The “Party of Parties”
Today’s Barbados Advocate makes for interesting reading. It deals with the prospect of a Third Party taking root in Barbados and potentially influencing the next general election.
– Barbados Underground
When the late Lloyd Best, the noted Trinbagonian intellectual, first used the parenthesized phrase in the caption in 1982, it was clear that he was referring to an alliance of Opposition groupings formed to unseat the then governing administration. As he intoned then; “when the bell rings, and when we are summoned once more into the lists of history for battle with the enemy for an alternative future for Trinidad, Tobago and the West Indies, we of the Party of parties will be in a position to offer the electorate one united, effective, solid and indeed impregnable Government”. He meant a party comprising separate parties.
We purport to use the phrase in a different sense today. Given the number of parties claiming to be willing to contest the upcoming general elections, the national poll could conceivably also be termed a party of parties. Whether emboldened by the closeness of the result in the 2013 version, or jaded by the alternation over the last six decades of the two major parties, many people have clamoured for a “third” party, an expression that speaks locally not to the mere ordinal, but to a viable alternative grouping.
It is not that there has been no prior effort in this direction. The National Democratic Party, a splinter group from the Democratic Labour Party and led by the late Dr Richard Haynes (as he then was) presented a platform in the 1990’s that resonated significantly with the electorate but managed to secure a single seat only in two campaigns. History will record that even prior to this there were efforts by other groups at the hustings, although none appeared to possess the sustainability or stomach for the long fight.
Such efforts would have included, in the last general election, a grouping that would fit precisely Mr Best’s usage of the term, but again success of any sort was negligible; with most candidates forfeiting their deposits to the state treasury.
For the forthcoming poll, there are no fewer than three parties vying for the approval of the electorate. Each is so far at varying stages of readiness but we are prepared to concede that these are relatively early days yet. Neither has there been any indication that these three are prepared to become a “party of parties” in the original sense of that term.
What is at least remarkable is that none of them appears to present an ideological alternative to the present duopoly, seemingly content to appeal to current popular disenchantment with the major parties.
Their chances must also be assessed in light of the modern electoral culture in Barbados, where trade in the franchise is an existing reality, even though, admittedly, both regrettable and criminal. Are these parties prepared to buck this trend and be beyond reproach or will they simply be sucked into the vortex of illegality?
Another relevant consideration is the absence hitherto of any hint of constituency organization by any of the newcomers. It is accepted that elections are won by the party with the greatest number of seats. At the same time, however, that number is achieved in thirty constituency contests and not in a single national plebiscite.
Most difficult to overcome however, will be the innate Barbadian resistance to change. A people that has instinctively voted for one or other of the major parties for at least two generations is not likely to alter that mindset on a mere whim.
We may conclude therefore that the new parties, third , fourth or otherwise, will have their work cut out for them if they are to make any impact at all on the various ballots.
There will thus be a party of parties in our sense of the term. Not everyone is likely to leave smiling however.