With the minds of most Barbadians directed towards the upcoming general election campaign, some of the more recent nominations of those political parties expected to face the electorate have caused me to reflect on the evolution of the popular composition of the local political class.
It was not that long ago that the traditional professional, the lawyer or the medical doctor, was thought to be the most able representative for a constituency, perhaps based on the simplistic notion in the first case that the parliamentarian was concerned with the making of the nation’s laws and hence a legal background was desirable. In consequence, many of our leaders in the early days were members of the legal profession; successively Adams the elder, Barrow, Tom Adams and Sir Harold St. John. That pattern was broken only once when Sir Grantley went off to lead the West Indies federal experiment and, even then, a medical doctor replaced him in the person of Dr. Gordon Cummins.
While the reason for the legal practitioner was perhaps based on the notion suggested earlier, the incidence of the medical doctor in addition might best be explained on the basis that the practice of these two professions afforded their exponents the necessary financial independence to survive the loss of a political appointment and to be of some monetary assistance to an impecunious constituent.
That notion gradually evolved into a popular predilection with the economy, especially after the recession of the early 1990s, which gave rise to the populist view that our national fortunes were best left in the hands of one who had some training in economics. It was this that accounted for the near decade and a half electoral supremacy of former Prime Minister and career economist, Mr Owen Arthur, although it should also be observed in the interests of fairness that an economist- led Democratic Labour Party was on one occasion unable to stop the juggernaut of the Arthur regime during his tenure.
After that period, there was a sort of reversion to type in that the next Prime Minister, the late David Thompson, was a lawyer by profession, although it is not clear what role, if any, his profession played in his electoral triumph or whether the nature of his training was merely incidental. Likewise, his successor was also a lawyer by profession, the current Prime Minister, Mr Freundel Stuart, who would have assumed that role. It is assumed, by virtue of his seniority in the line of succession rather than purely because of his professional training.
To those who would argue that the populace does not choose the head of government and thus leadership of the country does not indicate a popular inclination one way or the other, one needs only to enumerate the members of the traditional professions that have managed to secure seats in the elected Lower House of Parliament over our recent history.
Indeed, even now with the populist perception of the attorney-at-law at one of its lowest ebbs, no fewer that twelve members of the Lower House, [DLP (5); BLP (7)] or 40% of the Chamber are purveyors of that profession. Even now there is still a medical doctor among the list of those Honourable Members. On the other hand, while I am not aware of the academic training of all the members, there is but one who may persuasively lay claim to the designation of economist.
The true evolution in perception would appear to have occurred with the most recent actual or proposed party nominations. Given a total of 14 recent nominations of which I am aware; from the DLP (3), Solutions Barbados (9) and the UPP (2), not one is a member of the medical or legal professions. Indeed, Solutions Barbados has already declared its intention to nominate as candidates businesspersons of a certain standing only. The three nominees of the governing DLP are all by inclination what may be termed “community practitioners”, although they each may pursue alternative employment.
For its part, the BLP has also nominated a few new candidates in addition to a number of those who were unsuccessful on the last occasion and are returning to the hustings. Offhand, I am able to recall two only of the latter being lawyers, while I am unable to recall any of their newer nominees being legal practitioners. However, there is a medical doctor and a dentist among them.
It would seem therefore that there has been a subtle evolution in the perception of the respective party executives as to what type of candidate would be the most successful in a constituency. No longer is the traditional professional, especially the lawyer, regarded as the candidate of first choice, even though he or she might scarcely be regarded as an endangered species. While the ability to understand legal principles might no longer be considered a sine qua non of parliamentary representation, the cogent oratory and financial independence that are the accompaniments of most members of this profession may yet have a role to play in attracting electoral support.
Given the emphasis placed on business experience by one of the parties, the relatively recent electoral successes of “pure” businessmen such as Mr Donald Trump in the US and Mr Allen Chastenet in St Lucia, and the economic stringency that the nation is undergoing, it might be an easy step to suppose that if one can run a successful business, then the governance of a country would be “suckeye”.
I am not attracted to this view that I consider superficial. The requirement to look after the welfare of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, tallies hardly with the business mission that is essentially based on the antithetical survival of the fittest and the bottom line. And while one has to concede that a larger pie affords the state more room to take care of those who are most deserving, it is equally true that the size of our pie is not totally of our making.
Perhaps the major qualification of any candidate is not academic, professional or business credentials but simply a sincere urge to assist those citizens who are in need of such assistance.
In other words, merely a genuine concern for the welfare of his or her fellow constituent.