A former leader of Barbados is reported to have said that Barbadians have short memories. If I had any doubts about the accuracy of his observation, they were dispelled in the run up to the last election and subsequently.
For 14 years, Owen Arthur was showered with praise for his outstanding leadership and economic brilliance. The party he led found him so indispensable that its election slogans prominently displayed his revered name. Who can forget “Going wid Owen”, “Owen now more than ever”? Short in stature, Mr Arthur, nevertheless, bestrode the political landscape like a colossus.
The politics of inclusion hauled in persons who had supported the Democratic Labour Party all their lives and it seemed as though the country was in danger of becoming a one party state. Thank God we were saved from such a calamity by the astute leadership of the late David Thompson and other bright young members of the DLP.
The point, though, is that from 1994 to 2007, Owen Arthur captured the hearts of the majority of Barbadians.
Fast forward to 2017-2018. The same Arthur whose policies we were told helped Barbados to “punch above its weight” has now become a pariah in the eyes of many who once worshipped him. What has the former Prime Minister done to be treated with the disrespect demonstrated on social media and in conversations among those who profited from his work?
Whether we like to admit it or not, Mr Arthur transformed the Barbados Labour Party and made it appealing to the masses. I did not always agree with his policies and I still feel that he should have done more to restructure the Barbados economy. However, I am grateful for his contribution and will not join fair-weather friends and supporters in castigating him because he dared to resign from the party he helped to build and made comments which were not found acceptable to some.
The truth is that were it not for Owen Arthur, quite a few of the present politicians would have been in the political wilderness. Criticizing him is one thing, but abusing him is beyond the pale and those guilty of such behaviour should hang their heads in shame. Our tendency to engage in ad hominem attacks instead of challenging ideas and opinions has brought us to this sorry pass where a leader who deserves our respect has become the target of vilification.
Another issue relates to the glee with which many Barbadians greeted the crushing defeat of the Democratic Labour Party in the last elections and the subsequent predictions of the party’s total annihilation. Pardon me, but was it not the DLP that, in the words of the late Sir Richard Haynes, “transformed Barbados from a collection of villages to a modern state?” Is this not the party of free secondary and tertiary education, the National Insurance Scheme and which, even in the last ten years, enacted Employment Rights and Sexual Harassment at the work place legislation?
I also seem to remember that the last three years saw the largest ever number of tourists visiting these shores and the much maligned Minister of Education ensuring that the vast majority of teachers in our country were trained and appointed. In addition, there was a major push to provide relevant education for special needs children.
The Democratic Labour Party made errors and deserved to lose the Government, but nobody who understands history should hope for its demise. Both the DLP and the BLP have done too much to uplift the masses of this country to be written off.
As is the case with Mr Arthur, we should salute the Democratic Labour Party for its outstanding contribution to Barbados, even as we condemn its failure to deliver in the way we wanted the party in Government to in the last decade. I am sure the time will come again when the electorate will punish the Barbados Labour Party at the polls. That is how politics is, but we should not wish for the party’s destruction, then either.
(John Goddard is a retired educator who was a senior teacher at Harrison College and a teacher at St George Secondary)