ALBERT BRANDFORD: Payne’s boosting of Mia
We have a united group, led by a person named Mia Mottley, who come 2018 whenever the election is called, will be the person with the greatest experience ever called to office. – Chairman of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, George Payne, April 28.
IT WOULD be unusual for the chairman of a political party virtually on the eve of a general election not to use every opportunity to proclaim its readiness for office and tout the virtues of its leader.
And if unity of purpose is an essential element of a party’s preparations, then the presentation of a united front, real or imagined, has to be at the core of every activity undertaken by that organisation.
Given the recent history of the Barbados Labour Party when it was riven by the clash of two very powerful personalities that may very well have been a major factor in the party’s narrow loss of the 2013 general election, the affirmation of unity now may be more than just opportunistic political posturing.
When one considers the source of the declaration – a man who has known disappointment in a divided Barbados Labour Party but who has remained steadfast and unwavering in his support for the institution – it takes on a different complexion from the routine rhetoric expected of a senior member.
George Payne, the St Andrew MP, elected to the House of Assembly for the first time in 1991, now holds the distinction of being the BLP’s longest serving representative in Parliament.
He used April 28, National Heroes Day and, incidentally, the birthdate of founding member of the BLP, Sir Grantley Adams (also one of the ten National Heroes), not just to make a case for Mia Mottley’s elevation to the highest elected office of the island but perhaps more important, to assure the electorate that the party stood “100 per cent” behind its political leader.
“We are not just counting on the fact that the [ruling] Democratic Labour Party has been stumbling,” he told the faithful at a picnic on the Ermie Bourne Highway, “but we are a well organised group.”
“As chairman of the party, I can report that the camaraderie within the Barbados Labour Party is better than it has ever been before.”
That may very well be true. But it has not always been thus.
Payne was among group of MPs who in October 2010 determined that Mottley should no longer be Leader of the Opposition, a post to which she had been elected after the party’s electoral defeat in the general election of 2008.
Former party leader and Prime Minister Owen Arthur had stepped aside – though he remained in the House as the MP for St Peter – and supported Mottley in the efforts to rebuild the party and restore the people’s trust and confidence.
Rivers of water have since flowed under that historic bridge with the Arthur-led BLP being swept aside in the 2013 general election for a second consecutive defeat that effectively ended his political career after he had served a sterling 14 years as Head of Government (1994-2008) and considerably longer as political leader.
Following the 2008 defeat, Payne was among those who had initially supported Mottley for the leadership but as the divisions within the party became more evident that would change with her ouster a scant two years later.
But as the gulf between Arthur and Mottley widened, culminating with the former’s decision to resign from the BLP, the party’s aspect took on a different complexion.
Mottley’s return to the leadership brought with it a renewed effort to unify the factions that had developed and seemed destined to ruin its chances of capturing the Government in the next poll constitutionally due in 2018.
It is quite possible that Payne’s declaration of “100 per cent” support for Mottley may have the single greatest impact on the BLP’s chances in the upcoming election.
Whatever may have been the source of Payne’s differences with Arthur, which led to his own ouster from the Cabinet in which he variously held the portfolios of Public Works, Transport and Housing and then Tourism up to 2000, it is clear that his loyalties are not to individual politicians but to the political institution that is the Barbados Labour Party.
Such a boost from Payne may help to remove any residual doubts among the BLP membership and supporters about Mottley’s chances of becoming Barbados’ first female Prime Minister – an ambition she has never hidden from friend or foe.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]