PEOPLE & THINGS: Farewell, Lammie
Last week Barbados lost one of its political sons who could easily be identified as a “populous” politician, but one who was often not “popular” with sections of this population. As such, there will be those among us who will mourn and others who will be less moved to sadness, but either way his political contribution is worthy of note even if only because he, like Frank Sinatra, did it “his” way.
In a political cast where several actors pretend to be several things, one is struck by a politician like Craig, who was himself and never pretended, even if that meant he would be irreverent or inappropriate. Like several other Barbadians, I once had little use for Craig, but as time passed, I have realised the extent to which Craig was not that different from many of his more popular colleagues (on both sides) and moreover that his character type is significantly more transparent than many of them and, as such, he was far less harmful.
The aspect of Craig’s legacy which was most distinguishing was his “colour” and in this regard reference is not being made to the “RED” associated with his Barbados Labour Party (BLP) identification. Craig was the quintessential “robust politician” and was therefore an extremely colourful character and as such he was the type of fellow you could love or hate, but either way you had to notice him.
It could be argued that Craig wore this “colour” with pride, in much the same way that he was one of few politicians bold enough to sideline the sobriety of business colours and wear white in Parliament. He was clearly proud of this “colour” and equally proud of the fact that he came to his lofty political position from one of relative economic deprivation and little formal education. He therefore defied the odds and never missed an opportunity to remind people of that fact.
Craig is often remembered for his association with some particularly hostile political statements. One of these implied his belief that supporters of the opposition Democratic Labour Party should “starve” and the other reminded of his path from poverty to riches and the fact that there could be no turning back. It would be easy to judge Craig for the inappropriateness of these types of statements. The reality is, however, that Craig was the proverbial “drunken mouth” that presents itself in the often quoted phrase “a sober heart conceals what a drunken mouth reveals”. Craig was therefore sober and providing insight into the way that others of his political order (both D and B) thought and felt.
One of the key principles of the Westminster system is its “winner take all” characteristic, which is in my opinion one of its most backward features. This ironically gives politicians the capacity to make statements like the one Craig made about Douglas Leopold Phillips. Offensive as it is, it is a feature that has been maintained steadfastly across the Caribbean with the notable exception of Guyana and on every occasion politicians at all levels have effectively “agreed” with Craig by not attempting to share the enormous political power vested in the party winning the elections.
One should therefore ask if it is fair to criticise Craig for saying something that others far more influential than he also agree with, but are tactful enough not to admit. The fact is that all politicians appreciate the tremendous value of benevolence, especially where a person believes you have no obligation. Therefore the apparent “spite” in Craig’s statement could as easily be read as a foundation for the popularity of the “politics of inclusion” which came ten years after Craig left politics.
Craig said much that was controversial, but there was considerably more that was said about him which is part of our political folklore. Two options are possible here. On the one hand, it is possible that there was some grain of truth in what was said about Craig. On the other hand, it is possible that Craig’s “colour” attracted more than his fair share of detractors.
Either way it is not surprising that one of the more notorious political court cases in our history involved Craig, who in 1987 took Dame Billie’s cousin Tommy Miller to court for defaming his character during the 1986 election. Although Tommy was clearly inebriated at the time, his statements presented an opportunity for Craig to “clear his name” since Tommy said pretty much everything that night that we had heard for years before.
Craig was represented by former PM St John, while Miller was represented by former BLP minister Don Blackman, while Eric “Fly” Sealy made a cameo appearance in support of Miller. That case was pure political drama from start to finish and unsurprisingly Craig was vindicated by way of generous damages which Craig probably never received since Miller died soon after.
Craig’s departure from politics was also interesting since he was one of few politicians who would leave a safe seat and attempt to capture “virgin” territory for his party. It is entirely possible that Craig’s gamble and attempt to put Sandiford, who would later become Prime Minister, out of business, was a good strategy at a bad time. It is also possible that Craig was “set up” by a leader who perceived his flamboyance as a potential problem.
Fortuitously, I was able to put this question to Craig, who was more disposed to the former explanation. Had Craig been successful, however, he would have altered the course of history in this nation since he would have been a senior member of a small opposition and Sandiford could not have become Prime Minister in 1987. In the end, his gamble failed and his move ended his political career, teaching an important lesson.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).