REMEMBERING BREE: Statesman content with career
HE was calm, his mind was clear and despite his serious illness, Sir Harold St John looked back on his political career with satisfaction two weeks before the election of last May in an interview with THE NATION’S North American Editor, Tony Best.
Here were some of his thoughts:
On leaving politics and parliamentary life in 2003
“I must say that I did not feel in any way despondent or regretful or anything like that because I have had a very, very long innings.
“When I look back on it since 1959 I have really been, I would say, very actively involved between 1959 and this year (2003). I have had a long innings and I have enjoyed it and the time has come when I have to go. That is it.”
A highpoint of his career
“I enjoyed the constitutional debates that took place after I became a senator in 1964. Then the great debate that took place with respect to federal negotiations that were going on to form the Little Eight (federation). Then there was participation in the Constitution conference in London in 1966. I was a member of the (Barbados) Labour Party delegation along with Henry Forde, Tom Adams (and Freddie Miller.) That was a great, a very great exercise.
“As I said when I left the House (of Assembly) in my last speech it was very ironic that when I came into the House in 1966 one of the major issues was the relationship between Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.
“And as I left the House, the last great debate that I participated in was the legislation to implement the revised Treaty of Chagauramas, the creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice and the new integration instruments. So in a sense one can say that’s some unfinished business that has not been finalised. I would continue to be interested in that area.”
On the future of Caribbean integration
“I still remain convinced more than ever that this issue of the forms of arrangement of the relationship between former British territories in the Caribbean has to be finalised. And that is even made more urgent because of the fact that the international scene with globalisation, trade liberalisation, regional arrangements and world arrangements may well have put us in a position in which unless we speak with one voice we would be more marginalised.”
His time as Prime Minister
“That was a very short period and it was in very dramatic circumstances. We were caught at that time with the downturn of the economy. There is no question it was a tough time. People don’t know it but Tom Adams (before he died) worried very greatly about the state of the economy in Barbados . . . . Remember, in 1981 we were able to go and borrow our own money (from the IMF). It was not a full (International Monetary Fund) programme. By ‘83 we were pretty well out of that. But by ‘85 we were back in it again and they (IMF) kept saying your alignment, the rigid peg to the United States dollar is making you uncompetitive.
“I remember a man called Clarke (of the IMF). I remember in a Cabinet meeting – just after Tom Adams died we had to go to a meeting, Steve Emptage and I – and he was telling us ‘you have to devalue’. We were so determined that we said ‘well, when you become Minister of Finance you can devalue, but at the present moment our advice is that if we devalue there would be no control, absolutely no control over inflation’.”
On not calling an early election immediately after Adams’ death
“People didn’t know what was inside (the party). That (decision) was a political judgement because one of the most amazing things to me was how the Labour Party used to survive because when we look at it now and see how these fellows run campaigns how much money they have, we ran a campaign with less than $100 000.
“Every election we had to go to the bank and pledge $25 000 and sign a guarantee to run a campaign. There was absolutely no money. There was none of that machinery to pull out the vote that we have now.
A campaign now costs about $2 million. It is a totally different thing. The state of the party was not good (in 1985-86). There is no question about that! The business people had gone against us because they wanted more (than we were prepared to give).
On Owen Arthur as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance:
“He has done exceptionally well. You have to rate him highly. There is no question; he has a great understanding of the issues. He has commitment and I think he has done very well. His approach is sometimes abrasive. But I think within the Caribbean and on the international scene, he has done exceedingly well.
“He could not have done better. To have held the party together with just one or two problems I think is good.”
On the third term of the BLP
“He (Arthur) will run into some problems in the next term, not only economic but within the party too. He will run into some problems in there. As he has recognised, the bigger the majority the more problems you have because you have to satisfy so many people.”
This article was published March 14, 2004.