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What’s up, Owen?

Peter Wickham

What’s up, Owen?

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Over the last few weeks, the public has understandably been transfixed on the political meanderings of this Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government.
However, there have been several intriguing, if not disturbing, events that have been taking place in the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) camp that warrant attention.  
The most recent in a series of events is what can be referred to as the St James North affair which is perhaps a good place to commence this analysis of the shortcomings of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
This “affair” is essentially BLP internal business which amounts to a crude manipulation of the party’s mechanisms to replace a sitting Member of Parliament (MP) with another who is yet to be tested.
This act presents a similar type of “manipulation” to that which was used to ensure that former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley did not have the opportunity to become chairman of the BLP last year.
This most recent move by the BLP might be constitutional (from the perspective of its constitution). However, it is both politically unwise and grossly unfair if one considers the history of the MP Rawle Eastmond and the convention that applies in both major political parties here.
This convention mandates that an MP who retains a seat is given first option to contest that seat on any future occasion since the parties appreciate that a successful MP is always best placed to contest the riding.
Although it appears as though Eastmond previously indicated he was not interested in contesting the 2013 election, it is now clear that he is interested, but is being asked to subject himself to what can be described as a humiliating internal contest which no other BLP MP has been forced to face.
The logic of this move from the perspective of the Arthur “faction” of the BLP seems clear since it will effectively remove the second of four MPs who at this time appear less than enamoured by Arthur’s leadership.
The first appears to have removed himself and with Eastmond out of the way, Arthur would only have to contend with the two women, both of whom are far too well-entrenched in their constituencies for him to touch.
Eastmond’s vulnerability arises from the fact that he is the least “popular” of the three and the only one who had previously indicated a desire to retire from politics due to ill health. He is, therefore, the “lowest hanging fruit” which Arthur seems determined to pick and in so doing advance his obvious “purge” of the BLP.
It is interesting that Arthur has tried to distance himself from this action, stating publicly that he would not interfere in the process. One presumes the public is suitably amused at the suggestion that we should believe that it all has nothing to do with him.
The declaration is moreover ironic since he has been extremely “hands-on” in the selection of his team in the past, to the point of publicly declaring his desire to have politicians such as Kerrie Symmonds and Lynette Eastmond on “his” team.
On this occasion, he has alluded to a process that is, ironically, controlled by a chairman who was installed in a similar fashion and all this quite frankly makes a mockery of the type of democratic principles that the BLP aspires to uphold.
Like Mottley, Eastmond has therefore quite rightfully indicated he will not participate and legitimize this process, and the effort is therefore likely to succeed, which raises the question of how the electorate will treat to the new BLP candidate.
Certainly, I would have argued that Eastmond would easily win that seat for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that the DLP has also dropped its leading contender there.
With both Eastmond and Austin Husbands out of the way, the uncertainty in St James North returns as the public there has to choose between two newcomers who are relatively evenly yoked. In such an environment, the national swing would become paramount which means that the BLP would triumph (assuming that the swing continues to favour it).
Notwithstanding, it would not be an easy seat for the BLP to win and one wonders why that party would subject itself to such unnecessary uncertainty there.
The situation in St James North ironically mirrors the national scenario which becomes more uncertain and more peculiar each day. In St James North as is the case nationally, both parties have made unforced strategic blunders and now seem to be in a race to the proverbial political bottom.
The leadership of the DLP has been less than active for the better part of two years and during this period we have heard precious little from Arthur, whose responsibility as Leader of the Opposition is to provide a critique of Prime Minister Stuart.
He has, however, curiously avoided reference to Stuart’s errors of omission, but appears fascinated by the activities of the Minister of Finance, especially as it relates to the Four Seasons project which curiously enough links the former Leader of the Opposition to the current Minister of Finance in their professional capacities.  
A similar convenient condemnation is now being brought to rest on the shoulders of the Minister of Education who is apparently to take the blame for an almost ten-year-old dispute for which Stuart must of necessity share the blame.
This is all very odd political behaviour and raises the possibility of there being an unstated political pact between the leadership of the BLP and DLP that acknowledges they are each other’s greatest asset.
This type of strategy might well pay dividends but it denies us the benefit of the best governance at a time when we need it “more than ever”.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).