Thirty unbroken years as MP – Congrats
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
February 23, 2024
Thirty unbroken years as MP – Congrats

Whether you consider yourself friend or foe, irrespective of your political views or preferences, I think it is perfectly in order that all Vincentians should offer congratulations to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on his historic achievement of reaching the milestone of 30 unbroken years as a Parliamentary representative. These congratulations are not however any assessment of his political tenure.

On Wednesday of this week Dr. Gonsalves celebrated THREE DECADES as the elected Parliamentary representative of the constituency of North Central Windward in the House of Assembly. None of the Parliamentary titans who preceded him, not Joshua, Cato, Levi Latham or Sir James Mitchell, for all their political accomplishments, were able to stay as long in the parliamentary saddle.

In so doing, as I congratulate the Comrade, I must also say that the people of that constituency also must be proud of their role in breaking the old mold of the PPP and Labour and going outside the worn-out structures to elect Dr Gonsalves in 1994, and to stick with him since then. Just as the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers dispatched six balls from a hapless Malcolm Nash for sixes in 1968, so has the comrade dealt with six challenges to his seat. No other constituency has been as faithful to any one person as North Central has been, and those humble people deserve our admiration.

After all these years, it is easy, especially for younger folk not to fully appreciate the magnitude of his feat. It has not at all been an easy road and much sacrifice has been made in the process. When the 29-year-old university lecturer made a political choice to join the fledgling YULIMO organization in 1975, it was a bold step that no one of his stature has been brave enough to take since then. Up until today, qualified young people, if they are politically inclined, prefer to take the “safe” route of joining the established parties rather than trying to build something new. None of them is willing to take the risk, bear the grind and build from the bottom up. Our society, direly in need of political rejuvenation, suffers as a result.

We in YULIMO were delighted to have someone of the calibre of Dr. Gonsalves to join this proven party of the poor and working people, for it significantly enhanced our capacity both for internal development and mobilization. It put a new spring in our heel as the saying goes. It was also a signal of where he was placing his political cards, on the side of proposed radical political change and the empowerment of the working people.

But such fundamental change does not come easily. Even today, 30 years after, there are those who while mouthing the appropriate slogans, are unwilling to take the necessary steps to enhance, and then entrench, the power of the working people. In the late seventies YULIMO had no resources save human ones and the strength of our conviction and commitment. Whatever one thinks of Dr. Gonsalves today, it is to his eternal credit that he made the political choice he made then.

In addition to a lack of resources, we did not even have a public address system then and were funded entirely by voluntary contributions of working people and small fund-raising efforts. For transport, we relied on the minivan of the Williams brothers of Questelles plus the personal vehicles of Dr. Gonsalves and another committed graduate, Mike Browne, the latter making extraordinary sacrifices for the cause. Later when Adrian Saunders, now President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, joined us, it further enhanced both our social profile and almost non-existent resource base.

But back to North-Central Windward. It became one of a few pockets of firm support for YULIMO, so much so that when we joined with other progressive forces to form the UPM and fight the 1979 elections, we could rely on South Rivers in particular, as well as Sion Hill, Lowmans and Questelles in South Leeward and areas like Bay Road in North Windward. The Comrade owes a debt of gratitude to South Rivers.

The younger generation must also take note that all was not smooth sailing for Dr. Gonsalves. His was the bitter taste of defeat at the polls, not once, not twice, but thrice – in 1979, 1984 and 1989. But he never gave up and has lived to enjoy the fruits of victory since 1994.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then, including unfortunate splits in the progressive national movement. But Dr. Gonsalves seemed never to lose his focus on power and taking political office. To “give Jack his jacket”, as we say, he never hid his ambitions, unlike many others who pretend that this is not their ultimate goal. That he succeeded and has been able to hold on says much for his tenacity.

However, the 30th anniversary reminds us that a new day must dawn. There are many accomplishments to his credit but the question of what happens after he goes remains a very pertinent one. However, that is a discussion for another time. For the moment, let us join the congratulations for 30 years of unbroken service.


  • Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.