R. Rose
February 25, 2005

James and John – Disciples or Comeback Knights

You could make one of those old- time big western movies with the story. There would be no ends of suggestions for the name- “RETURN OF THE JAYS”, “ COMEBACK KNIGHTS”, “BIG TWO HIT TRAIL AGAIN”…. Whatever the title, the big news this week in the eastern Caribbean is the stepping back into the limelight of the retired veteran duo, former Prime Ministers Sir John Compton and Sir James Mitchell of St. Lucia and St. Vincent respectively. All that is missing to complete a romantic tragicomedy is fair Dame Eugenia of Dominica to step into the spotlight as well. {{more}}

While the cousins and neighbourly leaders are undoubtedly the talk of the town, the circumstances differ in each case. Compton returned some ten years ago, handpicking economist Vaughn Lewis to be his successor. Vastly contrasting in styles, the academic Lewis bore no resemblance to the flamboyant Compton and his inexperience showed up like a sore thumb in the vacuum left by Compton’s long years in political wheeling and dealing. Not surprisingly he was unable to hold on to Compton’s reign in power and overnight became almost a forgotten figure in St. Lucian politics.

Torn between academia and the cut-and-thrust of St. Lucian politics, Lewis has managed to survive being the butt of no end of Lucian political jibes to keep the leadership of Compton’s United Workers Party (UWP). But in the meantime that once-mighty party has become a shadow of itself. Even while the St. Lucian electorate is expressing open dissatisfaction with the performance of the incumbent Labour Party, Lewis and the UWP have failed to inspire as a popular alternative. This fact is what has apparently triggered Compton’s emergence from the backwoods to challenge Lewis for the title that he himself handed to him. Opinion polls there are indicating majority dissatisfaction with Kenny Anthony’s government – and Compton believes that he and not Lewis is the best man to lead the knock-out blow.

Sir James is in a very different situation, though with a lot of earlier similarities. He too, as he lost popularity (as Compton did) looked to a younger, academically-inclined man as successor. Arhnim Eustace’s elevation to the Prime Minister’s seat in St. Vincent and the Grenadines mirrored Lewis’ own spectacular rise in St. Lucia. He too, pailed by comparison to the wily whimsical Sir James. Left to paddle in the downstream of the gushing Grand Beach current, he too lost his grip on power.

To his credit however, Eustace retained his seat and to the surprise of most of his detractors did not get lost in the woods, Lewis-style, but manfully stuck to his guns (loaded or not). He has made his mistakes, taken his licks and survived, even being able to profit from some of the blunders of the Gonsalves administration. He is no Mitchell, but, where Compton now feels it necessary to reclaim his mantle from Lewis, at least Eustace can point to public endorsement from his predecessor as proof that, at least in NDP terms, he has endured.

While it is no doubt in trying to political commentators to relish the thought of the old warhorses on the campaign train again, it is very much a reflection on the bareness of our times that the return of such veterans, spent forces when they demitted office, is being welcomed in so many quarters. After all they did, good and bad, one would have expected that they would not require their active intervention in order to succeed at the polls. If Compton is to return to lead his party again, because St. Lucians are dissatisfied with the present government, is that not a most damning indictment not just for Vaughn Lewis, but of the entire UWP and by extension St. Lucian society as a whole?

If it is going to take a Sir James on the hasting to enable the NDP to make a spirited challenge for leadership, then what does it say about his colleagues? Have we in the region so exhausted all our political choices that we need to turn the clock back a few cycles to daydream of vainglory days?

Of course elder statesmen like Sir James and Sir John have their place in societies like ours and can make valuable contributions to boot. In fact I can refer to a proposal contained in the last booklet of the SVG Constitutional Review Commission (“CHOICES FOR CHANGE”) for the establishment of a National Advisory Council of Elders (NACE). Among the members of this body would be “former Heads of Government”, along with ex-heads of State, former judges etc. Among the responsibilities of this body would be:-

(i) Vetting of persons for consideration of selection as Head of State

(ii) The discharge of responsibilities exercised by the Mercy Committee

(iii) Advising Parliament on selection of persons to such important posts as Chairpersons of the Service Commissions and the like.

It is in roles like these, non-partisan and national, that our elder statesmen could best be utilized for our collective national and regional good; there is much we can have them do, for bananas, for the CSME, for maintaining democracy and stability. Having them on another round of the political circus can only cheapen their own historic contributions, belittle them in the eyes of future generations and reduce our political process to further farce. Go no further, James and John! Preserve your dignity!