Monday, April 15, 2024

FOR THE RECORD: That which has not been done

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This past week has been a thinking columnist’s delight, as many issues arose for discussion. There was the laying of the Estimates, the debate on the Land Titles Bill, the continuing Clico saga, and the juiciest berry of all: the public declaration by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that he is the only person capable of executing a Cabinet reshuffle.
Some three weeks earlier, some faceless Government official had given himself the liberty of asserting that there would be no reshuffle, and nary a word to the wise had come from Mr Stuart’s lips.
On this occasion he put the issue to rest by making it clear that he was the only one empowered to wield the weapon of a reshuffle. He was responding to two articles in the Press. But whereas the first announcement drew no reaction, this time the response was swift, and he branded the “reported” newspaper reshuffles as “theatrics” or, as he said, “more appropriately idiocy”.
He did not tell us why he spoke later rather than earlier, and pundits may be forgiven for thinking there is some attempt to maintain or assert control at the centre. By the strangest coincidence, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron was doing the same sort of thing, though in a different way.  
Last week Cameron appointed nine new advisers, whose jobs, whether titled adviser or political strategist or business adviser or otherwise, are clearly to help the prime minister to concentrate power in his office. The British Press was not amused!
In an editorial, the influential Times newspaper (they call it the Thunderer) bluntly remarked that “something has gone wrong with the government and the prime minister knows it”. That was bad enough, but the paper was not finished.  
It further opined that Prime Minister Cameron may well be “wondering where his hands-off policy has got him”, and it also disclosed that his government was said to be suffering from “lack of grip”, an accusation which the paper said is usually fatal if it sticks. This is akin, I suppose, to our saying that “the driver cannot drive”.
If that was a surgical strike, the Times editorial then asked the jugular-piercing question: “Does the government have an economic strategy that extends even a hopeful millimetre beyond deficit reduction, and could ordinary citizens, stopped in the street, say what it was?”
This was powerful stuff, but does it not sound locally familiar?
The pen is truly mightier . . . but this is top-class trenchant editorial journalism of a kind not often seen in these parts; and some partisan local critics will argue that all these comments apply equally to our local situation. Would you disagree with them?
Now consider that the Times endorsed Cameron’s party in the 2010 elections, and you get a better handle on how that newspaper views Cameron’s performance to date.
Anyway, any comment on the issue of a reshuffle is a grim reminder that all Cabinet ministers hold their jobs at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, and what is more, comments, however theatrical or idiotic, on Cabinet reshuffles by anonymous officials may be blessings in disguise to any Prime Minister whose Government may be said to suffering from “lack of grip”. For he who refutes, also inevitably reminds!
But, reshuffles are two-edged swords and can send two-edged messages; for while they can propel a politician’s career into the political dustbin, too frequent an exercise of the reshuffle power can indicate a Prime Minister’s weakness and his inability to control his Cabinet without constantly reminding them of his power.
In this context, Mr David Thompson’s three Cabinet reshuffles in three years require detailed analysis. But there are also grave political dangers in not reshuffling when one might be expected to do so.
An editorial on Friday in another section of the Press, reacting to Mr Stuart’s comments, advised him that he may wish to recast his statement because “a significant number of Barbadians at all levels of the society are not interested in what their Prime Minister has not done, but in what [he has] done”.
But wait a minute! The Times editorial also touched on the issue of prime ministerial dithering and not leading from the front. It reminded Mr Cameron that Tony Blair found out in his early days as prime minister that “people will moan a lot about presidential government, but they will moan a lot more about its absence”.
Is that not happening here too?

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