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A well-oiled machine

George Payne has been in the hustings from 1987.

George Payne has been in the hustings from 1987.

by Donna Sealy

Since 1987, George Payne has been on the campaign trail.

He knows the sweet taste of victory and the volume of work it takes to achieve that each time the election rolls around.

It’s time for the electorate to go to the polls once again and the St. Andrew MP says he knows what he has to do and he is going about it.

His campaign team is like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows what his or her role is and sets about doing it. When a Barbados TODAY team stopped by at the Hillaby office last Tuesday, everyone was going about those tasks with friendly banter, pausing briefly to chat with Payne who was keeping an eye on the proceedings without hovering.

He took a break to chat with us and as he sat in his office wearing one of his trademark hats, he seemed oblivious to the papers piled on the desk in front of him.

The Barbados Labour Party candidate seemed relaxed as he spoke about those early days in the hustings, his work in St. Andrew, what he would do if he lost this upcoming political bout, his hats… oh and his relationship with BLP leader Owen Arthur.

Payne first won the rural constituency in 1991 and has represented it in the House of Assembly ever since. He also spends a considerable amount of time in the riding either walking early in the morning or at The Thursday Club among other activities.

“It’s a long time but you grow up in an area. If you move away from the area it would seem as though it’s a long time. I used to play games, I played first division cricket at Combermere and when I left school I played with the cricket team in Orange Hill and I’ve had this connection with Orange Hill and with the guys who I went elementary school with. As a matter of fact, my walking partner was my school buddy.

“Sometimes I can’t believe it’s been that long. I think that my constituents would miss that fact that I would no longer be able to participate in elections, whenever that is, because they see me every day. It doesn’t appear to me it’s that long,” said Payne, who is also an attorney-at-law.

Now after 22 years in the political arena, he said that should he lose this time around he would be okay with the voters’ decision.

“I’m in a win-win situation. I guess that the last election brought me a little closer to reality in terms of what would have been possible. To be honest with you last election it was not a shocker in the sense that I was under any nerves because I knew when the count started, where it was and I got the result after the count was finished so there were never any nerves because I always knew I would have won, [but] it is a little surprising and I wondered why it was that close.

“It is obvious when you look at the elections throughout Barbados that the people needed a change and don’t forget I was a backbencher for two terms and all of the cabinet ministers, all of the people who lost were cabinet ministers so that in my mind it was an achievement so this is not looking at it as anything marginal. That has awaken me in the sense that I know it’s a possibility that you can…,” he said, his voice trailing off.

“I don’t know … the way how I feel, that [losing at the polls] would be a win-win for me because even though I like to have a regular lime with the boys, I wouldn’t have the hassle of dealing with the amount of problems that I deal with on a monthly basis. It really is a financial strain. It costs me $5,000 a month, almost my entire salary from Parliament because the things that I do in terms of helping various communities and ensuring that certain things are done in the constituency, all the money goes back.

“It isn’t just the money and the time, it is the hassle and then when Government fails and I don’t know if it has to do with some sections of Government or the politicians being vindictive. There’s a situation where I believe they should actually be involved… It gets to me and I have to make sure that I make my input,” he said before his voice grew softer.

It was then that he spoke about Government’s policy as it relates to natural disasters and assisting householders who lost their homes in getting relocated. The person affected would either get a rental home or a replacement free of cost. He said there was a resident of White Hill whose house was destroyed and after applying to Government, “I took it upon myself” to find alternative accommodation. He said it has been costing him a considerable sum and that person’s home has not been replaced.

“In situations like these I get involved in a very tangible way. If I had to add up, I might not spend $5,000 this month but I might spend $10,000 next month. I certainly spend more than $60,000 a year,” the MP stated.

That having been said, this seasoned campaigner is advising first-time candidates to stay on the ground and make sure they canvass the entire constituency.

“Do not get into any disputes with any constituent even when the constituent might be wrong. It is like in a business, the customer is always right and as long as you stay on the ground and you make sure that you canvass because you’re a first-timer nobody knows you, you’re a neophyte. You have to make sure people in the constituency get to know you and make sure they get to know all of your good habits, the bad ones they will understand a little later on. No matter how you do in other areas, no matter how popular you might be, outside of that, no matter how well you perform during the election campaign in terms of your presentations on the platform that canvassing is important. The difficulty is when you have the other candidate doing everything right but you have to make sure you do everything right in terms of that canvassing, there is no substitute. Every house, every individual, [keep] proper records and it is lot easier now than it was before … the technology is there,” he said.

As for whether Payne and BLP political leader Owen Arthur were friends, the St. Andrew MP stated:

“In any business, in any organisation, you have people sometimes who don’t see eye to eye and one of the things about matured human beings they have to understand that in whatever endeavour it is, in whatever calling, they have to have a good working relationship and I would say that the working relationship between myself and Owen Arthur is excellent. I don’t know as a human being of any enemies I have politically or otherwise,” he answered.

About those hats which have become his trademark, he doesn’t know how many he has. What he does know he is that he gives away an average of 50 a year.

“Whenever I travel I buy hats as a matter of fact for Arlene [Thomas’ funeral] I gave away 74 hats, I just bought them. If you were at the funeral you would have noticed 64 members of the branch had hats, Arlene hats. I don’t like to think of myself [like that]. I wear hats because I’m comfortable, it’s part of my dress … In addition to that I’ve never, ever seen my father outdoors without a hat. He worked as a carpenter, as a joiner, as a speculator, I have never seen my father outdoors without a hat. The only time he would not have one is when he was in the house and they say these things are catching and so I don’t know if that’s one of the things I inherited from him but I would like to think I inherited more than that,” he said with a smile.

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