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PETER WICKHAM: Philosophically speaking

Peter Wickham, [email protected]

PETER WICKHAM: Philosophically speaking

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THE RELEASE of the BLP’s “Covenant of Hope” was certainly a novel political development the likes of which we have not seen too frequently in this part of the world. 

Political parties seem to prefer their philosophical stance to emerge from a historical reflection which is perhaps safer. To do otherwise and present a philosophical statement that looks forward is somewhat like writing a manifesto and these have tended to be platitudinous documents that appear on the eve of an election. There are varying opinions on the extent to which political parties need to engage in these types of exercises, but there is little disagreement in Barbados that an exercise such as this is a risky political manoeuvre.

One of the more unfortunate consequences of the 2013 election is that it provided clear evidence that the public has little appetite for adult conversation about policy options and economic realities. That election contrasted two leaders and accompanying organisations that pursued public support in very different ways. Arthur’s BLP spoke frankly about our dire economic position (which it contributed to in some way) and outlined a plan to fix things which sounded unpleasant but was highly realistic. On the other hand, Stuart’s DLP was more traditional and blamed the crisis on the BLP along with a graphic description of the consequences of the BLP’s realism. History demonstrated that we opted for Stuart’s DLP and rejected Arthur’s “straight talk” which invariably also meant that communicated the imprudence of the kind of conversation Arthur was promoting.

Needless to say, I fully appreciate the extent to which other factors precipitated the rejection of Arthur’s approach; however, the resulting disinterest in what could be termed adult conversations about our political and economic direction is one of the unfortunate consequences. This conversation is therefore advisedly off the table for the BLP and the philosophical approach has instead been offered up by Mottley’s BLP. We, therefore, get to hear where the BLP plans to take this country in broad terms and this helps us since we know what we are getting ourselves into and also helps the BLP which now appears more ready to take office since it appears to have a programme of action, two years ahead of a general election.

One of the problems of this type of approach is that it appeals to a more sophisticated voter who is prepared to reflect on the options available to them. It is conversely not appealing to the type of voter who is slavishly loyal to a political party and the question arises as to which type of voter there is more of in Barbados. It will therefore be important that the BLP inserts this document into the political discourse at the highest level and this perhaps explains the logic behind this most recent vote of no-confidence which provided a unique platform for the launch of this covenant.

Substantively, the document achieves two important objectives in that it defines the BLP as a political institution, based on its history and thereafter proceeds to outline the principles that will undergird its programme going forward. In so doing, the BLP has focused on national consciousness and idea of good governance which is philosophical safe ground. Both concepts are integral to a contemporary appreciation of national development especially as Barbadians are considerably more informed than they were at the time of Universal Adult Suffrage. On the governance front, this is an equally safe foundation stone since there are few here or elsewhere across the region who would disagree that governance needs to be on the agenda of any political party seeing office.

Although the BLP has outlined a philosophical position that embraces all Barbadians, it is fortuitous that they have specifically identified public servants, children, young people, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Presumably, this means that these sectors will receive special attention and here also the mention of such sectors is quite strategic since few would challenge the legitimacy of a special focus on such sectors. In each case, the pledge is broad and clearly the effort is made to be general and uncontroversial, as would be expected in a scenario where our population has demonstrated an unwillingness to engage in mature political discourse like this.

As would be expected, the covenant has been attacked by the DLP which claims that the BLP only now appears to have determined what it stands for. Notwithstanding, the BLP should be commended for attempting to have an adult conversation with us on developmental issues and one can only hope that this version is engaged with the required level of maturity that was lacking in the privatisation debate.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]