Four years ago, Owen Arthur was involved in the now infamous “coup” of Mia Mottley as Opposition Leader, when four of his parliamentary colleagues gave him a vote of confidence and returned him as leader after they expressed dissatisfaction with her. Arthur was sworn in on October 18, 2010, as the new Opposition Leader, exactly a day after his 61st birthday.
After the defeat of the BLP in the February 2013 general election, Arthur was re-elected to his seat. But a few days following the poll, on February 26, 2013, the BLP parliamentary group elected Mottley again as Leader of the Opposition, replacing Arthur. Arthur was not present on the occasion in order to “give the members of the parliamentary grouping the freedom to choose the future of the Barbados Labour Party”.
In January this year, Mottley had warned Barbadians against being distracted from the job at hand by puerile political infighting in response to a published December 30, 2012 letter by Arthur and addressed to the Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly, Kerrie Symmonds, in which Arthur said he had lost all confidence in Mottley’s leadership and questioned the selection process which had reinstalled her as the Leader of the Opposition and the political leader of the Barbados Labour Party.
In May this year, Barbados TODAY published a story that stated Arthur was among party members singled out for censorship at a party national executive council meeting for publicly criticizing the leadership of Mottley and also for being absent for a crucial vote on the Estimates Of Revenue And Expenditure in March, when a divide was called for in Parliament.
And the straw(s) that may have broken the camel’s back and compounded his decision to resign today were Arthur’s belief that the party had not only lost its way, but also its soul, and was in danger of being a victim of obsession with power, not any more using the standard and symbols for its causes during the past 76 years of its existence.
After handing in his one-line letter of resignation at party headquarters, Roebuck Street, to take immediate effect, the former Prime Minister spoke to reporters.
Yesterday I made a statement in relation to why I found it impossible to participate in a march [against the imposition of the Municipal Solid Waste Tax], ostensibly in the name of the Barbados Labour Party, and I gave a reason why I abstained from marching.
Today, I’m resigning from the Barbados Labour Party, and I will give a reason why I’m resigning from the Barbados Labour Party; and it’s totally different from why I could not participate in the march, although one compounds the other.
The Barbados Labour Party is 76 years old and it has always stood for something and must always stand for something important. It must be able to stand on its own. It must be able to inspire people, its supporters, the general public as a political institution by the quality of its message, its policies, but also its confidence and what it stands for.
I abstained from participating in the march yesterday, precisely because . . . as I said, I would have found it impossible having been a Minister of Finance who introduced an Environmental Levy to this country, to be a hypocrite by suggesting that the country must not continue to find ways of paying for environmental solutions.
I expressed my opposition to what the Democratic Labour Party has proposed by way of a means to raise resources to pay for environmental solutions; and in all fairness to the party, the party has in fact started to respond to the expression of opposition and has tried to find a way of making the tax more workable. I still don’t agree with what they are proposing, but at least they are trying.
I would even have greater reason to oppose what the Barbados Labour Party is now proposing; and this proposal should deal with the same thing to put a tax on water.
The very same reasons and stronger reasons that led me to go to my constituency and ask the people who elected me, to oppose the Solid Waste Tax and would cause me to go to my constituency and oppose any Labour Party-inspired tax on water. In fact, I think the Labour Party tax on water is even more absurd. And to have a march ostensibly to oppose a tax when your proposal is even more absurd, would put me in the theatre of the absurd. I don’t want to be there.
I am resigning because I believe that the Labour Party has not only lost its way, but it has also lost its soul. The Barbados Labour Party must stand for something. It has always been able to operate in its own name, function in its own name, ask the public to support it in its own name, inspire the confidence of the public by functioning in its own name and to hold up symbols of its identity as a political institution, to inspire its members, to mobile its members and to attract the support of the public.
When you reach a stage on a fundamental matter where you can no longer function in your own name, be confident in your own skin, nor hold up the symbols that the party has used for 76 years, to inspire its members and to inspire the confidence and support of the public, then I say to you that this institution has lost its soul.
And in addition to issues of policy, it would so appear that the Barbados Labour Party asked the public to support it in a march, not by saying, ‘we will march, or we invite you to march, but, “I will walk”.
And it tells me that this institution has, in addition to other strong evidence, this institution has now been made a plaything and is in danger of becoming the victim of what I can only call, megalomaniac tendencies; and I do not want to be part of an institution that is a play thing and that allows itself to become the victim of megalomaniac tendencies. I also said that this party has for 76 years been able to hold up its own symbols, its own standards and to invite the public to join with it, as it holds up its own symbols and its own standards. The standard is red. We have always used red as the rallying cry to bring people to our cause. It is something that I have always worn with pride.
Today I wear a red shirt with pride; I have signed my letter of resignation from the Barbados Labour Party with a red pen, with pride. And the Barbados Labour Party if it is to have pride in its own identity as an institution, must have pride in its symbols that have defined it and differntiated it. When people can be invited therefore to march, not behind the symbols of the Barbados Labour Party, but something to which that is foreign to our nature, I say to you, that there is no difference from a people repudiating its flag.
I cannot be part of an institution which so vandalizes and destroys its own heritage. So I have come to that point where frankly, if I felt that there could be any useful purpose for me to be functioning in this institution and be of positive benefit to the institution and to the country, I would not be doing what I am doing today.
You must believe when I tell you that this is a difficult decision, it is a painful decision, but it is a necessay decision because I would not be betraying my parents, the people who have elected me, my children, my grandchild and to myself, if I would continue just for a bankrupt reason to serve an institutioin which I so deeply believed has lost its way and has lost its soul. And I have agonised over this decision as you can imagine and I don’t take it lightly.
As I said, if I could still be in this institution and serve it, I wouldn’t be here. But I don’t believe I can; and as I said, I do not want any efforts that I make, just to be interpreted continuously being a strife-maker. I am too old for that. So I have, for the betterment of this institution and myself, to say goodbye to it. Today I do that with a full and painful heart. But I do it. And yuh know I have agonised over this and I found Psalm 137 . . . that “by the rivers of Babylon where we sat down, and there we wept when we remembered Zion. But they took us away to captivity and required for us a song, but how can I sing the Lord’s song, in a strange land.” And that is the message with which I leave the Barbados Labour Party for ever and for ever.
Mr Arthur, would you serve out your full time in Parliament?
Arthur: Yes I would, but as an Independent Member Parliament.