Wednesday, April 24, 2024

PURELY POLITICAL: Jones’ fall from grace

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I’ve said I fear not man. I fear no man, and in my fear of God, I try to do that which is right, not always successfully, because I recognize my own frailties as a human being. There are some who will never recognize their own and they’re the ones who cause confusion on the face of the earth. – Minister of Education Ronald Jones, during a retirement function at Half Moon Fort Primary School, last Thursday.
After being under heavy pressure over the past five months, Minister of Education Ronald Jones appeared this past week to be trying to release some of the pent-up emotion with which he had been grappling, both in the ministry and within the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
First, he became emotional during a speech in the House of Assembly last Tuesday in his response to Government’s decision to set up a commission of inquiry into The Alexandra School mess, of which he had washed his hands much earlier.
Then the following day Jones continued in the same vein using the retirement function at Half Moon Fort as a form of catharsis, since, as he was reported to have said, he had “eliminated 90 per cent” of what he wanted to say the previous day in Parliament.
The fearless Jones will now have a great deal more to say in the coming weeks as he seeks to explain his handling of the Alexandra affair, and perhaps, even more important, his relationship with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to whom he had apparently turned in frustration over his inability to produce a resolution to the school impasse.
The nature and quality of that relationship has come under increasing public scrutiny ever since the antics of the so-called Eager Eleven, of which Jones appeared to be a prominent member, were revealed. That group had professed to have difficulties with the DLP’s leadership and had sought a meeting with Stuart to, presumably, air their concerns.
The Prime Minister in a belated response, had in effect promised that “heads would roll’ but as is his wont, did not give a time frame, and especially did not reveal to whom those heads would belong.
Still, it did not come as much of a surprise when a scant few months later we saw the elevation of the milquetoast Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy to act as Prime Minister, in preference to Jones, when Stuart is off the island, which was a departure from the practice that had developed under the new Prime Minister.
The sudden unheralded change has not gone unnoticed, and has so far elicited opposing views from two political scientists.
While Dr George Belle, a political scientist at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, perceives Sealy as “no lightweight”, his colleague Peter Wickham, the pollster and political consultant, insists that, yes, he is indeed a political lightweight who was merely being rewarded for his loyalty to the Prime Minister.
They both agreed, however, that Sealy’s rise is a direct consequence of his decision not to be associated with the Eager Eleven. There is an obvious history with the Eager Eleven that goes back to its ties to the late Prime Minister David Thompson.
The eagerness of that group to remove Prime Minister Stuart is an extension of the self-appointed kingmaker Hartley Henry’s public sentiments that Thompson wanted Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to succeed him. It is equally publicly known that Wickham has been coming across as being on a mission to insert Sinckler as the next leader of the Democratic Labour Party.
In the circumstances, the move by Prime Minister Stuart seems to signal a half-hearted attempt – driven by election day concerns – on his part to build his own base, which he ought to have done from the time he assumed leadership of the party and the country.
However, it is never easy for someone who did not take a political party into an election and won the support of the public to feel like more than the titular leader. In the eyes of his colleagues, he would not have earned his keep and therefore without earning the title, he will never be fully accepted.
That is simply the nature of politics.
Belle’s view that Sealy’s loyalty makes him more dependable in the eyes of Stuart is definitely more acceptable as the reason for his being the choice, given that of the second-term members on the Government side only Minister of Industry Denis Kellman, the St Lucy MP, did not join the Eager Eleven.
If political seniority is defined in terms of time in Parliament, then Dr David Estwick, Michael Lashley and Jones all failed the loyalty test. Based on this definition, Kellman was the other choice for Acting Prime Minister. It must be recalled that Kellman did not make Thompson’s Cabinet, which effectively eliminates him as a deputy leader of the Eager Eleven.
Wickham’s view that the choice of deputy is “really about marketing the Dems and preparing for the next election” is consistent with his apparent mission and not consistent with the teachings of political science.
The fall of Minister Jones must also be seen in the context of his recent dropping of the ball in the Alexandra saga.
But this raises a bigger concern that has received very little attention in the political arena.
Jones, amidst expressed concern in some quarters, continues to hold the post of President of the Barbados Football Association (BFA), and more recently, has expressed an interest in becoming President of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), while retaining the portfolio of Minister of Education.
It has been officially confirmed that Jones is one of four candidates who will contest for the vacant post on Tuesday, May 22, at the CFU Ordinary Congress in Budapest, Hungary.
No wonder then that when the initial industrial action of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) took place at The Alexandra School, he was attending to football business elsewhere.
It is noteworthy that while all of these political machinations have been taking place, there was a conspicuous silence on the part of Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick.?Some have argued that Stuart should have promoted him to the post of Minister of Finance immediately on becoming Prime Minister, simply to send a message to Sinckler and his boosters. It did not happen.
Surprising to some, however, Estwick is part of an Eager Eleven whose common thread is its loyalty to the late David Thompson. Given the political history between those two, some people believe that Stuart failed to secure Estwick’s loyalty when he did not play that major political card in the early days of his tenure.
It may be true, as Wickham suggested, that Stuart is operating in a political world of his own, but it is also true that any Prime Minister, especially this one, has to be comfortable with his deputy, even if that deputy is not comfortable with the Eager Eleven.
In time, party politics may be enough to pull the bigger team together.
The question is, though, can it be done in time to reverse the mood that appears obvious in the political arena?

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