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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Mia’s consolidation

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Mia’s consolidation

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The recently concluded annual conference of the Barbados Labour Party (DLP) signalled Mia Mottley’s formal consolidation as that party’s undisputed political leader.

 Whilst her previous incarnation as leader had seen her overseeing an annual conference, on that occasion the presence of a strong “Owen faction” had meant that the event was marked more by acts of strategic positioning of supporters of the various contending groups, rather than by the national political business of the party as a whole.

Quite significantly, the 2014 annual conference found the former Prime Minister and Political Leader Owen Arthur in a hospital bed, and whilst, thankfully, his reported condition was not debilitating, the symbolism of his ailment coming after several years of political activism, would have served to narrow any lingering windows of opportunity for his future re-emergence. 

In this context, therefore, it can be asserted that the 2014 annual conference formally settled the BLP’s leadership question. 

The conference has also revealed the lines of demarcation along which the future politics of Barbados will be contested.  The battle lines are now clearly drawn between a Mottley-led BLP on one hand, tasked with crafting an alternative to the largely neo-liberal approach of the ruling Stuart-led Democratic Labour Party (DLP) on the other, which has presided over an unprecedented period of economic decline, negative growth and social and economic uncertainty. 

It is along this divide that the future policy and political debates in Barbados are likely to be conducted, leading into the next general election. 

The major challenge for Mottley will be to enunciate a set of policy responses which can only be described as reformulated social democracy for the early 21st century. This must connect the current reality of Barbados with the raison d’état of the independent Barbadian state, and ensuring the retention of the essence of the “Barbadian way”, and tie it to the social and economic aspirations of the post-1980 generation.

On the other hand, given its abandonment of Barrow’s social democracy, its uncritical embrace of neo-liberalism and its ongoing failures on the economic front, it is unlikely that the DLP’s challenge to Mottley will be fought along economic lines. 

It is also highly unlikely that the insincere economic discussion over privatisation and “no-layoffs” which substituted for a genuine discussion and which largely accounts for the DLP victory in 2013 can be repeated in the next round. 

As a result, it is expected that the DLP’s re-election battle will be fought over personality issues and non-economic questions.

It should not escape notice that the newspapers have been carrying stories in which writers, though unconnected to DLP strategy, have been indicating that their votes will be cast on issues of same-sex marriage and legalisation of marijuana. 

Another round of “false debates” detracting from economic issues may prove to be Mottley’s biggest challenge. There is much at stake.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs.