The still powerful and surely relevant Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has seemingly started its rebuilding process.
We say “seemingly” because we acknowledge that the naming of a new president and new officers is just an initial step but the major advance of re-engaging the Barbadian public and restoring confidence within and outside the party is the greater task that must be tackled earnestly and with a commitment not necessarily seen under the leadership of former prime minister Freundel Stuart. That will be the true test of restoring the party’s viability in the eyes of the electorate.
The past weekend’s 63rd annual general conference at the party’s George Street, St Michael headquarters saw the emergence of attorney-at-law Verla De Peiza as the DLP’s new and unopposed president. She has a massive task ahead of her but if previous evidence of her willingness to engage the public on matters of national interest can be used as a gauge, then Barbadians can expect to hear and see much of her over the next five years and beyond. Indeed, she can learn much from Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s willingness to engage the public constantly and to take them into her confidence. This has been a quality of leadership in Barbados that had been lacking since October, 2010.
Already there have been suggestions in some quarters that the new president should wipe the slate completely clean of those candidates who were annihilated at the May 24 general election. Among those calling for the political purge has been former High Commissioner to London Guy Hewitt. Mr Hewitt has described the fallen Dems as “politically damaged” and has suggested that new blood be brought on board en masse. Mr Hewitt might have a valid point. Then again, his might be an emotional response to the unprecedented destruction inflicted on his DLP by Team Mia Mottley. What might be more ideal for Miss De Peiza at this early stage is to learn from the experiences of her fellow defeated colleagues, assess their individual strengths and weaknesses and do the legwork in the constituencies at some appointed time, before coming to any decision to discard them all. After all, she too has failed twice at the polls.
History shows that although their devastation in 1986 was not as overwhelming as that of May 24, the Barbados Labour Party recovered from winning a mere three of the 27 seats up for grabs to form the Government eight years later. Among the vanquished at the 1986 polls were Dame Billie Miller in the City of Bridgetown and Sir Louis Tull in St George South. Those were difficult times for the BLP even though the party still had the presence of three stalwarts in the persons of Sir Henry Forde, Sir David Simmons and Owen Arthur in the House of Assembly. From that 1986 election rubble, Dame Billie and Sir Louis returned to the Lower Chamber in 1994. The point is that these were persons of quality who were not thrown out with the bath water. Miss De Peiza should, therefore, be guided by common sense and deliberateness in any decision she makes with respect to those still interested individuals who have been licking their political wounds over the last two and a half months but are still keen to court the Barbadian public once again.
Miss De Peiza does not have a political party presence in either the Lower or Upper Chambers of Barbados’ Parliament, even if some with assumed sympathies towards her party sit in the Upper House. Her battle for relevance must, therefore, be fought on the streets, via the traditional media, and social media. As a professional with other commitments outside politics, she will have to find the correct balance between her legal practice and the time and energy to sell herself to the Barbadian electorate.
There have been a few political analysts who have already unkindly branded Miss De Peiza as a “stopgap” president. This might or might not be the case but at the end of the day, it is completely up to the new president to prove not only her naysayers wrong but also to demonstrate to those within her ranks that she has the necessary acumen and fortitude to be taken seriously. Of course, the history of the DLP as evidenced by the saga that played out between the late David Thompson and his former party colleague Dr Clyde Mascoll has shown that being president does not necessarily translate into leading the party into a general election. Time will tell where this particular situation will go.
Miss De Peiza may also have to look at her association with the Christ Church West seat where she has been beaten twice. It has been a Barbados Labour Party stronghold since the days of Sir Henry Forde and the new president might very well have to look at another riding where she is more likely to gain the favour of the electorate. Perhaps, the hierarchy of the DLP missed a trick by not having her court the St John seat following the death of Mr Thompson. They possibly missed the same trick when the reluctant politician, Mara Thompson, finally called it quits.
Whatever materializes over the next few months or years, Barbados’ democracy is better served with a strong and vibrant DLP or any other serious party that presents a viable alternative to an incumbent. This is the preferred state of affairs whether the party on the outside looking in is the institution now on the inside looking out or vice versa.
In the interest of our democracy, we wish Miss De Peiza well.