Saturday, April 13, 2024

Thompson as PM


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David Thompson was too much a part of the Barbadian political consciousness, being involved in public life from his teenage years, to be measured solely against his mere two years of active service as Prime Minister. It is perhaps for this reason, that none of the previous accounts (which I have read) have attempted to do so.
To ignore Thompson’s tenure as Prime Minister, however, would be an error no less grave than to make it fundamental.
Any appraisal of Thompson’s tenure as Prime Minister must take into account three essential factors: first, his period in Opposition following the defeat of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Erskine Sandiford Government in 1994; secondly, the impact of the social democratic legacy of DLP founder Errol Barrow, upon whose shoulders he had always stood; and finally the promised programme upon which the success of his January 2008 electoral victory had been founded.
An understanding of the interplay of these three architectonic forces explains much of the thought and action of Thompson’s truncated tenure.
The fact that the defeat of the DLP in 1994 had been inextricably linked with one of the most difficult periods of economic adjustment in Barbadian living memory would no doubt have been at the forefront of David Thompson’s mind when he took the oath of office in 2008. Indeed, the collapse had come with a young David Thompson sitting as Minister of Finance.  
The irony would not have escaped him that his sweetest electoral victory had coincided with the Great Recession of 2008, which in itself was partly responsible for the CLICO collapse which hit home directly.  
Thompson’s Prime Ministership, therefore, found itself mired in the management of a domestic response to an externally driven crisis, when instead his instincts were more fully geared to the pursuit of a social democratic agenda.  
A tantalising hint of the full possibilities of such a progressive social agenda was revealed in his first Budget as Prime Minister, which saw him build upon Errol Barrow’s free education legacy by introducing free bus rides for all students. It was also seen in his application of non-market considerations to housing and land policy.  
The full fruition of a Barrow-like social policy was however frustrated by the later impact of the economic downturn, which pushed him towards a tightly defined Barbadian nationalism, as a bulwark against the erosion of social gains.
However, a key electoral promise is outstanding. That is, the introduction of integrity legislation. This was one of the fundamental pillars of his electoral success. It is now the responsibility of the inheritors of his work to usher it into existence.
Thompson’s death has robbed the Caribbean of an opportunity to see the final result of the experiment of a life prepared for the role of Prime Minister from boyhood. We are the poorer for it.


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