Sometime during the course of this morning, Bishop Joseph Atherley, dressed smartly in a black suit and a red shirt, took the oath of office as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, before Governor General Dame Sandra Mason.
The colour of his shirt was a symbolic as it was significant, for it was the very colour he wore night after night on the platform during the just concluded election campaign, as one of the major speakers preaching the gospel of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Mia Mottley, and why its policies and programmes would be best for Barbados.
And if no one had noticed today, Mr Atherley made sure it did not escape us by pointing out that “I’m still wearing the Barbados Labour Party colour, if you observe”.
It is passing strange therefore, that the bishop would turn his back on the BLP one week after helping to engineer the decapitation, decimation and massacre of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
Mr Atherley today gave what could be considered a perfectly reasonable explanation for his action.
“We had a result in the election of 30 to one party, none on the other side, representing an absence of a physical presence on the Opposition benches. I want to constitute that physical presence on the Opposition benches and to give critical support to the party in office and the Government; to applaud them when they get it right, which I believe they will often; to put pertinent and pointed questions to them when necessary to help to keep them on their toes.
“This is not about Joseph Atherley. This is about the people of Barbados and this is about our traditions of democracy. It is about our parliamentary processes, and that is why I am doing what I am doing,” he said.
As reasonable as this may sound, why is there such an uncomfortably miasmic feel about it?
When he agreed to run on a BLP ticket, did he not expect to win his seat? When he presented himself to the people of St Michael West, did he not give them reason to believe he would be representing them from the Government benches?
Mr Atherley has made it clear he is no Judas and his decision to cross the floor “is definitely not a repudiation of the Barbados Labour Party platform, its policies, especially as contained in its recent manifesto . . . so I don’t repudiate those, I support those”. He also said it was not because he was overlooked for a seat in Cabinet.
Still, his sudden mood reversal, his unexpected cultural glasnost feels like the defenestration of the people of St Michael West, who by the sheer numbers by which they voted for Mr Atherley and the BLP, left behind the wreckage of the fiasco that became the DLP administration.
He said he would “continue to speak to the interests of the people of St Michael West” who “elected me to serve their interests”. But did the people of his constituency, like the near 112,000 voters who cast ballots in support of the BLP, not voted for the party because they expected it would help improve their lives, and that Mr Atherley would be part of the process?
It is true that others have crossed the floor in the past, but the share weight of the election result and Mr Atherley’s timing make this move more puzzling and more extraordinary.
Mr Atherley’s decision also ignores the public mood, paves the way for deep future resentment and revanchism, places him in a position where he has made himself likely to be repellent to the electorate, and could leave him, shovel in hand, frantically trying to dig himself out of a hole five years from now.
We therefore feel that his decision begs further explanation for if it is not a repudiation of the BLP and its policies, the goodly bishop still needs to tell us who or what exactly does his spirit now forcefully reject?