THE BIG PICTURE: The political class
Tributes to the late Lionel S. Craig at the June 3 sitting of the House of Assembly were replete with political irony. Here was a DLP administration and the Prime Minister himself, paying hyperbolic tribute to a man who was one of its most inveterate opponents.
Maybe Douglas Leopold Phillips has a very short memory or perhaps an equally forgiving soul. Then there was the BLP offering praises to its stalwart who it did not afford the highest honour which he would undoubtedly have cherished.
Mr Craig served 20 years within the Barbados House of Assembly and many more in the political arena outside of it. He was Leader of the House and, as he liked to recall, once acted as Prime Minister, service not to be minimised or forgotten.
Whether he can be described as “one of the great politicians of that era” is questionable. However, as a critic of Joan Didion’s latest book states, “meditations on mortality and the fundamental absurdity of death” sanctifies us all.
In his contribution the Prime Minister affirmed his support for and belief in what he called “the political class”, ostensibly defined as those who contest seats in our representative assembly. In doing so he regrettably attacked those apparently not of the political class, who he pejoratively regarded as “snobs” and “elites”.
The capitalist mode of production produces social stratification and cadres of so-called “elites”. In The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills outlines the characteristics of superordinate classes in society, including the corporate elite, the military elite, and the political class, the political elite.
He does not confine the political class to those who run for and accede to public office but to a wider group who link their careers and expectations to politics, by “cultivating their role inside a party and coming to base their power and careers upon their party connections”.
Mills suggests the American politician reflects “confused stereotypes”. He is at one and the same time, “valuable originator and also a cheap tool, a high statesman, but also as dirty politician, a public servant, but also a sly conniver”.
Overall, since 1966, Barbados has not been badly served by its political class. Blunted moral sensibility is still not a systemic feature of our political culture. It has always bothered me, for example, how in Jamaica criminal armed gangs could be tied to politicians and political parties.
However, as in many aspects of national life, Barbados may be seeing signs of the institutionalisation of what Wright Mills calls “a higher structural immorality”, evidenced in “relaxed public behaviour, high-priced vice and fading personal integrity”.
Politicians often revert to foolish invective when they come under criticism. This can be very corrosive of their reputations. It is regrettable that critique from some quite worthy sources should be seen as coming from wealthy, ivory towered, snobs and elitists. Sometimes the call is made for all hands to come on deck and we are told that we must all work to save this country, but when critique is offered, it is condemned by narrow political interests.
This kind of talk insults the intelligence of right-thinking Barbadians, many of whom have the genuine welfare of the country at heart and are not holding out their hands to people who they think might have something in their gift.
What is more, it tends to create distrust and cynicism as people withdraw into greater and greater atomisation. At no other time has Barbados had greater needs of its better brains and minds, most of which do not reside in the 30 members of the congress of assemblymen or in a Government given to “missteps” and facing a growing “consensus of failure”.
One esteemed member of our august parliament is known to have described its current constituents as “poor-rakey”. There is good probative evidence that might support this characterisation, given what seems to be a growing absence of intellectual vocation. The Rev. Leslie Lett has written rather frighteningly: “The political imagination is no more and we now live in a nightmarish political cul-de-sac.”
However, one must question any attempt at regime change that sidesteps the constitutional process. Firstly, this could set a dangerous precedent and introduce in to our polity a kind of instability not seen hitherto.
Secondly, the opposition BLP must establish itself as more than a party of protest. Its current position reflects “a negative ambiguity”. They oppose, hence the negativity, but beyond the rhetoric, how precisely would they restore macro-economic stability?
Given the burden of debt and deficits, what budgetary constraints would they recognise? Or would fiscal rectitude give way to what Mia Mottley herself in the debate on the Special Loans Amendment Bill, called “a principle called political survival”.
Would the interests of the Barbadian people be sacrificed once again on the altar of electoral success and the narrow concerns of something calling itself “the political class?”
• Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator; email [email protected]