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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mia And My Shadow? Two Bees Buzzing Round A Honey Pot.

I imagine there are some people in Barbados who do not have a thought about what has been going on in the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and its attempts to clear up who is or should be its leader. But we have had some exciting days in Barbadian national politics.

We had the spectacle over the past few days of the BLP Parliamentary party members being asked to swear their allegiance to the current leader, Miss Mia Mottley. She got the necessary votes and was 'crowned' the Queen Bee-at least in their eyes. Miss Mottley came away with what she could: she had the clear support of her Parliamentarians. But she did not have what she needed, which was a clear mandate to lead the BLP. That really can only come if she goes to the base for them to somehow affirm her as their accepted one.

We had the figure of of the previous party leader and former PM, Owen Arthur buzzing in the background and foreground, sitting on some pretty flowers and acting as if he just happened to be smelling them not looking for any nectar. But he did not attend the allegiance swearing and of course sent tongues wagging with that.

We knew that Mr. Owen seems to be the people's choice judging by a recent CADRES poll. One of the papers points to how that poll's findings added to the leadership strains (see Nation report). To an outsider, Mr. Owen could have squashed what the polls implied by stepping forward and saying in whatever way he wanted, "Thanks for standing up for me, but the party needs to move on without me at the helm." By not doing that he of course left open the possibility that he would take the helm again.

The strategy of making it seem that one is only being propelled by popular will is of course easy and it is attractive. In that sense, I think the governing Democratic Labour Party's tactics warrant a little scrutiny. I have written before about the 'olive branch' offered by PM Thompson to Mr. Arthur to be part of a series of breakfast meetings - along with former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Sandiford and former Minister of Finance Sir Richard Haynes - to discuss the economic crisis. Mr. Arthur had declined Mr. Thompson's invitation last May, as he should have. It was an offer that was also a poisoned chalice because it immediately undermined the position of a key active politician who should have views on how to solve the economic problems--that is the current leader of the Opposition and shadow Finance Minister, Miss Mottley. I personally see that as a nice wedge driven into the Opposition that looked like a play for national solidarity because it said "I know who is the real leader on these issues". Even as a matter of courtesy, Miss Mottley should have been invited to breakfast with the guys.

But of course, pot stirring is only now starting. Mr. Arthur went public to explain himself and held a press conference yesterday (see Advocate report). Of course, it offered sparks and tinder to make a fire. Mr. Arthur said:

"...he had been forced to comment on why he was absent from a meeting of the BLP Parliamentary group on Monday evening, where eight of the BLP members of Parliament present reaffirmed their support for Mottley." He said he did not attend the meeting because the issue of BLP leadership should not have been brought into the public domain in the manner in which it was done. Too right! But he should have yelled that for the world to hear BEFORE the weekend's events.

He touched on his popularity: “It is natural that after somebody has been a leader of a party, and the leader of the country for 14 years, you’d still come to enjoy more than a modicum of support in sections of the society and sections of the party.” No argument, but I have said how he could have taken the accolade and put it to one side.

Then of course, he added fuel to speculation on the leadership issues:I cannot say that there is not a challenge of leadership in the BLP, that the party doesn’t face an issue in respect of the challenge of leadership, but the challenge is not about a struggle between Ms. Mottley and myself for that leadership. The challenge is, I think as represented in the Wickham poll, that Ms. Mottley ... faces a problem of being accepted by the society at large and faces a problem of being accepted by a cross-section of the BLP....But there is a part of it that she has to deal with, [it] has to do with what she symbolises in the minds of the people of Barbados and how she comes to get the people of Barbados to accept her as their leader. I cannot do anything about that." Well that as much as damned the current leader. How about helping to build the acceptability of the current leader in the eyes of the nation? A seasoned politician cannot find a way to mould a new leader of his party, especially when he had nominated that person as his deputy? How so? Whatever the 'unacceptable' elements are, should we believe that they are new and unknown? Or were they known and left unaddressed? And if so, why? Surely they would not be vote winners then and so could not be vote winners now. Sounds like hanging up a pinata.

The comment "I accept that Ms. Mia Mottley is political leader of the BLP, I also accept that she has to be allowed to be the leader that she wants to be," just sounds hollow after the preceding commentaries.

