With a welcome change of government, emphatically achieved through last week’s general election which produced a clean sweep for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the near annihilation of an unpopular Democratic Labour Party (DLP) after a decade in office, a symbolic new dawn has broken in Barbados at long last.
A strong fresh wind of hope is blowing through the country. It is reflected particularly in a noticeably more positive attitude which Barbadians have adopted following the lifting of what clearly was a heavy burden off their shoulders. For the first time since David Thompson’s death almost eight years ago, Barbadians are witnessing decisive leadership in action, and a purposeful determination to bring a resolution to critical issues facing the country.
In what has been a hectic first week in office, new Prime Minister Mia Mottley has moved with a sense of urgency to bring about a much-needed revitalization of the stalled economy which is priority no.1. Repeated policy failures over the last five years proved that solving this prolonged crisis was beyond the capability of the Dems. In the end, it was a major contributor to their humiliating 30-0 defeat at the polls, along with the absence of effective leadership.
Miss Mottley’s energetic approach immediately earned plaudits from the business community, a key national stakeholder. Chamber of Commerce president, Eddie Abed, spoke of a welcome return of business confidence and predicted a resurgence of economic activity over the coming six months. Good news indeed! It is important to emphasize, lest we forget, that it is business, not the government, which is the engine of economic growth.
Besides seeking to get the true picture of the state of public finances and the scale of mismanagement under the Dems, another burning issue which has occupied Miss Mottley’s immediate attention is bringing closure to the “stinkeroo” on the south coast. In her search for a solution to this national embarrassment which has blemished Barbados’ image abroad, especially in key tourist markets, she has done what former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart never did. She went on a tour of the affected areas to see, first hand, the adverse impact of the breakdown of the south coast sewage treatment system.
In just one week in office, Miss Mottley has also outshone her predecessor in the extent of her engagement with the news media and the general public. Whereas silence and secrecy defined the tenure of Stuart and the Dems, openness and a readiness to communicate have emerged as refreshing hallmarks of Miss Mottley and her BLP administration. For any government to work effectively on behalf of the people, maintaining such dialogue is critical. Politics, after all, is a communication-driven activity.
Based on her impressive start which has set the tone for her administration over the next five years, Miss Mottley has given Barbadians good reason to feel justified in determining that she is the best choice to lead the country at this time. After the disappointment of the last eight years, the outcome of the general election showed Barbadians wanted a leader with a more hands-on and purposeful approach to problem-solving. In Miss Mottley, they have found such a leader.
Though it is obviously disappointing, Miss Mottley should not allow herself to be sidetracked by the surprise defection of backbencher Joseph Atherley who has decided to become the lone ranger on the Opposition benches. Frankly speaking, it is nothing for her to lose sleep over. Atherley is not a political heavyweight. Besides, the BLP’s unassailable parliamentary majority – now 29-1 – remains solidly intact. Needless to say, there should be political consequences for Bishop Atherley.
His defection, reportedly the result of dissatisfaction over not receiving a Cabinet pick which he has publicly denied, underscores the urgent need for legislation to make MPs resign from their seats in such circumstances. Persons are elected to the House of Assembly to serve as representatives of the people. Being a Cabinet minister is secondary though many MPs make it a primary objective. Furthermore, it is the exclusive gift of the prime minister if he or she so chooses.
The people of St Michael West who voted for Atherley have a justifiable reason to feel betrayed today. A week ago, they voted him in as a BLP representative; today, he is something else. He did not go back to his constituents for consultation to see if they approved such a move. The people, therefore, should be mobilized to apply maximum pressure on Atherley to step aside so that a by-election can be held. On a matter of principle, such behaviour should not be tolerated.
Going back to the outcome of the general election, the Dems basically dug their own political grave by their shameful conduct on the platform where the focus was more on personal attacks than presenting ideas to solve the problems of concern to Barbadians. The BLP, on the other hand, ran an issues-driven campaign with a focus on offering solutions which precisely was what Barbadians voted for. As the Dems self-destructed, there was no need for the BLP to bring out the heavy artillery from its arsenal.
It is unbelievable that the Dems could have thought that they would have won re-election on this basis. But then, they had become so detached from the reality of Barbadians that almost anything was possible. They have paid a dear price for their miscalculation. When May 24 came, all really that was left to be done was closing the open grave in which lay 30 DLP political corpses. Barbadians did so emphatically with their X’s. With its political brand discredited and in tatters, the DLP faces an uncertain future without a voice in the national legislature.
In the last 25 years, quite a few former dominant political parties in the Caribbean have fallen by the wayside in similar circumstances. They include Eric Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party, Forbes Burnham’s People’s National Congress in Guyana, Milton Cato’s St Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party, and Eugenia Charles’ Dominica Freedom Party. Only fresh dynamic leadership and a complete re-branding can save Errol Barrow’s great party from suffering a similar fate.
Stuart, touted by his blind foot-soldiers, as the DLP’s greatest asset was, in fact, its biggest liability. Based on what was being said about him on the ground, he should have been ruthlessly toppled by his disgruntled colleagues long ago, but they just talked the talk and refused to walk the walk. The DLP’s 30-0 drubbing, unprecedented in Barbadian political history, was a national revolt against Stuart’s ineffective leadership and the irrelevance of his politics to the needs of Barbadians.
True to what he said just before the start of the campaign, history was certainly made in this election. Ironically, it was neither in favour of himself nor the DLP. He has gone down in history as the first incumbent leader to suffer such a colossal electoral defeat and will be remembered as the worst prime minister who headed the worst government Barbados has had so far. Wasn’t this my consistent prediction in this column over the last three years? History has absolved me from the vile accusations of critics.
With Stuart and the Dems out of the way, rebuilding Barbados for the better is the urgent task facing Barbadians. Supporting this endeavour ought now to be the primary focus and priority of every patriotic citizen. It is certainly mine. A better Barbados has been my lifelong struggle and that is why I have decided to give Miss Mottley my full support. She has demonstrated, without a doubt, that she is the leader for this time.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)