ALBERT BRANDFORD: Will Mia deselect Agard?
Let it be understood that this is a team and there is one captain. – Mia Mottley, political leader of the Barbados Labour Party.
ANYONE WITHIN OR WITHOUT the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) counting on a quick fix last weekend of the long-running bassa-bassa between the Christ Church West constituency branch and its MP would have been sorely disappointed.
Though it is not open to the party’s annual conference, under its constitution, to resolve such issues, there clearly would have been an opportunity for the leadership to get a sense of how the general body feels about the impasse involving Dr Maria Agard and how it ought to be settled.
Instead, what the public saw emerging from the confab was a curious oil and water mix of sabre rattling and a promise of conciliation.
Almost in one breath, political leader Mia Mottley reasserted her primacy in the party – I am the captain and I will lead the other 29 whoever they may be – and offered to meet the warring parties during the ensuing week to settle the dispute once and for all.
At the time of writing (Thursday), there was no indication that Mottley had in fact pulled the MP and the branch executive together to thrash out the knotty issues away from the public glare.
Word was that efforts were being made to schedule that meeting for either Tuesday or Wednesday night.
Could it be that Mottley has encountered an intractable problem, one of Gordian proportions that only the sharpest steel can cut, with the resulting severest consequences all around?
Agard has staked out her position that she is not prepared to work with the branch executive that seems to have been forced upon her.
Mottley, meanwhile, appears – at least publicly and despite the tough talk – to be straddling the fences.
“All organs must be respected,” she told the annual conference. “No one must seek to tie the hands of another. It is not open to any person in this party to declare that they are not working with an officer or organ of the party. Our constitution does not allow it, nor do our conventions.
“The party provides for the branches, and they must be respected. This party has 15 000 members across the branches. It is what has sustained us to do our work as a mass based political institution for 77 years, and will allow us to do so for the next 77 years. If the constitution recognises the branch, then all must recognise it.
“By the same token, just as the branch must be respected, the branch must be patient and tolerant and respectful of the person elected.”
First the big stick, then, the olive branch.
But it seems clear to me that if, as is being suggested, the party leadership wants to see the back of Agard, then both sides have to weigh some important considerations.
For the party, there is the distinct possibility that Christ Church West would no longer be the safe BLP seat that Sir Henry Forde made it since 1971.
There is a world of difference between a party fighting a general election with an assurance of loyalty to the candidate, and a situation in which the branch is so fractured that the discontent permeates into the wider electorate in the constituency.
Even if Agard retains the support – if not the confidence – of the leadership, there might still be other forces at work within the party that could conspire to weaken, or possibly defeat, her candidacy.
Agard would then be left to face two rather stark and daunting choices: crossing the floor, or preparing a run as an Independent candidate.
The former seems unthinkable for one who is reported to be a staunch, immutable Labourite, while even a casual perusal of the record of Independents since Adult Suffrage – outside of Frank Walcott in the 1956 and 1961 general elections – would be enough to give the bravest politician pause.
The leadership of the BLP is approaching the stage where, with other candidates being chosen almost weekly, a decision has to be taken.
Absent an urgent amicable settlement, does Mottley have the courage, political will, and more important, the party backing to deselect Agard?
Captain, the troops are waiting.
Editor’s Note: Agard, who was absent from the conference, was also a no-show at the promised meeting on Thursday.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]