The selection of George Pilgrim by the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) as its choice to contest the St John seat is the “least controversial of the choices” by the party, one political scientist has said.
The DLP hierarchy last night decided on Pilgrim over High Commissioner to Britain Guy Hewitt, former senator Andre Worrell and former consul general in Toronto, the St John-born Dr Leroy McClean, to carry its banner in the safe seat, following the official retirement of the incumbent, Mara Thompson, the widow of late Prime Minister David Thompson.
“I congratulate him and even though the matter was initially handled badly, I am happy that they finally made a decision,” Peter Wickham, the principal director of the leading regional political research company, Caribbean Development Research Services, told Barbados TODAY this morning.
“I guess George is closer to the community and closer Prime Minister [Freundel Stuart]. George was part of the David Thompson team and he would have worked with Mara. Suffice it to say that George was the de facto representative for a while and I think people know that. So it is not surprising because George has been the least controversial choice,” Wickham said.
Pilgrim had been an early favourite to take over the reins in St John, a seat held by the DLP since 1958 when Errol Barrow – who would later become the island’s first Prime Minister – won 50 per cent of the votes in a by election on May 21, 1958 over Owen Allder of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and independent candidate John Chenery.
Thompson did even better when she contested the 2011 by election following her husband’s death in 2010, sweeping through with 89 per cent on the votes, before holding on to the seat with a comfortable 79 per cent in 2013.
However, she had kept the party in suspense after first telling the Nation newspaper last November that she would step down, then denying she was quitting.
As speculation continued to swirl over her candidacy, DLP sources had told Barbados TODAY in late November last year that both McClean and Pilgrim were interested in the seat, with the former diplomat and Barrow protégé as the branch’s choice and Pilgrim as the party hierarchy’s favourite.
Wickham argued that while McClean may also be well known in the party, his popular days were well behind him.
“I know McClean and his gravitas in the area, but the fact is that McClean had greater relevance in the area in 1987 and I don’t know that this is still the case,” Wickham said.
However, while admitting that Pilgrim was a safe choice, Dr George Belle, the retired dean of the faculty of government, sociology and social work at the University of the West Indies, argued that McClean was being given a raw deal by the party.
“While the decision has come very late it has achieved something tactically for the DLP. It eliminated opportunists who are currently in a seat and who may have wanted to switch seats because St John may be safer,” said Belle, who last November had identified McClean, along with Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo and Verla De Peiza as his preferred replacements for Thompson.
“I think Leroy McClean has been hard done again by the DLP when one considers his commitment over the years to the party. People are suggesting that his time has passed but I think he has gotten a hard deal. Nonetheless, they have decided to go with Pilgrim, somebody who is committed to the party and could be more or less be justified by the party to other people that might have had ambitions in that direction,” he told Barbados TODAY.
However, the BLP’s candidate for St John, Charles Griffith, described Pilgrim’s confirmation as the culmination of a long-running insult to the people of the constituency.
Griffith argued that Pilgrim, who was soundly beaten on the three occasions he ran in his home district of St Thomas – twice in general elections and once in a by election – was foisted on the constituents.
“The DLP waited until the eleventh hour to bring a three-time loser to the people of St John, expecting that they would just vote for anybody that the DLP puts before them. I am saying that the people of St John deserve much better. We have a situation where Mara did not come to the people to indicate that she was moving away; instead she used the media to do that. So the insult and the disrespect is now full circle,” Griffith charged. (CM)