Mia's rich political heritage
by TONY BEST
"WE WOULD have it no other way, peaceful orderly and in the best of democratic traditions."
"We," in this case, meant Barbados. Actually, Mia Mottley, until a week ago, her country's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, was talking about three inter-related events: a vigorous, incident free and intense two week election campaign that was waged across the country; the defeat of the Barbados Labour Party and Owen Arthur by the Democratic Labour Party and David Thompson; the smooth assumption of office by the Dems and Thompson, the new Prime Minister; and a changingof the guard at the venerable Barbados Labour Party, with Mottley taking over the leader of the 60-plus year institution and becoming the Leader of the Opposition in the new session of parliament.
These stand in stark contrast to turbulence elsewhere. In Kenya where more than 600 people lost their lives in post presidential and parliamentary elections, which many independent observers contend were stolen in Nairobi by incumbent President Mwai Kibaki; the emotional and bitter fight for the Presidency of the ruling African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party that pitted the nation's President Thado Mbeki against Jacob Zuma, a battle lost in December by Mbeki; and the murderous rampage in Pakistan now considered one of the world's most dangerous places and whichis scheduled to go to the polls next month.
But as Mottley asserted, quite correctly, such tragedies aren't part of our tradition in Barbados. Indeed, a visitor to Barbados, who was unaware
of the election campaign, would not have known that a Government had changed hands and that a new era had begun at the nation's oldest political organisation.
Mottley's ascension to the BLP leadership didn't come as a surprise to many in and out of the BLP or the country as a whole. For ever since she was made Deputy Prime Minister immediately after the 2003 general election and with Dame Billie Miller making it clear back then that she was exiting the political stage, Mottley seemed to be the logical successor to Arthur, should he step down.
And when he did it after the party's defeat last week, she took the top spot in an uncontested election with the backing of Arthur, members of the BLP's parliamentary group and some of its elders.
As a matter of fact, public opinion surveys conducted in the past four years showed her to be one of the country's most popular politicians, especially among the nation's youth whose music and dance she enjoyed.
In a real sense she spoke their language and if the BLP is to recapture the support of Barbadians that kept them in office for three successive terms, then, rebuilding must begin among the young people, Mottley's natural constituency. That fact of life was underscored in the January 15 election when she became the BLP's top vote getter in the country with 3 320 votes, defeating her opponent Patricia Inniss by two to one.
Mottley, a British-trained attorney who received a law degree from the prestigious London School of Economics was on course for some time to take over
her party's leadership. As a matter of fact, some analysts and commentators insist that the outcome of the general election might have been different if Arthur had handed over the reins to her, instead of seeking a fourth consecutive term.
With her strength among the youth, they argue, she would have been able to counter the DLP's appeal to the under-30s while giving the party's leadership a fresh face.
The new Opposition boss, who has lost only one election, the 1991 race in St Michael North East when she was defeated by the late Leroy Brathwaite by less than 200 votes, seemed cut out for politics, going back to her days at Queen's College before she setout to study law.
Back then, her appearance on local television brought her to the public's attention and the word's "forceful" and "bright" were often used to describe her. By the way, that's something she shared with Prime Minister David Thompson, when he was a teenager at Combermere School and appeared on television.
From the outset, Mottley brought an interesting political pedigree to the table. Her grandfather, Ernest Deighton Mottley, was for years Mayor of Bridgetown,
a political powerhouse at City Hall and in the House of Assembly. And although he belonged to the conservative party, he was more of a centre-left politician who used patronage and helped the poor to make himself invincible in The City.
It was only with the stroke of Errol Barrow's pen as the then Prime Minister and his majority in parliament that he was able to undermine E.D. Mottley's strength by abolishing local government altogether. But the lineage didn't end there. Her father, Elliott Mottley, also sat in the House of Assembly, albeit for a relatively short time before vacating the seat to become consul-general in New York. Today, Mottley's father is considered a legal luminary in the Caribbean. He once served as Bermuda's attorney-general and sits on Belize's Court of Appeal.
She is among a handful of elected official with that kind of family background in the nation's parliamentary history since adult suffrage came to the country. Few can recall when three generations of a single family served in the Housein the past 50-60 years.
But, neither in law nor in politics can it be said that there is a sense of entitlement when it comes to Mottley, a Queen's Counsel. Her colleagues at the Bar describe her as aggressive and knowledgeable about the law while she has fought with gusto in the political trenches and is expected to match wits with Thompson and his Cabinet on the floor of parliament in the next four to five years.
Clearly, her past 15 years in the House put her on track to take on the new Government. As Minister of Education and Culture, she was a key architect
of Edutech, which is bringing high-technology to the nation's classrooms. She gave the manifestations of Barbados' cultural offerings a much needed boost, helping as minister of culture, to broaden the appeal of Crop-Over.
As the attorney-general, she hauled the Trinidadians before an international tribunal that ended up giving Barbados a sizeable portion of its neighbours marine boundaries, which the island hopes to exploit for oil, gas or both.
And when she became minister of economic affairs in the last Arthur cabinet reshuffle, her responsibilities put her in charge of key economic agencies. Those moves from education, culture and law to the economy should come in handy when she seeks to rattle the DLP's cages.
That's not all. As a former leader of Government business in the House, she is thoroughly familiar with the ways of the chamber and therefore can take on the Government.