Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has hit back forcefully at Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stalwart Sir Richard ‘Johnny’ Cheltenham for suggesting that the Opposition was currently united, following his departure from the party close to three years ago.
“I can only call that an unbelievable lie,” said Arthur this morning in a very acid response to Sir Richard, in which he pointed out that “since I have left the Barbados Labour Party [in July 2014], they have thrown out Maria Agard – that would have to be a most curious way of showing unity. Lynette Eastmond has left to form her own political party – that is a curious way of showing unity. Wendell Callender is the process of forming his own party as well, and you have other splinter groups being formed out of the Labour Party.”
Therefore, he said “the notion that the Labour Party is now so much united as never before is not something that can be borne out by evidence before us”. In fact, he deemed it “a most ridiculous assertion” by Sir Richard, who he further accused of performing a “propagandist” role on behalf of current BLP leader Mia Mottley.
The stinging rebuke of the BLP elder came after Sir Richard sought to pin an ongoing public feud between the former BLP cohorts on Arthur, saying, “this man is always attacking this lady, but this lady has nothing adverse to say about him”.
However, Arthur cautioned today that Mottley was in the habit “of not speaking through her own voice” but “speaking through surrogates” , while warning Sir Richard in particular that he was not about to lie down and play dead.
“He is not going to run me from the field. I will have to say about Miss Mottley what I have to say and I will have to say about Mr Cheltenham what I have to say,” he told Barbados TODAY, while contending that his recent criticisms of the Opposition were justified and that he would not allow them to get lost in the “fog of folly that Johnny Cheltenham has brought to it”.
Arthur explained that under his leadership between 1994 and 2008, the BLP had carried out “important” reform of the domestic tax system by abolishing 11 indirect taxes and 44 fees and replacing them with one tax – the Valued Added Tax (VAT).
He suggested that since then, the whole system has been “convoluted and confused by a [Democratic Labour Party] Government that doesn’t know what it is doing”. But instead of defending its successful VAT legacy, he lamented that the BLP, under Mottley’s command, was now seemingly prepared to sit and allow the trade unions to take the fight to Government on the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
“The Labour Party should have no difficulty in having a position which says, ‘no social responsibility levy, let us fix the VAT,’” said Arthur.
“Now if that is to be construed as an attack on Mottley, then so be it, but there is a Constitution of Barbados that defines and prescribes a role for an Opposition [and] we are having in this country a very serious debate about the structure and content of Government’s economic policy that can have a bearing on the well-being of the people and the future of the economy and society. The Opposition has been silent in the matter . . . and they feel that they can win the Government by saying nothing and leave the opposition to Government’s policies that they don’t agree with to be carried – not by them as prescribed by the Constitution – but to be carried by others, and I think that is something that is wrong, that needs to be condemned in the strongest terms,” he added.
In the wake of a 48-hour ultimatum issued by the trade unions for Government to grant relief to workers from the NSRL or else, Arthur further warned the BLP that “elections in this country cannot and will not be won by stealth”.
‘In 1994 I told the country, ‘job number one was jobs’ and outlined a clear ten-point programme as to how we were going to deal with it. And so it has to be, the Labour Party can’t now say that, ‘oh, let us change the Government and have Mia Mottley as Prime Minister and away with Freundel Stuart’. That is utter nonsense. That is clap trap,” he insisted.
However, Arthur reserved his harshest criticism for Sir Richard whom he accused of practising “classism”, while warning that one day he would have to tell the full story of “why as Prime Minister I had to get rid of Cheltenham from my Cabinet”.
“He [Sir Richard] has had a long history of attacking people. In 1971 on the platform of the Barbados Labour Party he led a most scurrilous attack on [the DLP’s candidate Anderson Peanuts Morrison]. It was tinted with classism and it cost [the then BLP leader Bernard] Bree St John a seat and the Government. That is Cheltenham for you.
“Then he went to Christ Church East and he won his seat by the skin of his teeth and there he led a most ridiculous and scurrilous attack on Ginger Borne [before moving to] Joseph where he was always referring to [his opponent Randall] Rouse as ‘the head and belly man’ and Rouse had him to beat and he had to flee from St Joseph again. So I am accustomed to these kinds of attacks.
“This has been the hallmark of Johnny Cheltenham’s political career. So like all the others who I have just referenced – whether it is Bree, Peanuts, Ginger Bourne – I now know what it feels like to be savaged by a political sheep,” Arthur disparagingly said.
He also suggested that Sir Richard’s whole statement yesterday in which he stoutly defended Mottley leadership “sounds as though he is a man out fishing for something”.
However, the former Prime Minister warned the BLP elder whose name is among those being touted within the Opposition as a possible candidate for the position of Governor General that “recent events may suggest that if he is fishing for something, he is fishing in a dry pond”.