The firestorm that erupted within the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) after party leader Freundel Stuart suddenly cancelled today’s lunchtime lecture is not entirely surprising.
It is only natural that a party which suffered such structural damage, as the DLP did in the May 24 general election, will show signs of atrophy.
To borrow a famous quote by the British actor Michael Caine in the 1969 comedy caper film, The Italian Job, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was “only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”. Instead, it blew the DLP to bits, and now, the party that led the country from 2008 until this year, the party that led this country into independence, the proud party of Errol Barrow, Cameron Tudor, Frederick Sleepy Smith and Astor Watts is cannibalizing itself as it engages in a bloody a civil war that will do it no good.
“We have been doing that lunchtime lecture on Friday for years and if he [Stuart] had any grievance, he should have consulted with me before making the suggestion which he made last [Wednesday] night,” an angry Mr Watts told Barbados TODAY last evening of the decision by Mr Stuart to call off, at the last minute, the lecture named in Watts’ honour.
“I am going over there tomorrow [today] because I am not a fly-by-night, I was properly brought up . . . .If he [Stuart] does not know right from wrong then he will go to hell. That is where he belongs.”
This might just be the beginning of a lengthy psychodrama playing out at George Street.
We do not know why the decision was taken – Mr Stuart had earlier met with the party’s executive council – but the lecture series was cancelled until after the election of a new executive.
We also may never know if the fact that former Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss was the one due to deliver the presentation influenced the decision.
However, whether by design or inadvertently, the outgoing DLP president finally found a way to muzzle his ex minister.
For years Mr Inniss was the frontrunner in a campaign of ‘I dare you to fire me, Prime Minister’. He arrogated to himself the right to carp, criticize, and condemn the man at whose pleasure he served. There were times when he would all but ridicule Mr Stuart’s leadership style, and denounce some of his decisions. As the general election drew nearer he acted the part of the conscience of the DLP, often in a vacuous and fanciful performance, but without a doctrine.
Through it all Mr Stuart remained quiet, as the rules of collective responsibility were thrown out the window and the then Prime Minister’s malaise paralyzed the administration, while the nation became an unwilling hostage.
With all that was happening we might not have noticed, but, upon reflection, the civil war had already begun, and we all became collateral damage.
In the end, the DLP lost what it stood for. As Rodney Grant, who once was seen as one of its brightest prospects before becoming yet another casualty of the election sweep, said, the party had lost its soul and had moved away from the principles established by its founding father.
It was once the party of free education, it ceded that to the BLP. It used to be the party of the labour movement, it passed that onto the BLP as well. It was once the party of the poor and working class; that too, it gave up. No wonder one of its stalwarts, the former Member of Parliament for St Michael South East Hamilton Lashley, wants it to take on a new image, a new look, a new philosophy.
“I don’t believe that Barbadians want to see the demise of the Democratic Labour Party, but it has to be a new look party. There is absolutely nothing wrong with rebranding with a new reinvigorated policy. We cannot live in the past. There is nothing wrong with the DLP rebranding and calling itself the New Democratic Labour Party,” Mr Lashley told Barbados TODAY in an recent interview.
He also said none of the 30 candidates who contested the last election, including his protégé Grant, had the moral authority to speak on any current issues. This is as telling a position as any DLP stalwart could take.
Right now the party is limping, sadly so, because it is such a Barbadian institution. It is rudderless, leaderless and riven, and badly in need of a young, dynamic and untainted leader to plot its revival and make it relevant again.
But this will not happen if it continues this welter of bloody infighting.