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By Devaron Bruce
In a previous article, I explored the pending leadership contest likely to occur when Prime Minister Mia Mottley demits office. Although we have a deputy prime minister, a fair assumption is that the vacancy of a prime minister will always create contenders.
As previously highlighted, Minister Santia Bradshaw’s strengths rest in the apparent support of Prime Minister Mottley, her seniority in government and dynasty politics. Nonetheless, there are concerns regarding political expectations and the ability of Bradshaw to deliver. Therefore, this creates a political vacuum that presents an opportunity for other BLP members who may have their eyes on the top job. One such possible contender is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kerrie Symmonds.
Minister Symmonds is a formidable contender due to his impressive history within the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Having first been elected in 2003, his successful showing for the party predates the deputy prime minister’s by a decade. Despite a temporary exit from parliament in 2008, Symmonds is the most senior of the likely BLP contenders. Like the deputy prime minister, he commands support within and outside government and is known to be a fiery campaigner since his time on a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) platform in 1999.
Electorally, Minister Symmonds has performed comparatively well, falling just behind Minister Bradshaw with a 65 per cent average in his elections. However, his St James Central seat could be a cause for concern. In 2008, he narrowly lost the seat, and in 2013, he narrowly regained it. In more contemporary times, despite a comfortable win in 2022, his constituency conceded notable ground to the DLP. This is evidenced by an eight per cent negative swing against him, representing the fifth highest negative constituency swing last election. Therefore, his seat has the propensity to perform well for the DLP.
In this regard, it is necessary to note that Symmonds’ challenges may be compounded by a ministry that can be the proverbial poisoned chalice. This is the case, as foreign affairs regularly leaves him isolated from his constituents and the parliamentary peers that ultimately determine who becomes prime minister. Therefore, the difference in political elevation between ministers Bradshaw and Symmonds perhaps acknowledges an unendorsed political ability.
Ultimately, these challenges present a political opening for the Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, who could also run for the top post. Despite being a more junior contender, having first been elected in 2018, Humphrey’s possible success can be assessed by his potential. Although not having a more prominent ministry, unlike other junior members, Minister Humphrey has carved out his own political space and recognition within and outside of the party.
In contrast to his senior counterparts, he maintains a notable presence on social media and is heavily engaged in his constituency. This presence and engagement have borne fruit as he tops his contenders electorally, with a 70 per cent constituency average. Moreover, the electorate may find Minister Humphrey’s personal story particularly compelling as he’s the antithesis of dynasty and insider politics.
However, he is comparatively inexperienced, having only served five years in office and during a highly favourable period for the BLP. Therefore, the real consideration for Humphrey is whether his positive attributes are sufficiently convincing to receive the parliamentary nod following the Mottley exit.
Devaron Bruce BSc (Hons), MPhil is a political scientist.