We return to the unique circumstance of Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley, especially in view of some of his recent utterances with respect to his position and status in the House of Assembly. We will not presume to be privy to any closed-door conversations which he would have had with God prior to the May 24 general election, nor any instructions which might have come his way from the Heavenly Father post-May 24.
However, according to Section 74, Subsection (2) of Barbados’ Constitution, “Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Leader of the Opposition he shall appoint the member of the House of Assembly who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of those members who do not support the Government, or if there is no such person, the member of that House who, in his judgment, commands the support of the largest single group of such members who are prepared to support one leader.” Does Mr Atherley’s action of physically “crossing the floor” indicate that he “does not support” the Government? Or, is Mr Atherley “commanding the support of the largest single group of members not supportive of the Government and who are prepared to support one leader?
Though the Constitution might not refer to parties in Parliament, the reality is that parties are represented in Parliament. There are no ethereal beings in either the Lower or Upper Chamber. Thirty individuals of different political persuasion were not elected by Barbadians on May 24. Thirty members of the Barbados Labour Party were elected to Parliament and as of July 18, thirty individuals of the Barbados Labour Party are still in Parliament. What we have is an anomalous situation where the individual Mr Atherley is the Opposition Leader by name but the Barbados Labour Party Member of Parliament by nature. Debate on two words “individual” and “party” does not negate what Mr Atherley himself has enunciated. In reality, he is the Government’s Opposition Leader – as nonsensical as that might sound – and he remains a member of the party that has formed that Government in Parliament. Indeed, by his own words, he has suggested that he will likely be contesting the next general election on a Barbados Labour Party ticket. Of course, the suggestion is that much of what is now transpiring in the House of Assembly has been guided by tête-à-tête discussions with the Man upstairs.
Speaking on the subject recently, Mr Atherley suggested that merely crossing the floor was enough to indicate he was no longer a member of the Government. He had this to say on whether he had formally quit the BLP. “It depends on what is meant by finalized [separation from the BLP] because for all practical intents and purposes, once you have crossed the floor of Parliament to sit in opposition to Government, you cannot be considered to be part of their councils and party life. So to that extent, a severance has taken place.”
In another section of the media, when asked why he had not quit the Barbados Labour Party, he noted: “The reason why I have not yet written a formal letter of resignation is that I believe I must go through the process with the constituents of St Michael West first.” At the time of that interview, he did not indicate whether he had gone through any process with his constituents with respect to leaving the Government they voted for and taking up the position of Leader of the Opposition to which they had no say.
Quizzed as to whether he intended to contest the St Michael West seat for the BLP again – obviously at the completion of his stint as Opposition Leader – Mr Atherley suggested he would have to hold talks with God again.
“I go where God leads me and I listen for the call of the people. If I feel the leading of the Lord very strongly to continue, and if the people want me to represent them, then I would offer myself. I had a meeting as recently as two days ago and with unanimous voice, the people of St Michael West are suggesting that they are behind me.
“We would have to wait and see the political context under which I run because as one can imagine there are some political realities that must be taken into consideration.”
Again, since we were never privy to any conversation which Mr Atherley would have had with God, we cannot say whether the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is among the highest paid in Parliament, or perhaps the second highest paid behind the Prime Minister, was ever discussed. We await Mr Atherley’s pronouncement on whether this subject ever came up with God.
But what has come up – not behind closed doors or with the Man above – is Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s understandable discomfiture with this blatant contrivance. She had this to say: “If that [crossing the floor] were his intention, he should have communicated that to [his constituents] before Election Day. She added that Atherley’s action’s “does raise the issue of trust and we must ask whether we are doing a disservice by allowing this to fester rather than treating to the right of recall for those who cross the floor.” She questioned strongly what Mr Atherley had done while noting “Clearly what was offered to Bishop Atherley was not filling his eyes.”
On that score, only God and Mr Atherley know what more filling alternatives were discussed between them prior to his crossing the floor.