We are days away from the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) 65th Annual Conference. This gathering of party faithful is possibly the most crucial and decisive summit in the DLP’s history to date.
The party is not only still seemingly reeling from the shock of a devastating 30-0 defeat following the 2018 General Election, but the group must also now focus its resources on an upcoming by-election within the next 90 days.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley sounded the battle cry last Sunday night at a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) St George North branch meeting. Since then, DLP president Verla DePeiza has said her party will be ready to rumble.
“We were predicting a few by-elections and observing activity in certain areas, including St George North. The Democratic Labour Party, therefore, will ready ourselves for the upcoming battle,” DePeiza said.
Much is riding on this by-election for the DLP. A win would surely boost morale internally and restore some semblance of confidence in the eyes of the public.
However, if defeated the party must secure the second largest piece of the pie. Optics and public perception depend on it. The official Opposition, People’s Party for Democracy and Development, Solutions Barbados and United Progressive Party have declared that they all have candidates to contest the upcoming vote. Who knows, an Independent candidate or two might also throw their hats in the ring.
The DLP has to have a good showing. If the other political parties outperform the Dems, the 65-year-old institution would need to do some serious soul-searching.
Interestingly, 65 years in the lifespan of a person, place or institution, is indeed a remarkable feat. The forefathers of the party toiled to make sure it became a well-oiled political institution. In its six decades it has been a formidable party. Much time, work and sacrifice, by the party’s stalwarts, were put in. So much so that the country enjoyed the benefits of sound leadership, for the most part, having had four of the island’s eight Prime Ministers.
But the huge challenge the party now faces is like none other. And recent events over the weekend do not augur well for the Dems. With just a week away from their conference, a meeting was held in the St Michael West constituency, seemingly to endorse George Pilgrim’s candidacy for President.
Former ministers Ronald Jones and Denis Lowe were very critical of DePeiza’s leadership. Could this not have been a private conversation? Could their concerns not be thrashed out at the Annual Conference? They could kick, bite, or beat each other in George Street as they seek to sort themselves out. But no! Instead, they use the occasion of a branch meeting to make damning allegations.
Instead of butting heads, the party stalwarts and the young blood should be putting heads together. No leader is immune to criticism or opposition. Indeed, that is what makes for a healthy democratic society. But when you are in the doldrums, as the Dems are, you can ill afford such a public display.
But do the Dems’ hierarchy fully understand and accept how they have wounded the confidence of their supporters and the electorate as a whole? Do they realize that whether real or imagined, every time the Government speaks of the “lost decade” the phrase is solidified in some minds.
That is why anyone in the Dems who was publicly associated with the last election and even the last administration should not be picking public fights at this time. Perhaps working behind the scenes may be the best place for now.
This recent internal “attack” on DePeiza is a simple case of history repeating itself. After the 26-2 defeat suffered by then party leader David Thompson in the 1999 General Election, Clyde Mascoll was voted political leader and led the party into the 2003 General Election.
Ahead of the 2008 vote, the party unceremoniously removed Mascoll and elected Thompson. Thompson won that election, becoming the island’s sixth Prime Minister.
But it isn’t just a Dems’ thing.
In 2010, the sitting MPs of the BLP Opposition removed Mottley as head in a “bloody” internal battle. She was then replaced by the late former Prime Minister Professor Owen Arthur.
Only yesterday on the floor of Parliament, the BLP’s longest serving MP George Payne told the Chamber that it is very likely that there could be a repeat of the 2010 ousting: “We did what we felt we had to do in 2010. I believe if those same circumstances are repeated the same thing could happen again. I do not want to rehash the events of 2010 because I believe that period was somewhat of a watershed in the history of the Barbados Labour Party.”
The PM herself, who has thrown punches at DePeiza, can easily sympathise with her at this time. Mottley knows only too well how it feels to lead a political party while in Opposition, then to have someone swoop in at the eleventh hour and take over.
DePeiza has dutifully taken all that has come her way over the past two years. She decided to give of her service and lead the party at its lowest time. She has not only received the usual criticisms from the ruling or opposing parties, but she has endured harsh remarks, snide comments and verbal onslaught on social media whenever she attempts to oppose the Government.
We cannot say whether or not she is best suited to lead. But we are taken aback by the fact that for two years, the same former ministers who were critical of her last weekend did not lend their voices to the Dems’ national chorus. They did not let their voices be heard in any of the causes for the people.
We are also concerned that it was widely believed that the former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was flawed in his eight years of leadership. There were complaints of him not engaging the public, not listening; he was even called a “sleeping giant”. Where were these former ministers at that time? Why didn’t they speak out against the then leader? Surely, more was at stake since he was leading the entire country and not just a political institution.
Infighting has no place in an already badly broken institution. Hopefully, the major issues will be ironed out this weekend at the Annual Conference. Maybe, during the by-election campaign, the 65-year-old party can use that platform to send a message that they are back.
The country needs an active, cohesive and functioning DLP. Our democracy depends on it.