Even though I had never seriously considered Freundel Stuart as a leader within Democratic Labour Party (DLP) circles because, in my estimation, he had never really demonstrated those necessary and defining characteristics, when he became acting prime minister after David Thompson fell gravely ill, I nevertheless wanted him to succeed. Not only for the good of Barbados but also the DLP and I therefore felt obliged to support him in any way I could.
Unlike certain misguided DLP die-hards — political plebs I prefer to call them — who apparently believe they are doing Stuart a favour by personally attacking me whenever I justifiably comment on his leadership, I have known Stuart, not recently like virtually all of them, but from my teenage years which is a very long time indeed. We are both Philipeens, attended Foundation School, are avid readers, have a solid grounding in the classics, specifically Latin, and were brought up in the church. He grew up as a Pentecostal; I am a high Catholic Anglican.
There is also a family connection. A late uncle of mine was a close friend of his mother. Stuart also happened, through the Bluebirds club, to have been a friend of another uncle of mine. When he successfully ran in St Philip South in 1994, I voted for him. So there is more that unites us than divides us. Indeed, the bonds among authentic Philipeens are strong. It just happens that Stuart currently holds a public position of power, authority and trust which makes his words and actions subject to scrutiny in the public interest. In my role as a columnist which is distinct from my former role as a political communicator for the DLP, I perform such a function commenting on public affairs.
My disappointment with Stuart, the public figure as distinct from the private person, relates to his laid-back style of leadership and the uninspiring, ineffective approach which the DLP, under his watch, has brought to the management of the public affairs of Barbados. Knowing that better can be done by virtue of my political training and experience, I cannot remain silent in the face of grave errors which largely could have been avoided. It is my duty, as a columnist, to highlight such shortcomings. Were I still a DLP political communicator, my job would have been to try to put a positive spin on a bad situation.
My first recollection of Stuart was as a 13 year old going to Six Roads on Saturday mornings to purchase my weekly school bus ticket at the Princess Margaret School where he then taught. I would often see this lanky guy who almost always had a book in his hand and seemed to be particularly fond of wearing sandals. Out of curiosity, I asked a friend one day who he was. He replied: “Freundel Stuart, but most people down here call him Jiggs”. About four years later, at Christmas, we were formally introduced to each other by Sir James Tudor at the home of the late James and Lee Tudor in Beulah.
Given this level of familiarity, when Stuart was acting prime minister and under fire for not communicating with Barbadians, I felt comfortable enough to phone him up as he had once described me as “an ally in the faith and a partner in our struggle”. He invited me to Government Headquarters and we met in the Prime Minister’s Office for over an hour. We had a frank discussion, reminisced, shared a few jokes, and I left with an appreciation of the concerns which were causing him to feel restrained. He particularly did not wish to be perceived as overstepping the boundary, as Thompson was still prime minister.
It was quite understandable. Stuart had not been Thompson’s first choice to be deputy prime minister. It was someone else but Thompson chose not to make the appointment right away, opting to wait almost a year. When he eventually made the announcement, somewhat surprisingly, it was Stuart, I guess, because of seniority. On the morning Thompson died, there were also reservations within the DLP camp as to whether Stuart was the right choice for prime minister. My phone was busy from after 2 a.m. Stuart emerged as prime minister but the decision reportedly was not unanimous. As explained, it was more a vote for continuity and stability. Residual doubts later resurfaced in the so-called “Eager 11” affair.
After delivering the president’s address at the DLP’s annual conference the following year, Stuart quietly pulled me aside and, without elaborating, said he wanted me to “stick close to him”. I, however, was weeks away from going back to university in Canada. Days before my departure, a close friend of Stuart telephoned me and tried unsuccessfully, for almost an hour, to convince me to shelve my study plans. “PM has something big for you,” he said.
When I subsequently came home for Christmas, during a meeting at Ilaro Court, Stuart offered me the same position — principal political adviser – that Hartley Henry held under David Thompson. I agreed to consider the offer, requested a draft contract for perusal before deciding, and indicated I could make myself available from the following June. We agreed to stay in touch. After returning to cold Ottawa, I penned and emailed Stuart a private and confidential letter containing specific recommendations for prompt implementation for his political benefit, arising from our discussion.
No acknowlegement of the correspondence was my first major experience of frustration in this evolving relationship, followed by repeated difficulty trying to make contact by phone. When I finally did speak with Stuart more than a month later, I learnt, much to my disappointment, that he had not seen, far less, read the email. My enthusiasm started to wane and I wondered if I, with a sense of urgency in getting things done, could really work with him. He came across as much too laid back, in sharp contrast with other leaders I had previously worked with.
When I eventually returned home at the end of April, the draft contract still had not been prepared. I wondered: is he playing a game? I decided, however, to give him the benefit of the doubt and adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Meanwhile, with an approaching general election and fears that the DLP would be defeated, I became involved, at Bobby Morris’ request, in a small group that would meet with Stuart on Saturday mornings to brainstorm on strategy. A key objective was ensuring Stuart retained his seat.
For the DLP annual conference that year, I scripted, gratis, a significant portion of the address Stuart delivered. It earned him a standing ovation and fired up the demoralized DLP base. As I exited the DLP auditorium afterwards, a few persons excitedly asked “You wrote that speech, right?” I provided neither confirmation nor denial but, having contributed to quite a few David Thompson speeches, persons obviously were familiar with my style. To my amazement, I subsequently heard from Stuart that I had told persons I was the author — the obvious doing of name-carrying mischief-makers.
Meanwhile, Stuart again promised to have the draft contract ready by a new date. Again he did not deliver. As it was the third time, I decided this was it. I never raised the issue with him again — as I hadn’t asked to serve in the first place — and decided to take a back seat in DLP politics, playing no active role in the 2013 general election. The whole experience provided direct exposure to the frustration of Stuart’s leadership style. I saw the DLP and Barbados going nowhere.
Stuart, I was later told, subsequently had me under consideration for a diplomatic appointment but it would not have mattered as I had come, after much soul-searching, to the decision that it was in my best interest to part company with the DLP. Staying carried the possibility of being asked to defend the indefensible which, in good conscience, I could not do. Subsequent events, especially the sharp deterioration of our economy, have proved me right.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: email@example.com)