Protestations by Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stalwarts, namely former minister Anthony Wood, sitting MPs Gline Clarke and Trevor Prescod, as well as previous assessments by late former prime minister Owen Arthur, suggest all is not well within the party. Recent policy decisions might also suggest that a voice echoing from the past and recalled yesterday in the Lower Chamber could have as much relevance today as it did more than three decades ago.
After leaving the BLP, among the many grouses which Dr Don Blackman highlighted during the 1986 general election was that “white shadows” were pulling the strings of Barbados’ oldest political party. This, he charged, was being done to the detriment of the advancement of the average middle and lower-income earning Barbadian citizen. Race and class issues were passionate subjects that dominated every platform on which Dr Blackman, campaigning on a Democratic Labour Party ticket, spoke. Yesterday, one of his protégés, Prescod, ironically representing the same St Michael East constituency that Dr Blackman did, suggested in the House of Assembly that “white shadows” were once again pulling his party’s strings to the detriment of persons of his hue. Accusations coming from an opposition political organization can often be dismissed as partisan claptrap. But when multiple assertions are emanating from deep within a political institution then it is cause for pause.
On his departure from the BLP, Mr Arthur accused that institution of having lost its way and its soul. During his 14 years as prime minister the record will show that not only did he bring a grassroots element to the BLP that had long been associated with the planter class here, but many of his social policies were deliberately directed towards poverty alleviation and the enfranchisement of small, black businessmen. Both the private transport and construction industries were among those through which many average Barbadians were able to realize their economic dreams. It was as though many of those “white shadows” took a slight step back and many carrying Mr. Arthur’s pigmentation took a major step forward. He never articulated in later years that the re-emergence of any “white shadows” was linked to – as he put it – the lost soul of the BLP or his decision to leave the party. Thus, we should not speculate as similar shadows were used by Mr. Arthur to help boost this country’s economy.
But what about the things of which we need not speculate? About a week ago BLP St George North MP Gline Clarke accused his fellow politicians of being lazy and not looking after the needs of their constituents. The elected Government is 29-members strong – at one time 30 – and though Clarke called no names, he obviously was not referring to a gathering of village butchers. “I want to encourage all Members of Parliament to get back to their constituencies and work hard. Find out what people want and how you can help. You have a lot of lazy people who do not believe that they must help poor people. If you do not want to help people it makes no sense coming to public life.”
Last month, Wood, a former BLP Cabinet minister and chairman of the Barbados Agricultural and Development Marketing Agency, called on the Mottley administration to review a hike in chicken wing prices. He charged that Government’s two-month ban on wing imports was helping big business and hurting small poultry farmers. He stressed that it was the latter sector that should be Government’s focus. Then there was the case of Government minister Dwight Sutherland appearing to take up the fight of the large car dealerships to the consternation of the small car dealers, under the dubious mantra of “levelling the playing field”.
Government has previously written off substantial taxes owed to it by major enterprises. Some lower and middle-income earning citizens have argued that such consideration could similarly be given to several Barbadians who because of unemployment, under-employment, incapacity, spousal separations and/or deaths or other reasons, have been unable to service fully their student revolving loans. But no write-offs seem imminent for that category of Barbadians who scarcely originate from the higher echelons of society.
The truth is, though, that most of the sitting members of the current Lower House are from working class backgrounds who have climbed the social ladder through education and opportunity. That the BLP, which has contributed so much to Barbadian society, is often considered the party of the elite is perhaps not only unfair but somewhat of an anomaly since it was created by National Hero Sir Grantley Adams as a response to the 1937 Riots.
So, what about these white shadows of which Mr. Prescod spoke, do they still exist? Of course, they do. Barbados depends greatly on investment capital, white shadows in the island have lots of it and successive prime ministers since 1966 have accommodated them. So, in the future, whether it be Prime Minister Mottley, Prime Minister Kerrie Symmonds, Prime Minister Verla DePeiza, Prime Minister Joseph Atherley, or whoever, white shadows are here to stay until there is a shift in the country’s economic power base. It is unsettling and upsetting for Mr. Prescod who says Government is allowing white shadows now to do as they please, perhaps even being complicit in his removal from Cabinet.
Leadership can be a lonely place and perhaps Mr. Prescod needs to be more appreciative of the tightrope his political boss is walking in and out of Parliament. He should also be aware that in politics yesterday’s ally can swiftly become today’s collateral damage.