Dr. Fraser- Point of View
June 3, 2011
Further reflections on adult suffrage and the historic Elections of 1951

In 1951, at one of the election campaign meetings, Ebenezer Joshua declared that ‘political spring ‘was here.{{more}} That was certainly one way of depicting the political climate of the time. The political and constitutional changes, however, were only part of a broader area of change that was propelled by the riots of 1935 and the political turmoil that also engulfed other Caribbean colonies. The Land Settlement Act of 1945 was a further blow to the land monopoly that continued to exist, despite the Land Settlement Scheme of 1899 and a Crown lands scheme that had also been implemented. The United Workers Peasants and Ratepayers Union had vowed to fight the planters not only in the legislature, but also on their own turf, the plantations. This was exciting stuff in the context of plantation workers being allowed to vote for the first time and being part of the large section of the Vincentian population that had been kept in the political wilderness for such a long time.

O.W Forde, a black lawyer and planter, a representative of the interests of the planters, sensed that we had reached a turning point in Vincentian history. He warned his fellow planters: “We must accept the view that trade unions are here to stay. We must also accept and be resigned to the fact that Adult Suffrage is also here to stay. We must adopt a change of heart and win the cooperation of those who work for us, if we cannot get accustomed to the idea that the pendulum of time had swung the other way.” The Vincentian newspaper had seen him as the kind of pilot that was needed to steer the colony through “all the dangerous half ridden political shoals which are so numerous today.”

I have been singling out the Vincentian newspaper, but that was the only major newspaper still surviving then. It did represent the interests of the establishment and was very critical of the new order that appeared to be coming on stream. In its swipe at the newly elected, it stated, “…we may be making progress physically, but certainly not intellectually.” It soon got more ammunition to fire at the newly elected representatives. At the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly, Julian Baynes, member for St.George, tabled a motion that representatives be paid $160 per month instead of the prevailing $60. The Vincentian newspaper responded: “The moving of that motion at the time it was moved was not only a reflection of callous disregard for the financial incompetence of this colony, but it was also the exposing of wolfish teeth which had been carefully hidden from voters by electioneering lips.”

Julian Baynes made an about-turn. He reversed his motion and moved that representatives serve without pay. Rudolph Baynes, the member for Kingstown, objected. He called Julian’s new motion a ‘fine gesture’, but reminded members of the ‘dignity’ of Councillors. He insisted that they should be paid even if only to avoid the temptation of accepting bribes. He amended the motion recommending that nominated members be paid $60, elected members $90 and members who sat on the Executive Council $120. The nominated members were then W.A Hadley and EAC Hughes who had sat on the old Legislative Council and A.C Cyrus (senior), a member of the black middle class. At the first meeting of the new Legislative Council, Rudolph Baynes, Ebenezer Joshua and George Charles were elected to serve on the Executive Council.

Very early in the life of the new legislature, Ebenezer Joshua moved a motion to amend the Election Ordinance to seek the removal of any member who had proved unsatisfactory to his constituency. The motion was defeated following a lengthy discussion during which EAC Hughes argued that such a move would entail a change in the constitution. He also objected to it on other grounds. This idea of a recall was one which groups such as the Education Forum of the People had been pushing in the 1970s. Joshua had long before this brought it to the attention of the Legislature. Divisions, however, began to manifest themselves in the ‘Eight Army of Liberation’, the name by which the eight elected representatives were called following the 1951 elections. One of the issues involved a disagreement over whether they should attend a welcoming party at Government House. Four opted to go and four not to. The four who opted not to go were Rudolph and Julian Baynes, Sam Slater and Ebenezer Joshua. Joshua was on his way to forming his Peoples Political Party.

The first elections fought under Adult Suffrage brought new faces on to the political front and gave the right to persons over the age of 21 to vote. The political context was one that was still colonial. Power rested still with the Governor, Administrator and the Executive Council. The fact that elected members were now able to sit on the Executive Council opened it to pressure from those who were newly enfranchised. This, however, must not be overestimated in a colonial setting.

Evans Morgan who had been elected in the South Windward constituency left the colony in 1953 and in a bye-election Levi Latham was elected to replace him. The next general election was in 1954, with the Peoples Political Party newly formed being the only organised party. With the later formation of the St.Vincent Labour Party, a system of party politics developed. Elections between 1937 and 1946 had a class element in them with the planters a clearly identified group that the masses were willing to fight against. The new politics of the 1950s that brought party politics into the picture, left the newly enfranchised divided. People began to identify with the symbols of the parties. Today we are feeling the full effects of this as party identification cuts across class and even family lines. We have reached many political milestones since 1951, but we today are still trying to come to grips with what was set in motion the

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.