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PEOPLE & THINGS: ‘D’ Day fizzle . . .

Peter W. Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: ‘D’ Day fizzle . . .

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THERE ARE FEW POLITICOS who were not transfixed by the final moments of this year’s Estimates debate that ended on Friday night and could be characterised as an anticlimax.
This characterisation arises from an assessment of the peculiar nature of the scenario in a Parliament that is understood to be both weak and vulnerable in the Committee of Supply. Under normal circumstances, any vote taken in this committee that falls within party lines will be a “tie” and it is left for the chairman to use his vote to break this tie in pursuit of his responsibility to preserve the status quo. Since all members on both sides are all alive and well, speculation regarding last Friday arose from Dr Estwick’s expressed preference for his own alternative proposals, which were leaked to the Press.
Several logical questions now arise, and perhaps the first is whether the public and analysts like this author were justified in considering or anticipating an outcome other than that which took place. Sincerity requires that we ask ourselves if an alternative outcome to last Friday was ever possible or did “we” instead convince ourselves that it was possible because it was what “we” wanted to happen. Needless to say, the term “we” is being used liberally since, contrary to popular belief, this author has no vested interest in the collapse of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration as the DLP’s lead propagandist has suggested.
Instead, like several others, I genuinely want the best for this country, but I am convinced that this state of affairs, which is an unprecedented mix of poor leadership presiding over a weak Government with a monumental task ahead of it, is not in our best interests. To the extent that last Friday had the potential to resolve these matters, it could have served our best interests. However, the fact that the showdown never took place also settles several important political issues.
Suffice to say the status quo remains “intact” and the close of that debate also effectively laid to rest any possibility of Dr Estwick’s alternative proposals seeing the light of day. The “Sinckler plan”, with its associated hardship and apparent disorder, is firmly back on the table and will be the diet from which we feast for the next four years.
This reality will have implications for us, Sinckler and the DLP as a whole, but the most intriguing implication is for Minister of Agriculture Dr Estwick, who will probably not be taken very seriously ever again. He is known for his loud “bark” but has now failed to bite, not once, not twice, but thrice and now risks being associated with the proverbial “lame duck” or “toothless dog”, both of which are generally ignored in the political scheme.
While the Opposition Barbados Labour Party and its leadership is likely to be disappointed with the outcome, it needs to console itself with a sober reflection on the reality of the power that it has and the power it lacks. Our system is structured to ensure that a majority of members, even the weakest majority, can govern effectively, and this scenario is proving the extent to which this holds true.  Perhaps the Opposition has unwittingly raised expectations regarding its power, and this outcome has effectively reintroduced reality regarding the possibilities and expectations of any opposition.
Ms Mottley’s tenacity and ingenuity are commendable; however we must also acknowledge that she has done more than any other Leader of the Opposition to date to topple the weakest and easily the most unpopular Government (to date) and it remains intact. This outcome, then, is less a reflection on her and more a reflection on systemic flaws in our system of governance.
A change in strategy on her part now would allow us to appreciate the enormity of her effort, while persistence along a similar path runs the risk of raising expectations in a way that shifts the focus away from Government’s shortcomings towards those of the Opposition. As such, the Opposition might want to consider if the time has come that we should be allowed to “stew in our juices” with all its attendant consequences.
This author’s apprehension about Estwick is well known and I therefore thought the anticipation of a frontal assault on the DLP in Parliament was a stretch. The best case scenario as I envisioned it was for Estwick to vote with his feet and therefore his presence in Parliament as the debate drew to a close spoke volumes about his voting intentions if a divide was called.
While this also speaks volumes about Estwick’s commitment to his own alternative policies, in reality this would always be a small matter. Estwick was elected on a DLP ticket and has already expressed “confidence” in his DLP colleague Sinckler when called upon to do so. His protestations were therefore meaningless “hot air”, and no doubt his future protestations will be treated accordingly. Ironically, the absences that spoke louder were across the floor and one senses an enhanced level of frustration and perhaps an equally major “showdown” might yet be upon us.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).