A DI­VI­SIVE HIS­TORY

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

The Saint Lu­cia Labour Party might have been es­tab­lished in 1949, backed by the Saint Lu­cia Work­ers Co­op­er­a­tive Union, although the blurb on the SLP web­site in­sists that the Party was founded in 1950 by' Ge­orge Charles and oth­ers'; who these ‘oth­ers' were I am not quite sure. In the first elec­tions held un­der uni­ver­sal suf­frage in 1951, the party led by Charles won five of the eight seats. It re­tained all five seats in the sub­se­quent 1954 elec­tions, and in­creased its ma­jor­ity to seven of the eight seats in the 1957 elec­tions, and nine of the ten seats in 1961. Elec­tions came thick and fast way back then.

After gain­ing a ma­jor­ity in the Saint Lu­cia Assem­bly and main­tain­ing power with an ever in­creas­ing ma­jor­ity for the four man­date pe­ri­ods from 1951, the SLP lost the elec­tions in 1964 and went into op­po­si­tion for the next sev­eral elec­tions un­til 1979 when it once again took over the reins of gov­ern­ment un­der the lead­er­ship of Al­lan Louisy. The 1979 elec­tions were the first elec­tions held fol­low­ing In­de­pen­dence from the United Kingdom that was de­clared on 22 Fe­bru­ary, 1979.

Such were the va­garies of Saint Lu­cian party pol­i­tics in those days that po­lit­i­cal unions were cre­ated some­what willy-nilly. John Comp­ton's po­lit­i­cal ca­reer be­gan in 1954 when he ran and was elected as an In­de­pen­dent for the seat from Mi­coud-Den­nery. He was ap­pointed to the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil and, un­der the Com­mit­tee Sys­tem then in place, be­came Mem­ber for So­cial Af­fairs un­til the end of the Com­mit­tee Sys­tem in 1956 when he joined the SLP.

Re-elected in 1957, Comp­ton be­came Min­is­ter for Trade and Pro­duc­tion in 1958, and also be­came deputy leader of the SLP, un­der Ge­orge Charles. In 1960 he was named Min­is­ter of Trade and In­dus­try again un­der Charles, who be­came Chief Min­is­ter. Comp­ton was re-elected in 1961 but chose not to join the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil; ob­ject­ing to the choice of min­is­ters, he quit the SLP and along with his sup­port­ers he formed a new party, the Na­tional Labour Move­ment, in the same year. To­gether with an­other op­po­si­tion party, the Peo­ple's Pro­gres­sive Party, Comp­ton and the Na­tional Labour Move­ment formed a new party, the United Work­ers' Party (UWP). This new party won the elec­tion held in June 1964 and Comp­ton be­came Chief Min­is­ter.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties had no his­tory, no real foun­da­tion back then; they popped up hither and thither. Peo­ple voted for per­son­al­i­ties, it seems. Con­versely, much of to­day's elec­torate is made up of diehard SLP or UWP sup­ports un­able to enun­ci­ate pol­icy dif­fer­ences be­tween the par­ties. The Labour Party's first post-in­de­pen­dence term of of­fice from 1979 to 1982 was dogged by in­ter­nal strife; di­vi­sions led to changes of prime min­is­ter and cost the party sup­port. Louisy was re­placed by Win­ston Cenac who was him­self re­placed by Michael Pil­grim.

Pos­si­bly as a re­sult of this dis­cord, Labour lost the 1982 Gen­eral Elec­tion to Comp­ton's United Work­ers Party and was re­duced to just two seats after be­ing chal­lenged on its left by a break­away fac­tion, the Pro­gres­sive Labour Party un­der Ge­orge Od­lum that took just one seat. Labour re­mained in op­po­si­tion fol­low­ing de­feats in the elec­tions of 1987 and 1992. The party did, how­ever, in­crease its num­ber of seats to eight dur­ing this pe­riod.

Comp­ton failed to or­gan­ise a cred­i­ble suc­ces­sion after he stepped down be­fore the 1997 elec­tion and the SLP re­turned to power in a land­slide vic­tory of 16 seats to one. Its new leader was Kenny An­thony, a for­mer Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion – al­beit it for a mere three months – in the 1979 to 1982 gov­ern­ment. The ‘Party', or per­haps more ac­cu­rately, ‘Kenny' won an­other de­ci­sive vic­tory in 2001 de­spite a re­duced ma­jor­ity. Pol­i­tics had be­come even more per­sonal and less demo­cratic: a party could only have one leader, and dis­cord, dis­sention, and even free­dom of ex­pres­sion were firmly dis­cour­aged.

The SLP's 2006 man­i­festo pointed to im­prove­ments in in­fra­struc­ture and a “more egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety” but de­spite slo­gans such as “Stay with Labour” and “Keep St Lu­cia Mov­ing” the elec­torate failed to back Kenny and he lost to the UWP that had re­called John Comp­ton as leader a year be­fore.

Kenny re­mained leader of the SLP through­out its time in op­po­si­tion un­til it de­feated the UWP in 2011 with an 11 to 6 ma­jor­ity. Five years later the UWP turned the ta­bles by win­ning by a sim­i­lar ma­jor­ity that sent Kenny pack­ing.

I sus­pect that many of to­day's elec­torate have lit­tle idea of the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions of the past 65 years or so, so I just thought I'd sum­marise them in case peo­ple were in­ter­ested – that's all!

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