ALBERT BRANDFORD: No, GG, no!
BOY, WHA’ Bellie gone an’ do, nuh?
That was the pained question from a close friend who alerted me to a recent press report that Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave had entered the political discussion on Barbados moving to republican status.
I was both shocked and alarmed upon reading the report detailing the Queen’s representative in Barbados taking a precipitous, unexpected dive into the roiling, treacherous political seas.
But in an instant, I recalled that Sir Elliott (then Justice Elliott Belgrave), in 1991 ordered the use of the cat-o-nine tails for four robbers, a heinous and barbaric punishment that was later reduced to a flogging and a jail term.
Sir Elliott joined the republic fray during what has become an extended but inspiring campaign of visiting primary schools, the one on the day being Mount Tabor in St John.
“A student asked me at one of the schools I visited what were my views on Republican status for Barbados,” he was quoted as saying. “I thought it was a political issue and I didn’t seek to answer and I told him it was a matter for Parliament and I still think it is a political issue, but I think it is one which should be discussed.”
What on earth could have moved the Governor General to make public such musings which ought more properly to be revealed only in hushed tones in the plush living area of the stately official residence at Government House?
“At some time in the near future or in the distant future, if we should become a Republic, there should be no fight. From what I understand the Prime Minister . . . to be saying is that if we succeed to taking Barbados to a Republic, there will be a President, somebody looking like me, a ceremonial head doing the same things that I am doing now . . . so what I am saying is, I don’t see any need for Barbadians to get excited and engaged in any sort of warfare over the issue of republican status.
“There is no problem as I see it between Barbados and the British government or the Crown, over republican status. It is a matter for us. So get that clear. Let the people know it is a matter for the people to decide.”
According to the report, noting that some people also held the view that if Barbados becomes a republic, he would lose his job, Sir Elliott said: “That is not so!
“As long as I am able to do it, I will do it.”
There was no indication from the report whether the comments were made to the schoolchildren or directly to the media, either of his own volition or in response to a reporter’s question.
Beyond the bounds
Either way, in my view, it was well beyond the bounds of what is expected of an unelected head of state, who officially represents the British Crown in the absence of the Queen, on a Government proposal to remove her as the constitutional head of government and replace her with a home-grown president.
There is an unspoken convention, a custom and practice, even, that the media does not comment on or, criticise the words and actions of lowly judges, far less the exalted Governor General (except, perhaps, the Throne Speech!).
Would Queen Elizabeth II on an official visit to Mount Tabor have responded either to the children or the media in the vein in which Sir Elliott did?
I rather doubt it. She is vastly more experienced in handling delicate matters of state and such sensitive questions, having been doing it for such a long time.
Internal political matter
During our previous fitful stabs at the republic thing during the 1990s and early 2000s, the then British High Commissioner to Barbados Gordon Baker when asked for a comment on the proposal, insisted it was an “internal political matter” for Barbadians to resolve themselves, although the change would not affect relations between the two countries.
“This is essentially an internal Barbados Government matter and it’s for Barbados to resolve its own constitutional future,” he told me in an exclusive interview.
It was the kind of quality comment one would expect from a representative of the British Crown, whether that person is a born Englishman or a native Barbadian.
There are no nice ways to say that the Governor General was not only out of place but crossed the line.
I’m sorry, but if the Governor General steps into the political sandpit, he has to expect to get sand in his eyes.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]