The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – General Election 2018: A postscript
In hindsight, retrospect, or what some in the US refer to as “Monday-morning-quarterbacking”, it is now quite clear to see why the Barbadian electorate so categorically rejected the Democratic Labour Party [DLP], the party that comprised the governing administration for the past decade, in the recent general election on Thursday last.
For a gallimaufry of factors, none of which may be decisive, but all undeniably relevant, some; perhaps because of unfortunate happenstance, others; caused by culpable conduct on the part of the administration, the electorate almost vengefully swept the government and party from power with an unprecedented defeat that, in one swoop, gave the island its first female Prime Minister in Ms Mia Mottley; created a looming constitutional crisis; and, possibly, thereby effected the demise of the losing party, at least under its current leadership.
The degree of the rejection also serves to provide some insight into the Barbadian cultural-political ethos. There were many who wondered at the restraint shown by the populace in the face of some of the happenings to be highlighted, ascribing it to an innate Bajan conservative docility or, even more mistakenly, to acceptance. But, as Mary, the mother of Jesus, is reported to have done in Luke 2:19, the citizenry simply kept these things in their heart and pondered them unto the day when they could signal their true feelings under the cover, not of darkness, but in the relative secrecy of the ballot booth.
I propose first to describe these factors by category and then to give some suggestion as to their elements. It bears reminder that these arise from my personal and uninitiated observation and are not intended to provide a learned analysis of last Thursday’s outcome.
Pride –A principal factor, in my view, would have been the affront that many Barbadians felt to their individual pride in their country. It is not for nothing that our national motto emphasizes “Pride and Industry” and our achievements over the years have apparently imbued the national character with an arguably justifiable sense of pride. Hence, for more than a few, for this island to be relegated from “punching above its weight” to the doldrums of a degree of an economic growth measurement below that of some of our less developed neigbours, must have cut the national sense of value like a knife. Into this category we might place too, the plurality of downgrades to our international credit rating under the last administration. While it may be true, as we were assured, that these did not downgrade Barbados (the country) itself, this would have provided cold comfort to a people thitherto proud of their international creditworthiness but now reduced to a dangerous level of mendicancy in the eyes of the world. “How dat go look?” some must have queried.
Legalism- In my years of dalliance with the law and legal principles, I have come to recognize that these do not resonate with the uninitiated listener if they do not comport with that individual’s long-held beliefs of what is instinctively right. Thus, if you will forgive the digression, I encounter much difficulty in trying to persuade my students in defamation law that it is no less a defamation to repeat a defamatory imputation, even if it is prefaced by such phrases as “it is rumoured that “ or “it is alleged that”. The citation of the applicable authority does not serve to convince them either until after most have read it for themselves.
In this regard, for the former Prime Minister to have clung tenaciously to what many regarded as “crass constitutionalism” in his insistence that his administration was entitled to and desirous of serving the full term of its constitutional tenure resonated scarcely with an electorate anxious to be afforded its own constitutional entitlement of franchise to assess the government’s performance Given this popular sentiment, partisan assertions that no law was being broken in the process naturally rang hollow. The action thus appeared dictatorial especially given the substantial period of parliamentary interregnum when the Cabinet would function without collective responsibility to any body.
And the fact that nary a peep of objection came from within the administration, perhaps owed to the “…and not a damn dog bark” theory of leadership as asserted by Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad & Tobago, merely marked them as complicit and thus equally guilty. Undue legalism in a different sense would have also played a role when, in the latter days of the campaign, Mr Stuart made the ostensibly unilateral decision to withdraw from the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, not on any cogently argued constitutional ground, but merely in a fit of pique over some report of disrespect to Barbados by a single justice of the Court during a refreshment break. A few only would have been in agreement that so momentous a decision should be unilateral and even fewer that it should be based on such a slender thread. Again, the absence of comment from his fellow Cabinet members would have been instructive and Mr. Stuart would have seemed dictatorial in his decision.
Economy- The dire state of the local economy was always going to be a relevant factor in the ultimate decision of the electorate, and not simply for reasons of pride or feelings of induced mendicancy, but more so that, at a personal level, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the so-called “average Barbadian” to keep money in his or her pocket, wallet or purse. When allied to the ostentation displayed by some Cabinet members, the inadequately justified reversion of their voluntary ten percent abatement in salary and the dog’s breakfast made of the individual taxation system as concerned refunds, the popular sentiment became one of “them against us”. That these fiscal efforts were made in order, as it has been put, “to keep the [buses] running” might have satisfied the electorate, had it been persuasively explained to them, but alas, communication was never one of the fortes of the last administration, a fact that became eminent in its latter days. Even so, by some quirk of fate, the expression used above –“to keep the buses running”- became more of a cruel joke what with the public disgust at the national transportation service and the woes with household garbage collection.
When we add to the equation the consequent deterioration in social services, the thorny industrial relations with the unions and private sector, its electoral platform strategy and the painful disappointment endured by some UWI students, the result seems less of a surprise.
POSTCRIPT -I must stop here for today and continue this at a later date, God willing. Unfortunately, I was unable to broach today the issue of the looming constitutional crisis. The essay appears so far to pinpoint solely the reasons for the emphatic rejection of the last administration and to minimize the role the incoming one played. This is not my intention. I believe that the Barbados Labour Party’s campaign was a brilliant admixture of the exploitation of the national disgust with the DLP’s missteps, the excitement of making local history with a female leader, and the crying need for an attempt at trying fresh ideas. I should wish to offer my sincere congratulations to the party and to our new Prime Minister, Ms Mottley. I wish you well.