When the comforting illusion shatters
The American linguist, political commentator, journalist and author Noam Chomsky once wrote: “1f we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion.” Chomsky could easily have been writing about the world of Barbadian politics where smokes and mirrors appear to be the order of the day, most notably the illusion of party unity.
Too often, those involved in politics here are all too eager to pretend that the illusions are, in fact, reality. Unfortunately, just as we are prepared to accept it as real. Too often, they believe, or try to get us to believe, that they can defeat disunity, disharmony and discord with an apathetic commitment to keep calm and carry on. Too often it comes back to bite them in the bum and the illusion is shattered, exposing deep dislike and even hatred towards each other.
The proof is in the current political bloodbath involving Dr Maria Agard and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) hierarchy. Dr Agard must face the party’s national council on Sunday to answer as many as nine charges. Among the charges against the Christ Church West MP is that she acted contrary to the party as far back as 2012 – even before the last general election. Yet it was allowed to fester in their world of comforting illusion. Keep calm and carry on, we take it.
We saw it after the dismantling of BLP leader Mia Mottley in 2010 and the return of Owen Arthur as leader. Mottley took over the leadership after Arthur quit in the wake of his first election defeat in 2008. For a while they functioned in the comfort of the illusion of unity, until it was time for Arthur to return. Mottley was virtually slaughtered and the illusion was shattered, if only for a while. But then the illusions of unity were palpable again leading up to the 2013 polls, particularly on the night before the election they were certain they would have won.
We have seen it within the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), both in Opposition and in Government. We witnessed the “Eager 11” and we have witnessed the many conflicting statements on various issues delivered by ministers over the life of this administration.
Both parties have perfected the stoic commitment to keep calm and carry on while the voting public is sent on a difficult journey of conflicting emotion.
Which leads us back to the Dr Agard controversy. In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, Chomsky and Edward Herman argue that media help manufacture consent among the public by reporting Government concerns at face value, while neglecting to examine wider economic, social and historical factors that shape international affairs.
The context is different, of course, but some of the charges against Dr Agard seem to suggest a deliberate attempt on the part of the BLP leadership to manufacture or rather force some form of consent from the embattled MP.
Now, Dr Agard has not cloaked herself in dignity in this episode. Some of her Facebook posts were demeaning and disrespectful. But to drag someone before the court – this is what the national council is equivalent to – for giving information to the media and speaking to a journalist in this day of modern democracy is embarrassing to say the least.
More embarrassing for the BLP and its supporters must be this spectacle in the theatre of divisive internal politics. There is no doubt that there is a certain group within the BLP that will never like Mottley, and will take every possible opportunity to make her as uncomfortable as possible. These are the very ones who squeezed the life out of her first stint as leader and they will not hesitate to try again. But Mottley is no political novice, and as leader she has a responsibility to bring stability to the institution.
And it’s not enough to simply expect time to heal the rift, to silence the downright animosity that they feel towards each other, to erase the bloody images of bruised egos and battered images, to cleanse the exposed dirty. The stoic commitment to keep calm and carry on is certainly not enough.
The Dr Agard issue is but a symptom of what plagues the BLP. And if they are serious in their expression of solidarity, then they must demonstrate it by their action, even when there is a clash of wills. If they are serious about confronting the men and women of the DLP administration who they claim are doing the country nothing but harm, then they must act like it. They must expend the same collective energy they utilize in the frontal attacks on each other and redirect it towards sharpening their message, preparing themselves for the end game of the next general election.
If their supporters want to convince the rest of Barbados that the BLP is ready to be the next Government, then they must demand action and not accept inaction.
Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below, Chomsky wrote. If the BLP is serious about asking Barbadians to take it seriously, it must begin the process of change from within and at the very least, create a believable world of comforting illusion.