As far as the analysis that suggests the Barbadian electorate is split about 40/40 along party lines with the remainder determining who wins the Government, I am not in full agreement with that yet or that the 20 per cent appears to be powerful and shouts when ready.
On Thursday, September 2, 1976, they shouted when they turned out the incumbent DLP which held 18 of 24 seats going into the election; they returned just three, giving the Tom Adams-led BLP administration 24 of the 27 seats. This was the third term for the DLP since 1961 having won 14, 14 and then 18 seats. This radical change came when Barbados experienced its first post-independence recession manufactured by the retaliation of oil producing Arab countries in response to the United States support of Israel against Egypt in the Yom Kippur War. On October 19, 1973, President Nixon requested $2.2 billion from Congress in emergency military aid for Israel. The Arab members of OPEC responded by halting oil exports to the United States and other Israeli allies. Egypt, Syria, and Israel declared a truce on October 25, 1973. But OPEC continued the embargo until March 1974. By then, oil prices had skyrocketed from $2.90/barrel to $11.65/barrel. The shock of the steep oil price hikes rocked the Barbados economy in a way that left many people one step away from the abject poverty of the 1930s that led to serious social dislocation and even rioting. Many felt the administration showed a lack of empathy when they created a special gas pump for ‘officials’ and a photo of this was posted by the Nation Newspaper.
They shouted again in 1986 when they turned out the BLP which held 17 of 27 seats going into the election and like in 1976, they returned just 3 members of the incumbent, giving the DLP 24 of the then 27 seats. Again, recession had hit Barbados in 1981, which was the fallout from the international recession again caused by steep increases in fuel prices from the Iranian revolution coupled with high interest rates from the US Federal Reserve. The Central Bank identified domestic influences as partly responsible for worsening the economic recession. In particular, there was a tendency for a marked deterioration in the public sector around the time of the election cycle. Then governor Dr Courtney Blackman argued that “to make matters worse, the world recession of 1981-1982 turned out to be far more severe than expected, dragging us down into negative GDP growth. Our tourism and sugar earnings failed badly, and heavy foreign borrowing was necessary in 1981 to sustain our foreign reserves”. Blackman further argued that the 18-month IMF standby agreement in October 1982 “imposed a much-needed discipline, and the fiscal deficit was reduced by half during 1982, and even further in 1983”. He suggested that once the IMF left, “our policymakers resumed an aggressive fiscal policy, and the deficits began to widen once again”.
That 20 per cent shouted again in 2018, and quite a large percentage of the DLP 40 per cent stayed at home, contributing to the lowest voter turnout in history when they wiped out the DLP completely and returned the BLP, now led by Mia Mottley. Yet again, this is on the heels of a recession. Yet again, the electorate believed the incumbent was not properly addressing their needs.
In every instance that we have had a fundamental change in the confidence of the electorate it has been precipitated by an active, functioning Oppostion. Even if it is a single voice, the Oppostion party represents an alternative Government. Its effective role is to keep a check on the policies of the ruling government. Let us not forget that the ruling party has not come into power by 100 per cent voting, so the voice of the rest of the people must be raised by the Oppostion. The Leader of the Oppostion is selected as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which examines the Auditor General’s Report and must be consulted on key appointments.
With an effective Oppostion, more debate and discussion take place on issues and bills. Otherwise, they may be passed without any debate and without accommodating the needs of other people. This will be lethal to democracy and what is meant to be a democracy can work as an autocracy. So a democracy can never be mature without an Oppostion party. The Oppostion party keeps informing the people about the issues. Delete the position of Oppostion and democracy will automatically perish.
On April 28, 2018, in a paid public relations article in another section of the press, the good Reverend Joseph Atherley stated that after 30 years in politics and the last ten years in Oppostion, he had witnessed a spectacular societal decay and, in particular, the housing needs of his constituents being ignored. He said he felt it was his time like Moses to lead his people out of the grip of the ‘oppressors’. Quoting Luke 4, the Reverend compared himself to Jesus, whom he stated very much wanted to change the lot of the poor. Speaking the gospel according to the BLP, the Reverend laid out a case for the election of his party to sail the HMS Barbados through the troubled waters as it was called upon to do in 1976.
It is surprising that Luke 4 was used in the context of aiding the poor, when one usually associates Luke 4 with Satan attempting to bribe Jesus when nearing the end of his 40 day sabbatical, first with bread then with power and wealth. The immortal words ‘Get thee behind me, Satan….’ (Luke 4:8) are the most resonant of that book, in a repudiation of the offering made. Perhaps the good Reverend should have paid more attention to this rejection of bread and power and staying faithful to one’s tribe, which is the central teaching of this book.
Fate surely has no boundaries to its irony when the good Reverend would himself be tempted and the nation would watch in awe as he grasped all that was offered, wrapping both arms around the prize and then stumbling over several iterations before coming to a final rationale deemed acceptable. I find it difficult to reconcile how the Leader of the Oppostion could actually be an active member of the ruling party. Does he still attend BLP events? Is he still privy to party strategy? Given that the lines between party functionaries and Government functionaries are so blurred with this current administration, where does the good Reverend actually sit? He has said categorically that he will contest the next general election as a candidate for the Barbados Labour Party. Is that decision still his to make? More importantly, how does he feel about it, and how well does he sleep?
Chairman of the Party and Minister of Housing George Payne put a straightforward question to the good Reverend – should we expect your resignation shortly? This was supposedly before offering a drink in the members lounge to discuss the matter out of the public glare. Prime Minister Mottley for her part spoke of betrayal and this might be an instance where a recall might be in order. On that point, I agree wholeheartedly. I think the people of St Michael West should be given the opportunity to select Reverend Atherley in his naked glory and not wrapped in the cloak of the BLP. It would give him, the constituents, his party and the country an opportunity to have an open and honest discussion about this move.
Atherley, an unrepentant Owen Arthur ‘Bee’, is best known for his 2006 position on condom distribution in prison which was at variance to that of then Attorney General Mia Mottley’s. Atherley, at that time, countered that conjugal visits rather than condom distributions was a more humane and acceptable option, stating this was a modern approach and avoided the stigma raised by prisoners associated with widespread condom distribution – a position that was supported by the former head of PAHO Sir George Alleyne. There is little else in his political career as Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office and the recently rejected offer of ‘spiritual leader’ to speak of. Consequently, the role of Leader of the Oppostion is his greatest political achievement to date.
The fact that members of the ruling party are assigned to be an Oppostion isn’t unique to Barbados. I say assigned deliberately, for despite all the iterations and the letter of resignation my instinct points to this being another political manoeuvre. Provincial governments in Canada have routinely had to move members to play Oppostion roles to have a functioning Oppostion which is required by law. As most are aware, the New National Party in Grenada has won all the seats in Parliamentary elections on three occasions – first in 1999, in 2013 and again in March of this year. They have had no blurred lines. This scorched earth election result is however new ground for all Barbadians and we continue to struggle with the machinations that have been unfolding since May. What is fundamental is the will of the electorate who may feel that they have been tricked, abandoned and to some extent violated by a man of the cloth who offered one thing and has delivered the complete opposite. Irony again comes into the picture when these very words were used to describe the former administration.
On this subject I agree with the Prime Minister, we need an effective Oppostion that reflects the wishes of the voters and not a vine swinging opportunist who hopes to be the temporary conscience of his party.
George Connolly is CEO of Business Technology Solutions Firm and a former candidate of the Democratic Labour Party.