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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Real political class

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Real political class

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When Barbados’s Prime Minister Freundel Stuart used the occasion of the Parliamentary tribute to deceased former MP Lionel Craig to praise and defend the “political class”, his comments sparked off a wave of criticism from commentators who interpreted his views as a defence of elitism.
Many responses seemed to have confused the term “political class” with economic or social status group, or more narrowly, the elected and appointed members of Parliament. The critics therefore felt that Stuart was lauding a group which deserves little praise.
Leader of the PEP David Commissiong for example, reminded Stuart that the “political class” had become slaves to powerful interests and had long abandoned the people.  Relatedly, Sherwin Walters, reminded Stuart that the political class had no special claims to knowledge and that true leadership could be found outside the narrowly defined group.
Missed by our commentators is that the “political class” is far wider than their criticisms assumed.  The political class is neither an economic nor status group, but constitutes all persons who follow, intervene into, participate and actively seek to influence the politics of their societies. Thus there may be newspaper columnists, businesspersons, claypsonians, priests and preachers, university academics, who are members of the political class while their colleagues of similar professional callings remain outside.  It is not who you are, but what you do.
The political class is not an elite group, since my dear friend Mark Adamson, who by his profession is a street vendor, belongs squarely in the political class since he has formed his own political grouping and intervenes constantly in the political life of his country. So too is David Commissiong. 
The question that should be asked is what prompted Stuart to declare so stridently in defence of the political class. The answer: he was most likely responding to the recent interventions by private sector commentators who, following the triple-notch downgrade of Barbados’s credit-rating, have begun to make elitist noises about transforming the political system to allow the “best brains” to lead. My comrade, David Commissiong, has also made a similar call, though motivated by more honestly democratic intentions. 
Stuart therefore felt compelled to give a timely warning to all who wished to use the economic crisis to assume decision making power, that they would first have to dirty their hands in politics, before assuming such a privilege.  Rule by the “best”, is always a fascist, anti-democratic project. As a colleague of mine is fond of asking, “who will set the exam?”
On the other hand, Stuart deserves heavy criticism, since by rejecting social democracy, and capitulating uncritically to the neo-liberal private sector world view, he has emboldened the anti-people neo-liberal opportunists to claim political power. 
As Trinidadians say: “all yuh look fuh dat”. Stuart’s defence of the political class may be too little too late. 
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]