It was the English art historian and Whig politician Horatio Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Oxford, who in the 18th century coined the term lame duck at the London Stock Exchange.
In a letter to his namesake, Sir Horatio Horace Mann in 1761 Mr Walpole asked: “Do you know what a Bull and a Bear and Lame Duck are?” It was his way of describing a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts.
Thirty years later, in 1791, the non-fiction writer Mary Berry was less than gentle in the depiction of the English socialite and style icon Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire who had lost £50,000 in stocks, writing that Cavendish’s name was to be “posted up as a lame duck”.
By the 19th century the term had become associated with politics, describing officials often seen as having less influence with other politicians due to their limited time left in office.
Based on what has been transpiring here in recent months, with virtually every member of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) parliamentary group behaving as though their leader, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, were Wilkins Micawber, the fictional character from Charles Dickens’s 1850 novel, David Copperfield, who was incarcerated in debtors’ prison after failing to meet his creditors’ demands, it would seem Mr Stuart sees himself as a lame duck.
The latest to throw the DLP into crepuscular gloom is Mara Thompson, the Member of Parliament for the party stronghold of St John.
For 30 years the constituency has been represented by a Thompson – Mara Thompson’s husband, David, held the seat from 1987 until his death in 2010, before she replaced him. This means that a generation and a half of constituents are familiar with no one else but the Thompson family.
However, with an election mere months away, the great party of Errol Barrow, James Cameron Tudor and Frederick Sleepy Smith is being held in limbo by the goodly parliamentary representative for whom Mr Barrow laid the foundation when he represented the constituency from 1958 to 1987.
Just yesterday, DLP General Secretary George Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY that the party was in the dark about who will represent it in the seat.
Mr Pilgrim said only Ms Thompson knew whether or not she would run again and at the moment, the party had no official word on her intentions.
“The only body who could make that decision is Mara. She is the only body who could make that decision about returning. At the moment, there is nothing official that has come to us,” Pilgrim said.
It is a damning indictment on Ms Thompson, who has a duty to Mr Stuart and the DLP, and a responsibility to her constituents, to tell them as early as possible what she intends to do.
It is true that the seat is a safe one for the DLP, but this does not mean the people who put their trust in Ms Thompson should be disrespected.
The rumours about her future are swirling and she should end the uncertainty now.
However, this behaviour is symptomatic of a party of ersatz unity, and one in which the rictus of internal paralysis is evident everywhere, as everyone simple sings from a different hymn sheet. For example, while Mr Pilgrim – as well as Ms Thompson, for that matter – was pleading with members to refrain from character assassination in the campaign for the next general election, Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe was leading a scathing attack in Parliament on Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, including language deemed unsuitable for publication.
Wittingly or unwittingly, people like Mr Lowe and Ms Thompson are transmitting the impression that the DLP is in a most desperate position while its members and supporters are mired in collective delusion about the election results.
It was Harold Wilson, the then British prime minister who is believed to have said in the mid-1960s that a week is a long time in politics. Therefore, a lot can happen between now and the next election.
The Opposition Barbados Labour Party can implode. Voters can forget the years of hardships imposed upon us by the DLP administration. We might even believe Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Senator Jepter Ince that it is the BLP that is to blame for the country’s dwindling foreign reserves and by extension, the National Social Responsibility Levy.
We might think that all along, it was the BLP that had been in office for the past nine years, inflicting economic pain on us.
But the DLP cannot count on this and be convinced of a preordained, glorious outcome to the election.
Yes, things are really bad, but the time has come for Mr Stuart to stop being a lame duck and take control of his party, if not the country.
He can begin by insisting that his candidates and campaigners stop the mudslinging and focus on the issues that matter to Barbadians, on solutions to our problems and on his plans to bring some sunshine into our lives after a decade of darkness.
He must insist that Ms Thompson declares her hands immediately or forcefully replaced.
Mr Stuart can no longer be like Wilkins Micawber and simply believe that something will turn up.