or that they were cumulatively unable to convince their boss of the need to engage with Estwick. The political implications of both are frightening.
It is difficult to see how Estwick or the DLP can return to “business as usual” from this point and how the very thin armour of the DLP which has been punctured can be repaired.
We all now know that the DLP is not united behind a programme that is causing considerable suffering and while the Prime Minister’s famous silence has served him well to this point, it is likely to be counterproductive going forward.
Stuart now has to choose one “wife” and since political jealousy can be as deadly as emotional jealousy, the question becomes not if but when.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected] caribsurf.com) is a political consultant and director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).