More than a decade ago Glasgow Kelvin MP George Galloway was expelled from Tony Blair’s British Labour Party.
A staunch and vocal critic of Britain’s involvement in the war in the Middle East, Galloway had publicly stated that the war in Iraq was illegal. He urged British troops not to obey illegal orders. Galloway then asked the Arab world why they didn’t support Iraq; urged Arab leaders to wake up; and queried when would they stand by the Iraqis.
He was charged internally by his party for inciting Arabs to fight British troops; inciting British troops to defy orders; threatening to stand against Labour; backing an anti-war candidate in Preston; and inciting Plymouth voters to reject Labour MPs. With the exception of the latter, he was convicted of the charges and duly expelled from the Labour party.
Galloway’s charges had been brought by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) and subsequently heard over a two-day period by a separate national constitutional committee (NCC). The Labour Party chairman Ian McCartney described the NCC as a “body that is fierce in its independence”. The separation of accuser and panel of enquiry was palpably clear.
There is sound reasoning in the idea that a political party and its disciplinary processes should be able to deal evenly and fairly with its membership irrespective of their standing in the organization. No one should be above a political party’s rules which are never ethereal but are created and presumably agreed upon by the membership.
The maintenance of order is critical in any organization in circumstances where rules and procedures are clearly defined and not left up to conjecture or the whims and fancies of those dispensing justice.
In as much as the Laws of Barbados are specific with respect to procedures, breaches and penalties, an organization such as a political party and by extension a potential government, should have a constitution that is specific and pellucidly clear on procedure related to discipline. Disciplinary decisions made are too critical to be left to personal foibles or flawed regulations.
Such clear guidelines would, hopefully, encourage a situation where differences of opinion – irrespective of their vehemence – should not be the precursor to expulsions of members from political organisations.
A political thinker once opined that all party leaders should be open to honest criticism. Indeed, he suggested that as part of building the party, valid criticism should always be embraced.
Critics, inside a party, he noted, should not be crushed. The suggestion was that a situation should not be created where it would appear that “to agree with everything the leaders say is divine, but to disagree is treason”.
“What seems to be distinctly lacking among the leaders of our political parties is the culture of tolerance and humility which places the humanity of others before self and accepts that all party members have a right to participate in shaping the destiny of their political parties directly without fear of reprisal.
“Tolerance and respect for our fellow party members, whatever their rank, should make us allow them to express their opinions about our views and practices without inhibition, whether these seem to be unpalatable or not. At the same time, we should expect the same treatment or privilege when our turn comes,” the political scribe suggested.
But there is a certain degree of naiveté among many followers of Barbadian politics. And this is often fuelled by academics with agendas hidden in plain sight. Anticipation of consultancies or other political appointments under desired new dispensations can make for powerful motivation and skewed public opinions.
Though internal political tribunals are not law courts, there are certain fundamentals that should hold true even under a mango tree in Harts Gap or Bush Hall Yard Gap. And among these are the right to due process and natural justice.
Though Mr Galloway might not have agreed or liked the outcome of his case, he more than likely felt confident in the separation of the NEC and NCC and the reasonable likelihood that he was privy to due process.
The Barbados Labour Party’s imbroglio involving Christ Church West MP Dr Maria Agard, Opposition Leader Miss Mia Mottley, BLP General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott, et al, has been well ventilated even before Dr Agard’s expulsion.
That some of the personages involved in the initial dispute were part of the decision-making process leading to her expulsion is a travesty of justice. That among her “crimes” has been the exercise of her right of speech in defence of herself is obscene.
Her party colleague St Andrew MP George Payne has advised her to take the Barbados Labour Party to court. His own party. This is perhaps the greatest indictment of the Barbados Labour Party by a member in its 77-year history. He has given Dr Agard sound legal advice. Is that advice now inimical to the interests of the party, or, to the interests of the one unnamed individual whom he said was an issue in the organization?
We will see.