Barrow’s enduring relevance
June 1 this year will be 29 years since the great Right Excellent Errol Barrow transitioned from this earthly life to eternity. Three decades have almost passed, but far from receding into the obscure recesses of the Barbadian mind, The Dipper retains an amazingly strong presence.
He lives on through the continuing relevance of his transformative ideas, his inspiring vision of people-centred development, his outstanding leadership and his ineffaceable example of humble, selfless service.
If the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams was the Barbadian equivalent of Moses, as he was called during his lifetime, then Barrow surely was the equivalent of Joshua. He took over the leadership of Barbados at a critical juncture, just as the biblical Joshua did in the case of the ancient Jewish nation, and delivered the “promised land” through Independence
and his grand project of modernization that transformed life in Barbados for the better.
I was fortunate to have personally known Barrow and to have learnt a lot about his political thinking from his long-time comrade and close adviser Sir James Tudor, and also about his human side from his personal buddy the late Carlton Brathwaite. While he would hold Press conferences when there was a major issue to address, few journalists otherwise had direct access to him.
I happened to be one of them. Hartley Henry was another.
“What does young Cammie Tudor want now?” he would quip whenever I called for a comment on any issue.
Barrow, by nature, was plain-speaking, sometimes brutally so, which made many people wary of crossing his path.
He did not suffer fools gladly or had time for fake people or time-wasters. There was, however, a humanely cool side to him which I, as a young man still in school, experienced back
He was visiting Sir James one afternoon at his Masada, Stanmore Crescent home, but between their discussion, took time to enquire about my studies and career plans, offer encouragement and emphasize the importance of getting
a good education.
That encounter, more than anything else, defined the lasting positive image I have of Barrow. His greatness mattered but his humility mattered more. Here was a great man with a common touch who did not consider himself too important to enquire about a lowly young man’s future and offer words of advice.
Maya Angelou, the celebrated black American poet, was so correct when she said: “People may forget what you say, people may forget what you do, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”
The great affection which Barbadians on the whole have for Barrow –– as seen in their overwhelming choice of him as Barbadian Of The 20th Century –– stems from the fact that he made us feel good about ourselves, about being Barbadian and our capacity to achieve greatness on a world scale despite the limitations associated with Barbados’ small size. Besides leaving us better off than he found us, Barbadians gratefully appreciate the fact that Barrow genuinely cared –– something that cannot be said about many politicians today.
I have reflected a lot on Barrow’s ideas these past few years against the backdrop of the prolonged economic crisis and the pain and suffering which his political successors in the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) have inflicted on the people of this country in the name of fiscal austerity. The key question which I have continually asked myself is: “Were Barrow still
at the helm of the ship of state, would he have acted differently?” Without a doubt, I am convinced he would have.
Barrow, you see, was wedded to a political philosophy that emphasized equality and social justice, especially for those at the bottom –– the result, no doubt, of his exposure to Fabian socialism at the University of London and the influence of his father, an Anglican priest.
Christianity emphasizes equality and justice for the poor. These principles informed early DLP policies of redistributing national wealth which was effected, for example, through taxpayer-funded education to tertiary level, which his successors have taken away, and free health care at public medical facilities, among other benefits.
Instead of placing the heavy burden of adjustment on the shoulders of ordinary Barbadians, as the current crop of DLP politicians has done, Barrow most likely would have first focused on the top with the aim of eliminating any lavish and unnecessary public sector spending.
“Conspicuous consumption by politicians, particularly undertaken at the expense of the taxpayers, is not development,” he once said.
He naturally would have frowned on the generous salaries and pensions to which MPs today are entitled, especially in cases where, beyond warming a seat and occupying a position, they have not delivered to make a real difference for the people. It is sad to say –– but it is the truth nevertheless –– that for some persons today, public service, especially at the elective level, has become a one-way ticket to prosperity. Barrow, in contrast, was proud to say: “I am a penniless politician but I want to remain an honest one.”
Whereas some politicians today who were not known previously to be well off, seem to delight in ostentatiously driving around in the most expensive rides, Barrow in his time was content driving around in an old, cream-coloured, beaten-up Mercedes Benz with the registration number M1003. When he was Prime Minister in the 1970s, his official car was not a Mercedes-Benz, as is the case today, but a simple brown Toyota Crown with the registration number M50. He would often be seen driving himself.
Those who were around in the early 1980s should readily recall how Barrow railed over the many ML and MP cars which ministers and senior public officers were driving around during the Tom Adams administration. As the Prime Minister’s official car, Adams had ditched Barrow’s Toyota Crown first for a Cadillac with the registration number MP1.
However, after the Cadillac was plagued with seemingly unsolvable mechanical problems, it was replaced with a green Mercedes Benz with the MP2 registration number. MP1
has never been used again.
When Barrow and the DLP were returned to office following the May, 1986 general election, he refused to drive in the green Mercedes and reverted to using a humble Toyota Crown with the same old M50 registration number. As Opposition Leader, he had also railed against the construction of the current Central Bank building which he saw as extravagance. Against this background, it is quite easy to deduce where the cost-cutting would have occurred if Barrow were at the helm today.
I have no doubt that trimming the size of the Cabinet and introducing a pay cut for ministers beyond ten per cent would have occurred. Barrow, you see, saw politics as selfless service. He would have also cut out a lot of the overseas travel by ministers to attend international conferences which, from my experience as a journalist covering such events, are largely talk shops that achieve precious little.
Representation at such meetings could be easily done by overseas-based diplomats, as the new president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, whom I wrote about few weeks ago, has instituted.
If present DLP politicians were generally in tune with Barrow’s philosophy, which defined their party, they certainly would not have committed the grave errors of recent years. Their actions in some instances have turned back the hands of the clock, developmentally speaking. Understandably, Barrow would be hopping mad if he were to come back today. But such occurs when politicians find themselves without a philosophical anchor. Falling for anything becomes easy.
If we are serious about nation-building, Barrow’s speeches should be made required reading in every secondary school. It is important that our young people –– the leaders of tomorrow –– receive such exposure to acquire an understanding and appreciation of the philosophical foundation on which modern Barbados was built. Errol Barrow was truly a man for all seasons. Long may he live in our hearts and our minds!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.