PURELY POLITICAL: Petty politics
First of all, I don’t know where the word boycott came from. That word carries with it certain imputations that I’m not prepared to carry. This is not about politics for me, this is about doing the right thing.
– Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley on the decision to stay away from a reception marking the 375th anniversary of Parliament, on March 2.
WELL, MIA, I’M CERTAIN that there are many people who would disagree with you about the decision not being a political act.
Every public action taken by a practising politician carries a political message, whether intended or not, and no amount of protestations to the contrary can change what is an inescapable fact.
What is also true is that impatience has been the bane of many a talented politician which did not appear to have been an attribute one could have attached to Mottley in her earlier difficulties with the leadership of the Opposition when she quite rightly took the high road and invoked the well-known Bajan saying that “time longer than twine”.
But now with an incompetent Government seemingly lurching from blunder to blunder, Mottley appears to have smelled some blood in the water and seems to have forgotten the old saying in these new circumstances.
The question of patience and timing in Opposition politics brought back the memory of an encounter with a very senior member of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) who I met in the supermarket shortly after the passing of David Thompson.
He approached me without the usual salutations and blurted out: “You see now, if your boy had patience, not only would he have been deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, but now he would be the obvious choice for Prime Minister with David gone. Tell him that at this level, it is not about party politics anymore, this is ‘big politics’ and you have to be patient.”
I was initially struck by the crystal clear vision that hindsight affords, but on further reflection, more so by the truism that in some matters success requires a little of the biblical Job-like patience. Politics truly is not a fast food game.
Still, it is being argued that the decision by the parliamentary group of the Opposition (the distinction has to be made) to stay away from the observance of the significant milestone in our parliamentary history (whether it was a boycott or not) was ill-considered and may be construed as not being the best choice of actions to show disapproval of a Government’s policies and programmes.
It came over as an uncalled for insult to Parliament itself and to the country’s guests, who incidentally happened to be representatives of the Queen, who under the Constitution is an important part of our governance system.
It surely will not help the Opposition’s cause by seeming to inadvertently drag the monarchy into what really amounted to a petty political squabble.
I would suggest that the action poses the very real danger of eroding any gains from the Opposition’s ongoing Rubbing Shoulders campaign and the intermittent People’s Assemblies along with any goodwill among voters fed up with the obvious ineptitude of the Freundel Stuart Administration.
In my view, Mottley could simply have stayed away from the reception, made her point and would still be doing the right thing, instead of trying to make a big political statement that would so obviously be fraught with potential negative repercussions in this still monarchist society.
Again, I believe that Mottley did herself, and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), a disservice and may very well have persuaded some of those who had dismissed Owen Arthur’s public views about her acceptability among some people for leadership of the country as merely the caviling carpings of an ex-leader anxious for one more day in the sun.
Protest if you must; it is the right thing to do if you are unhappy with inappropriate actions by your Government, but you must be more careful in the selection of the moment.
Walkouts, for example, are the tried and tested standard operating practice of opposition groups and Independents in parliaments everywhere. They are to be applauded whenever any government swings the pendulum of oppression too far on the meter of democracy and they have been used with telling effect to focus the public’s opprobrium on certain actions by a government.
Opposition politics can be a bitch.
No one is denying that it can be hard.
No one likes to be in Opposition.
But sometimes, Opposition politicians can be guilty of trying to hustle along the process. It won’t always work.
As Arthur himself proved with the delayed no-confidence motion against the Erskine Sandiford Administration two decades ago, timing is the essence of Opposition politics.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email:[email protected]