Billy Joel, one of my all-time favourite pop music artistes, had a 1982 chart rider called Allentown which subsequently came to be regarded in pop culture, as a stirring anthem about the seemingly never-ending struggle of working class people to have better, more fulfilling and rewarding lives.
Set in a Pennsylvania, United States town experiencing economic hardship and social dislocation, the song spoke of shattered hopes and dreams, especially among young people fresh out of school. But it simultaneously underscored a steely determination by Allentown folk to keep on fighting, despite the setbacks, “even though it is getting really hard to stay.”
The town’s youth, as is quite normal in such situations, were getting restless. With diminished opportunities for achieving a better life than their parents, they began to seriously question – very much like what many Barbadian youth today are doing — the whole purpose and relevance of the education they had received and into which they had invested so much time and effort in pursuit of their dreams.
“Well we’re waiting here in Allentown,” the particular stanza goes. “For the Pennsylvania we never found; for the promises our teachers gave; if we worked hard; if we behaved; so the graduations hang on the wall; but they never really helped us at all. No they never taught us what was real.” Put another way, they were living in a bubble which the harsh socio-economic conditions burst and brought them face to face with reality.
Barbados today, on the eve of its 50th anniversary of Independence, ironically bears some resemblance to Allentown in certain respects. The see-sawing emotions described in the song are quite evident in our little ‘Bimshiretown’ where a steady sequence of negative developments, beginning mere months after the 2013 general election, has clearly taken a psychological and emotional toll on most people.
From credit ratings downgrades to renewed fears of a currency devaluation, from lower scores for human development to being regarded as a not so friendly place for doing business, from unprecedented water woes in many outlying districts, to the deterioration of public transport and sanitation services. Also, the seeming breakdown of law and order, especially the surge in gun-related crime, and the growing feeling of insecurity among citizens.
All of these issues, revolving around a perception of weak and ineffective leadership, occasionally give the uncomfortable feeling of a country falling apart. Little wonder the Government’s $7 million Independence celebration plan has so far failed to generate any real buzz, with just over a month to go before the big day, suggesting Barbadians on the whole may not be as excited as the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is because, for them, fixing the many pressing national problems is the top priority.
The current Barbados is unfamiliar to most residents, especially the children of Independence who took pride in the knowledge that they lived in a country where things worked and leadership was always decisive and effective in dealing with any crisis. Unprecedented decline causing the economy to be eight per cent smaller at the end of 2014 than it was in 2008, resulting in significant social fall-out, has caused hope, optimism and confidence which were in abundance at Independence, to steadily give way to despair, pessimism and doubt.
At Independence, Barbados was being managed well and a steadily growing economy undergoing modernization was providing unprecedented opportunities, the fruits of progressive and enlightened public policy, for our people to develop. In contrast today, there seems to be an emerging consensus that the incumbent DLP has done a poor job over the last eight years, but more so since the death of former Prime Minister David Thompson in 2010.
Indeed, there are many Barbadians who are of the view that the regime is clueless when it comes to identifying and implementing the right solutions. Hence, the predicament in which the country finds itself. Recently, a Cave Hill economics professor produced empirical evidence confirming what many Barbadians had concluded long ago. Namely that the Dems, especially the post Errol Barrow generation, are not highly effective economic managers.
The success of any country today is related to consistent economic growth. Whereas the average economic growth rate over the past 50 years under the DLP was 0.14 per cent, it was 2.4 per cent for the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Interestingly, the beleaguered Dems, which lash out at almost every piece of real or perceived criticism of their stewardship, have maintained a deafening silence on this issue.
Going into the next general election with such solid confirmation of their reputation for being better economic managers, Mia Mottley’s BLP has received a major boost from an unexpected and presumably impartial source and finds itself with a major advantage over the DLP. Bread and butter issues now matter most to the average Barbadian who is struggling to make ends meet. In the BLP, based on its track record, they will see much better prospects of improving their lot which has become one of deprivation under the Dems.
Nowhere is the pessimism more evident than among our young people, many of whom will leave for perceived greener pastures abroad at the first opportunity because some are of the view that Barbados has little to offer them in terms of a future. The DLP, which is a shadow today of the great organization it was at Independence, cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the crisis as it has consistently tried to do. Neither is its claim of light at the end of the tunnel being taken seriously.
When a party offers itself to a country as an option for government and succeeds in winning the confidence of a majority of the people, it assumes a solemn responsibility for fixing problems which exist instead of blaming its predecessor. After eight years in office, the Dems have landed the country in a deeper hole.
Our economy, being choked by dangerously high debt, unprecedented levels of taxation, frustrating bureaucratic red tape, and a government whose body language suggests it lacks confidence in its own ability, will not achieve the kind of recovery Barbadians are hoping for under the present team.
The Dems’ biggest problem is that they lack credibility and no longer enjoy the confidence of the people. Furthermore, an increasing number of prominent professionals are coming out and indicating that the Government has got it wrong in critical areas. So many people cannot be wrong!
In a democracy, some issues, once they have reached the proverbial point of no return, are best referred to the people for resolution. It seems we have come to such a point in Barbados, meaning only a general election will suffice. To fix the economics, we also have to fix the politics.
Having lost the confidence of the people and the moral authority to continue along the present path, it is futile for the Dems to stick to the constitutional argument that they were given a five-year mandate. The mandate belong to the people. At any rate, country always must come before party. And the people are always paramount.
Meanwhile, for better or for worse, life will go on in ‘Bimshiretown’.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)