The George Brathwaite Column – Stuart’s Feebleness Grows
Submitted by George C. Brathwaite (PhD)
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart brought the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to victory in 2013. Victory came not because of his strength, but despite his weaknesses. Additionally, Mr. Stuart fought a weakened political leader attempting a come-back of sorts, and a political party that was cracked from top to bottom. It is seldom a cherished thing to publicly unclothe a prime minister given the traditional respect that Barbadians have for these men, and hopefully by the end of the next general elections, a woman. Of course, one can go back to Stuart’s first budget response after the DLP was returned to government in 2008. There, you would realize that the man who would eventually become Barbados’ seventh prime minister, was clinical in telling a story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Perhaps, Freundel Stuart ought to be a storyteller, because his political leadership appears skewed from the norms, is in tatters, and it is patently weak.
The fact is, across Barbados and the diaspora, persons are crying out for effective national leadership so that the economy and society can overcome many of the hurdles the small nation faces. At this juncture, and among his Cabinet, there are individuals concluding that the stopgap of Stuart is not working, and has become dispensable. This assessment is likely to be one of the main reasons that Donville Inniss is contesting for the presidency of the DLP, and Dr. David Estwick’s intermittent divergences from the notion of collective responsibility goes without serious censure. More rabid in the scheme of public administration, are the repeated failures of the Stuart-led Cabinet. Barbados’ citizens and residents continue to be vociferous in their disgust and frustration.
Undoubtedly, much of the consternation and growing resentment is directed specifically to Stuart’s long periods of hush and do nothing. When the Prime Minister does act, the very untimeliness reveals a man too flippant to pull together disparate sections of Barbadians or to offer durable hope to the nation’s youth, aged, businesses, and families. Stuart’s anecdotes which, are often laced with noxious insults, also reveal his insecure weakness for effective communication despite him holding the most important executive position in Barbados. For instance, in attempting to push back against the expedient alliance between labour unions and strong portions of the private sector, both Stuart and his administration became vitriolic in rhetoric. The initial sting was to punish labour for giving an ultimatum, and later to suggest agreement was attained. A garish prompt came in the form of making the next Social Partnership meeting an unmerited, publicly aired spectacle.
One must wonder the extent that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as a student of history and politics, learned anything from Erskine Sandiford in 1992 (now Sir Lloyd). Sir Lloyd said then that: “When tough, albeit painful decisions have to be taken, we must do so in a concerted and resolute manner with the knowledge that there is a purpose for doing so, and that is our survival and that of our children, as well as the maintenance of a standard of living to which we have become accustomed. The days of out-and-out political harangue, partisan politicking, political hypocrisy and hyperbole should be set aside for honest and constructive criticism and political maturity.” Sadly, Stuart may be so entrenched in his obnoxious style of doing things that he does not have nimble flexibility or the acumen to be decisive; nor does he project any of the charm effect that is associated with charismatic leaders or the proactive tendencies of transformational leaders.
A critique of Prime Minister’s leadership is by no means a step in the direction of disrespect, as some DLP supporters would want to contend. Instructively, the great revolutionary Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks informs us that: “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” There must be some compassion for Prime Minister Stuart given that he probably bit off much more than he can chew. However, empathy ought not to give Stuart any hint of endorsement or victory at the polls – ever again.
The march held last Monday demonstrated a form of oppositional politics in which there was a public and collective challenge against Stuart’s dismissiveness. Labour and capital perceived their common interest relating to the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and other tax measures which emerged out of Christopher Sinckler’s 2017 Budget. Perhaps, Stuart assumed that his silence or unwillingness to meet with the social partners would preserve the integrity of policy actions which, are sure to bring even more hurt and a higher cost of living for Barbadians. Yet, all those who marched were conscious of maintaining the fight.
Professor Hilary Beckles in a 1985 publication on ‘Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion’ which was 201 years ago, strikingly writes: “It became clear to the planters that much greater repression was necessary to keep the slaves in subjection.” Today, for this analysis, the ‘planters’ can be substituted for the Government, and the ‘slaves’ can be replaced for the trade unions and workers. The resistance to Stuart and the DLP was phenomenal and was estimated to be over 20,000 souls marching on a hot morning compounded by intermittent rain.
The workers, businesses, consumers, and Barbadian families marched to gain their freedom from a beleaguered DLP regime. Barbadian workers, aided by capital interest, felt sufficiently pressed into survival mode with the unchanging demeanour of Prime Minister Stuart. The people were resisting the rigid and harsh positions taken by Stuart’s Cabinet. Frantz Fanon, incidentally warned that: “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Surely, Barbadians would prefer a growing economy and a healing and productive society, although always having to struggle for the ‘right to life and social liberty’.
Therefore, at the dawn of another anniversary of our emancipation, it is important that Prime Minister Stuart realises the struggle of today remains one of rights and freedoms. For many Barbadians, their right to life and a good quality life is threatened by the presented policies of the current Minister of Finance. Moreover, our social liberty remains under threat when such things as gun violence, and an astonishing murder rate so far for this year are forcing residents and communities to shudder with fear. Barbadians will no longer tolerate delay, indecisiveness and silence on the issues affecting them daily. With an announcement for general elections drawing nearer, it is becoming clearer that Freundel Stuart’s leadership is unwholesomely growing feeble. Prime Minister Stuart needs to do a little more listening to the voices of the masses; all that is expressed by the nation is not discordant or unreasonable. I wish all Barbadians a safe, enjoyable and memorable Emancipation Day. Something must be said and done, Mr Stuart!