Democratic Labour Party (DLP) General Secretary George Pilgrim may finally have found a path to Parliament.
Having been soundly beaten in two general elections and one by-election in his home constituency of St Thomas, Pilgrim was last night chosen by the DLP’s general council to contest the safe seat of St John when Prime Minister Freundel Stuart rings the bell.
Pilgrim, who was preferred to High Commissioner to Britain Guy Hewitt, former senator Andre Worrell and former consul general to Toronto Dr Leroy McClean, is seeking to replace Mara Thompson, the widow of late Prime Minister David Thompson, as the DLP seeks to continue its dominance in the constituency, which begun when Errol Barrow – who would later become the country’s first Prime Minister – won a by-election on May 21, 1958 over Owen Allder of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and independent candidate John Chenery, with 50 per cent of the votes.
Support for the DLP spokesman was immediate, with residents of Clifton Hall, Gall Hill and Four Roads insisting while they did not know Pilgrim, they wanted to make it clear St John was still DLP country, regardless of the candidate.
“Whatever them do, them do. The point is that I didn’t like them taking so long but as it now out we will go with him,” one woman in Clifton Hall told Barbados TODAY, while her next-door neighbour shouted over the fence, “Pilgrim all the way. We not switching. This is DLP country and there is no other choice.”
None of those who spoke to Barbados TODAY wanted to be identified. However, it was evident they were voting for party, not candidate.
Still, some warned that the new man did not have the luxury of relying on the legacies of Barrow and David Thompson.
“We will give him a chance but he has to be prepared to work. The older generation going and younger one coming and we now have to put it before the youth why they should do what they should do. He has to realize that this new generation is not going to put up with the same foolishness as the older one,” one man in Gall Hill told Barbados TODAY.
“I only heard about George Pilgrim, I have never met the man but while I am supporting the party these politicians must understand that St John people are fed up and they want proper representation. Mara really didn’t do anything for the people, so Pilgrim have to now put in some work to build back that confidence,” another man said.
However, not everyone was prepared to welcome Pilgrim, with some stating they intended to switch allegiance to Charles Griffith of the BLP.
“With the country’s current economic state it is time for somebody else to get a chance. The DLP had their time and St John is no better off. I am backing Charles Griffith this time around so the news that DLP finally chose somebody does not bother me,” said a 19-year-old man, who plans to vote for the first time in this election.
A cloud had been hanging over the DLP’s candidate for the seat since Thompson stated last November that she did not intend to run again, although she later dismissed the report.
However, the jostling began soon after, with Barbados TODAY reporting in late November that both Pilgrim and McClean were interested in taking up the baton, while a party source later revealed that while the branch preferred McClean, who is from the area, the hierarchy would select Pilgrim.
Thompson, who won the January 20, 2011 by election over the BLP’s Hudson Griffith with 89 per cent of the votes, and held on in 2013 over the same candidate with 79 per cent of the votes, finally told constituents in a walk through recently, of her decision to step aside and to throw her support behind Pilgrim.
She made the decision official last night, announcing her retirement in a written statement, on the heels of a call by party activist and former minister Hamilton Lashley, for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to clear the air on the candidate for St John.
In her statement, Thompson said her decision to quit came after “a long hard look at myself and the needs of my family”.
“As I contemplate the last eight years, I reflect on the passing of my beloved husband David JH Thompson and the ensuing grief that engulfed me and my family. But we were cradled and buoyed by the people of St John. They swept me into Parliament, giving me the very distinct honour of becoming their parliamentary representative,” she wrote, adding that she would “publicly throw my support behind and endorse” Pilgrim, who she said “has been in and around St John for many years” working closely, first with her husband, and, after his death, with her.
“Just as I did for my late husband in terms of the constituency, I intend to do for George,” the retired parliamentarian said.