It is a shorthand phrase in Barbadian history that the Barbados Labour Party was on the wrong side of history in the Independence Question of 1966.
It is an intellectual sleight-of-hand to say that the BLP was flatly opposed to Independence and preferred Barbados to remain a colony of Great Britain. Indeed, there were many who supported this view and it was driven by class and racial animus, passions that were no doubt inflamed by the campaign for a general election on November 3.
But to continue to tag the BLP as the party of opposition to Independence is at best disingenuous. Even the party’s angry young men, led by Tom Adams, Bernard St John and Henry Forde, the so-called Young Turks, were not anti-independence.
Besides, the policies of the BLP in post-Independence Barbados were hardly less significant than the DLP’s in building a strong sovereign nation and a people who are well-fed, well-read and well-bred.
If anything, BLP leaders like Owen Arthur, like a great many Barbadians who were young people at Independence, were cut from the Barrow cloth. They have embraced our first prime minister’s people-centred, pragmatic, authentically Barbadian approach to politics. It has helped make them among the hottest brands in Barbadian politics of the last 30 years.
The current prime minister, born on the cusp of Independence, is hardly any different in draping herself in Barrovian garb. She can talk with crowds and keep her virtue and walk with a queen and princes and not lose the common touch, to borrow from Kipling. We know haughty. We do not like it.
While the Errol Barrow centennial celebration, submerged somewhat by the We Gatherin’ festivities, was perhaps more muted than desirable, we still give the Prime Minister full marks for offering scholarships to students of the nation’s newer secondary schools, they who must labour under the groaning weight of colonial-era class-riven scorn and disdain.
Indeed, we believe that scholarships as a whole should recognise more than strict academic performance but also vocational and technical excellence.
Errol Barrow stood for equality, and the scholarships can go a long way toward eroding the artificial lines that separate many students in this country from a life of higher earnings, lifelong learning and a sense of fulfilment too often denied many based on nothing more than a school tie.
He also stood for fairness. We cannot, therefore, imagine that he was doing anything but spinning in his grave while the DLP launched its petty personal attack on then-opposition Leader Mottley as it launched its election campaign at the National Stadium in 2018.
It is time to toss these partisan shibboleths into the dustbin of history. They do not fully and fairly capture the nuance of the independence debate of late 1966. And we cannot hold liable an entire generation of politicians now ruling this land who are themselves children of post-independence Barbados.
What we must ensure is that the patrician, patronising values of the pre-independence Barbadian politician also remains a feature of the past. We do not require tone-deaf power brokers tuned only to the sound of their own voice. We need men and women who are creative, flexible, committed to inclusion and tolerant of dissent.
We thought it would have been clear by now that governments that prefer to campaign rather than govern are doomed to failure. Barbados simply cannot afford the decadent luxury of a self-regarding administration invested heavily in bread and circuses while doling out vitriol to anyone who dares present an alternative view to the received wisdom of the day.
It is a sobering lesson for all political parties that would seek the keys to the citadel.
In short, we have bigger fish to fry. We wait to hear when the abolition of the Common Entrance Exam is to occur. We need further details on how the ‘Eleven Plus’ is to be replaced.
The decade in which Barbados is to become a green energy-driven economy has begun. We seek concrete details on the very definite steps that are to be required to end our addiction to fossil fuel.
If we are to fulfil predictions of 1.8 per cent economic growth in 2020, we will need much more than gimmicks, optics and rhetoric. While The City undergoes rapid transformation, we need to see how these individual projects will be rooted in sustainable growth and integrated into the entire economic recovery effort.
So let’s put away the old partisan tropes. There is more than enough upon which to hold the Government to account. Blaming a party of long-dead leaders for opposition to independence should not be laid at the feet of today’s BLP, any more than the party of free tertiary education is recognisable by its later actions to end UWI free education.
What have you done for us lately, is the cry from today’s angry young people, impatient for change and intolerant of gamesmanship.