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The Arthur legacy

Eric Smith

The Arthur legacy

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OWEN ARTHUR had hardly carried out the unbelievable task of handing in his resignation on Friday to his once beloved Barbados Labour Party (BLP) before the shouts were lustily raised for him to go his merry way. The chorus line came from within the belly of the BLP and reverberated across the island.
Just a few months earlier, the same Owen Seymour Arthur was seen by many diehards of the same party as being the saviour of not only their grand ole party, but indeed Barbados. While there may be some resentment of Arthur even within the party which he has so faithfully served, for many he has moved from the one they all wanted to embrace to be nothing less than a scourge.
Political activist David Comissiong, formerly a director of Pan African Affairs whilst Arthur was Prime Minister, said of his departure from the party: “Owen Arthur’s departure from the BLP is a good thing for the BLP and a good thing for the politics of Barbados” adding that he “was and is a populist conservative”.
Political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham said: “I don’t know that what he’s done has done Mr Arthur any good. I think he has damaged his legacy considerably.”
Arthur captured national attention in the 1980s after being spotted by late Prime Minister J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams as someone with political promise and an investment for the future – both in terms of party and country.
When the opportunity arose, Arthur grasped it. Along the way he made both friends and enemies within and outside of his party. He was known during the height of his power for his acerbic tongue, which many who now denounce him laughed off as he used it to cut down opponents.
A  product of rural Barbados, Arthur made full use of the educational opportunities afforded him at All Saints Boys’ School, Coleridge & Parry School and Harrison College. He pursued undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of the West Indies (both at the Cave Hill and Mona campuses), earning a Master of Science degree in economics.
By the time he had returned to Barbados in 1981, he had developed a varied professional career and before his entry into politics had also built up some governance experience, having served as a member of the boards of directors of the Jamaica Scientific Research Council, the Barbados Industrial Development Corporation, the Central Bank of Barbados and between 1982 and 1984 as chairman of the Barbados Agricultural Development Corporation. He was appointed to the Barbados Senate in 1983 and elected to the House of Assembly the following year.
Arthur was part of the local team which in 1981 negotiated Barbados’ IMF programme and was responsible for coordinating Government’s 1983-88 National Development Plan. Little wonder Adams identified him as an investment for the future – a representative of a new generation of politicians – and once described him as “one of the most powerful minds that has ever been generated in this country”.
So less than a decade after being in Parliament and given his meteoric political ascendency he would have created some detractors within his own political party, especially those whom he would have bypassed. But he had powerful promoters.
Arthur enjoyed the best of times when he led the BLP to victories in general elections of 1994, 1999 and 2003, a unique privilege among local political leaders since Independence. He also had the people reject him while at the helm of the said party on two successive times since then. This has made Arthur an experienced hand at elections, having been in the driver’s seat on five occasions.
Despite having been battle-hardened by these highs and lows, Arthur still has the political urge and at 64 cannot be described as either old or worn out. Following his defeat at the 2008 general election, he stepped aside as Opposition and BLP leader, but returned to lead the party in 2010. But following his defeat in the 2013 poll some in his party quickly pushed him aside.
After his first defeat he became unusually quiet for a period and it was while addressing a BLP women’s  group that he explained he held the view that “a former Prime Minister should be seldom seen and hardly heard” while the leadership of the party got on with its work. However, he promised to continue making his contribution on matters of importance to the country.
Clearly there are many things Arthur feels need his input, including matters involving Mia Mottley, Leader of the Opposition and current chairman of the BLP,  who was once felt to be his chosen successor.
But a chasm exists between them which cannot be bridged.
Now it seems that for many in the party which once proudly had as its slogan Going With Owen, there is a feeling of joy, judging from their comments on social media.
However, some who are sympathetic to Arthur are asking what the letters BLP now mean.