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THE BIG PICTURE: The soul of politics

Ralph Jemmott

THE BIG PICTURE: The soul of politics

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THERE IS MUCH to ponder in Owen Arthur’s resignation from the Barbados Labour Party and the volume of comments which followed. Owen Seymour Arthur is a fascinating political study. One hopes that the resignation does not tarnish his overall image as a significant figure in Barbados’ post-colonial history.                 
Over the years, unlike many who have never hadthe burden of running anything, Arthur has shownnot only a profound understanding of economic theory, but of its practical application. Indeed the impression still holds that in terms of the economic guidanceof Barbados, he is still the individual most competent to lead the country.
The resignation, part of a “putrid spectacle” was sad, even a bit tragic. The sight of Mr Arthur solitarily handing in his resignation at the BLP Headquarters was the subject of Shakespearian tragedy, perhaps Coriolanus springs to mind. I felt that even more watching the broadcast of the campaign for the St Peter by-election of 1976 as part of the CBC series on Speightstown. It was clear then that Tom Adams wanted the young Arthur on his team and over the years he served the party well.
What should concern us most is Mr Arthur’s indictment of the BLP as a party that has lost its “way” and is now without a “soul”. This is a serious charge against an organisation that many Barbadians may be expecting to form a government. The regrettable statement gives political fodder to the DLP who can be expected to use it to its advantage.                    
Hopefully, Mr Arthur is not confusing the party’s ostensible loss of soul with his own personal and policy disagreement with Miss Mottley or his own combative hubris. As an unrepentant cynic, I must admit that I see no “way” or semblance of “soul” in contemporary Barbadian politics as they relate to either of the political parties.  Perhaps it is that the current economic circumstances do not allow for grandiose long-term projections, so politicians are limited to pragmatic management. Economic constraints also confine what can be attempted within the social sphere.
Put simply, the “way” if such exist may effectively be blocked. As John Gray, professor of European thought at the London School of Economics says, we may well be “stuck with a kind of pragmatic politics of negotiating within the status quo”. That a political party can be said to embody a soul, and that is highly questionable, it could imply a conscious and articulated vision of social transformational betterment based on deeply ethical foundations. At its loftiest it might embody the eternal source of divine light we humans call God.
It is impossible to see a DLP administration whose leadership hardly communicates as being in possession of a “way”. However, the populist rhetoric and the vain calling of Mr Barrow’s name still serves some purpose. Indeed, the whole country, now reflective of our collective mindlessness, may be losing both its way and its soul. But if we lose the country, and Mr Barrow himself envisioned the possibility, at least we’ll still have we rum until, of course, it becomes Massy Mount Gay.
For years I was a supporter, though never a member, of the BLP until in 2008 when for the first timeI voted for the DLP. My political memories dateback to the 1950s and to Grantley Herbert Adams and the first Barbadian history texts by F.A. Hoyos who documented what he called The Social Revolution. To me the BLP way and BLP soul rested in Adams. Errol Barrow embodied the best in the DLP way. In recent times neither political party has embodied much that can be considered remotely “soulful”.  Tom Adams is respected for his intellect and the economic nationalism which ironically the BLP seems to have subsequently dismantled in pursuit of an amorphous Caribbean dream.
But what if economically, you gain the whole world and lose your own soul, autonomy and a sense of direction proper to yourself? If Mr Arthur is indicting his party of a loss of soul, he must explain what soul it possessed and precisely how it came to be lost. Exactly what philosophical or organising principles are at stake here? Surely he cannot assume to be the sole embodiment of the BLP’s integrity.    
Someone once said that this is not an age of “heroic virtue”. Barbadian politics today is characterised by dystopianism, a lack of ideals and a complicity with power and status for the sake of power and self-aggrandisement. As a cultural determinist, I believe that it is the prevailing corpus of values, attitudes and sensibilities that drive societies. If the political parties have lost their soul, it may reflect the existing zeitgeist which embodies a crass materialism, money and the material “comforts” it affords, and status, where everyone wants to be top dog and an adolescent hedonism, incessantly partying as we go half-naked in the world.         
• Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator; email [email protected]