There is a political problem. There shall be no growth, there shall be no recovery, until you fix the political problem. – George Belle at the Barbados Labour Party People’s Assembly (January 26, 2014).
THE MAIN political consequence of the recent triple-notch downgrade of Barbados by credit rating agency Moody’s is that it has created a context of a universal consensus of failure of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
While earlier periods of DLP rule were characterised by public patience and forgiving expectancy, the current reality suggests a confirmation of failure.
This does not suggest that international rating agencies can pronounce life or death. However, coming after a prolonged period of hardship and amidst pledges of imminent recovery and temporary pain, the severity of the downgrade – after several calibrations and recalibrations of announced recovery strategies – has left little ground upon which even the most fanatically loyal of partisan supporters can claim even the slightest modicum of future hope.
The difficulty for the Government, given that it has shown no appetite to reject the neo-liberal policies demanded by the rating agencies, is that in a context where harsh austerity measures have been their main response, it is faced with the option of even harsher measures as the only way to appease the rating agencies and the International Monetary Fund itself.
In addition, while it is customary to paint critical voices with a partisan brush, no such label can be attached to the external agencies. Both within and without therefore, amidst the pain of layoffs, the removal of social benefits and the absence of positive news on the economic front, a consensus of failure of the DLP is now dominant reality.
The Government is now appearing as having failed against both neo-liberal and social-democratic criteria. It is no accident therefore, in this context of a consensus of failure, that only the most partisan of apologist voices for the ruling administration have had the temerity to respond publicly to the downgrade while, significantly, the officially responsible voices such as those of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank have been muted.
Given this reality, another important consequence will be the shift of the discourse of the Barbadian crisis from economics into politics, as was alluded, perhaps too early, months ago by University of the West Indies political scientist George Belle, and captured in the quotation above.
Given the severity of the failure of a Government in midterm, the challenge for Barbados is akin to the medieval problem of getting rid of a heretical pope.
While Belle was accused of “treason” for exploring objectively how the Westminster system addressed such concerns, what distinguishes Westminster from the American system is that the former legitimately allows governments to change at any time.
The consensus on failure will make such discussions more reasonable and less “treasonable”. Interesting times!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]