According to the Advocate report, in terms of his relationship with the Opposition Leader, Mr. Arthur admitted that it has been "difficult", especially since the publishing of the CADRES poll and that they had not been speaking regularly and this had led to tension. Well, there you have it. All of the waters have not had much smoothing over, and that tells many a negative story.

There is plenty to suggest that gender is part of the issue. Are Bajans ready to be led by a woman? There are reasons to believe that class or social standing is another issue. But, you cannot choose your family and how you develop is what you are. Miss Mottley is clearly a popular politician amongst some key elements of the society, so why not amongst others?

One thing is clear. The BLP leadership issue is nowhere near settled. The MPs might have indicated their preference but it is so out of line with what public opinion appears to be (poll) that one has to ask what credibility do the MPs have if they are not going to go back to their bases and take soundings to check and confirm that they are with the people.

A friend of mine summarised what has happened in a way that I think is spot on:

"Mia thought that by pre-empting and forcing an early vote she would cut Mr. Arthur off at the knees. But in fact she gave him the perfect platform to relaunch his leadership campaign, undermine her credibility and leadership qualities and defend the integrity of his party all at the same time. Master stroke."

I think what is also clear is that Miss Mottley is being asked to play with 'the big boys' and she should be ready for more rough and tumble.

3 comments:

Sargeant said...

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the key to all of this lies in the way Arthur was “removed” from leadership of the BLP. The ink had hardly dried on the ballots when there seemed to be mounting calls for him to leave thus he left not on his own terms but at the wishes of others. We have also heard about a “palace coup” led by Mottley and some family members, one wonders if there is any truth to that.

Various comments have been made about how the leaders are chosen by parties in Barbados. In some countries if the leader leaves office there is usually a Party convention where members can vote for the candidate of their choice in or out of Parliament thus the winner may not be an elected representative but usually room is made for them by some member resigning from a “safe” seat to allow the winner to run and hopefully win. However that will never happen in Barbados so the leader is chosen by default from among those still standing. In the case of Mottley, unfortunately for her she had the last leader and former PM as one of her subordinates and if you know anything about politicians who become PMs or aspire to become PMs the size of their egos is not unsubstantial so understandably Arthur would chafe at the bit at being given directions.

I don’t think that Mottley would have accepted any call for .to join Thompson to address the various issues facing the country it would be a “catch 22” if everything turns out well Thompson gets the credit if things fall apart she gets some of the blame.

Geez, a 6 to 2 vote which is really 6 to 3, it doesn’t take much imagination to know who the other two are but I wouldn’t call it a vote of confidence but Ms Mottley said “The Party has spoken” but I wonder what they are saying.

Dennis Jones said...

@Sargeant,

The vote (as corrected by BLP Chairman, George Payne; see Nation, Oct 28, page 4A) was 7-1 for Miss Mottley from the 8 MPs present: 7 votes for, 1 abstention, 1 MP absent.

The saga has many interesting twists, but note that the party has not been searching for a new leader. It's current leader in Parliament has been seeking to affirm/confirm her position. That's a quite different, even odd, constitutional situation for the party.

edgarcher said...

You say: There is plenty to suggest that gender is part of the issue. Are Bajans ready to be led by a woman? There are reasons to believe that class or social standing is another issue. But, you cannot choose your family and how you develop is what you are. Miss Mottley is clearly a popular politician amongst some key elements of the society, so why not amongst others?


I say: I am really tired of "progressives" saying things like: ...and how you develop is what you are..." and then asking simplistic questions that obscure the truth like: Are Bajans ready to be led by a woman?
The answer to that question is: Obviously. Do you see women prevented from occupying other powerful positions in this society?
There are more realistic questions you should pose: Are Bajans ready to be led by an obese unmarried feminist, who has a turbulent private life, and a history, while in public office, of personally approving large payments on a no-bid contract to a company that has subsequently been accused in a foreign court of bribery? Or: Are Bajans ready to be led by a privileged lawyer who heads a party that has frequently put the interests of business elites ahead of the interests of 'ordinary' Bajans?
The answer to these questions right now is: Maybe. Maybe not.