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The DLP’s relevance

Dr Don Marshall recently penned a very frank and enlightening article published in Barbados TODAY , August 29, 2019. He expressed disappointment at the performance of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the 15 months since the May 2018 general elections.

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The failure is, to some extent, understandable. There is something called shell-shock which, while recognisable, is not easy to treat. The patient must first admit the condition and seek help. This the DLP has, by and large, refused to do, seeking at times to exculpate itself from things that went dreadfully wrong.


One is amazed at the degree to which most of the defeated DLP candidates simply vanished from public view. This, in spite of the fact that based on the May 2018 poll, the Party can be said to represent a not inconsiderable portion of the electorate, some 22 per cent to be exact. The emergence of the Joseph Atherley-led opposition only served to confirm the DLP’s ostensibly self-imposed ‘irrelevance.’

The disaster of May 2018 has left the party as a collective and individual members in what Marshall terms ‘struggling for relevance.’

He opines, “Only take politicians seriously when they speak to causes.” There is a line from a Clint Eastwood movie in which the villain says to the Eastwood character:

There are no great causes left to fight for… there is only The Game. I am on offence, you are on defence.”

That statement is not true. There are great causes left to fight for. In fact, the causes are arguably more important than they have ever been. Then there are issues that cry out for remedy. These include the sorry state of our Justice system, the role of the labour unions, our ability to sustain our social safety net and the direction of formal schooling.

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One cause that speaks to the DLP’s relevance is the maintenance of a viable multi-party democracy. Liberal democratic practice may not be perfect but it is still the best antidote to bad, incompetent government and autocracy. No right thinking Barbadian should countenance the idea of Barbados as a one-party state.

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Regrettably, the DLP in general, and its old guard in particular, is now so discredited that it is unlikely that it can make a quick resurgence. Unless there is some adversely unforeseen circumstance or some dreadful governmental foul-up, the idea that the Mia Mottley-led BLP could be a one term government is patently ridiculous. Although the BLP leader might be well advised to pay greater attention to some critical issues at home particularly as they affect working-class people.

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Since, in my opinion, with a few exemptions, the DLP cannot bring back the defeated old guard, it must bring a different array of younger candidates. The problem here is that there aren’t a lot of bright prospects. I am referring to persons who, beyond the DLP rank and file, would have some credibility in serious public discourse, persons who actually believe in what Don Marshall calls a ‘cause’. One does not know of many who have ever written or said anything of meaning that would indicate a serious interest in or knowledge of aspects of governing and policy making.

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Party leaders have been indicted for failing to ignite ‘a fire of imagination’ and bringing ‘a wealth of new and original ideas’ to the minds of Barbadians. These are fine words but what exactly do they mean? As Marshall himself notes, a Citizen’s Charter that may over-promise on social benefits may be unrealistic in a state that, for some time, will have to watch its spending. The leadership of the DLP will be critical, but even more critical will be the realistic and honest narrative the DLP is able to present as an alternative to Ms Mottley’s articulation, energy and ostensible ability to ‘rub shoulders.’

Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.

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