In my last article I wrote of my hope for the emergence of a genuine labour party with full backing of the labour movement which I thought would be the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). I suggested that the name of the party implied that its ideal would be social justice.
One of my major complaints of the structure and performance of the existing major parties is that they exhibit poor governance. Since the MSJ is starting with a clean slate with respect to governance I want to suggest a structure which that party should immediately put into place. Before doing so I shall remind readers of the main principles set forth by the MSJ in a speech made by Errol McLeod at the launch of the party. I quote two passages from that address:
"Why do I make bold to assert that our party — the MSJ — is certain to be one of the most important political parties in our country's history? Because in the very best tradition of the working classes of Trinidad and Tobago we have dared to be creative, dared to challenge the status quo and dared to bring about fundamental change in our society. You see, Comrade Chairman, my own world view — and indeed this is the philosophical position of our party — posits that it is the ordinary working man and woman who, as a social group, have done the most to advance this society and humanise this small piece of real estate that is Trinidad and Tobago. Let me take a few moments to establish the facts supporting our philosophical position."
"That is our history, the history that we can truly lay claim to be the inheritors of. And that is why, comrades, we in the Movement for Social Justice are making history today. By this our founding congress we are asserting that once again labour is taking its rightful place in the politics of the country. There are some persons in this society who advocate that we ought not to be in politics. They claim that trade unions and politics don't mix and they can't accept that we are in the Parliament. How foolish they are!"
I would emphasise the following phrase from the quoted passages: "it is the ordinary working man and woman who, as a social group, have done the most to advance this society". It is my belief, as I tried to express in my last article, that of the various interest groups that form political parties it is labour that can do the greatest good for the greatest number in our society.
It is with some disappointment that I learned that Mr Mc Leod (Minister of Labour) had opted not to resign from the People's Partnership when the MSJ left that alliance. It may be that he feels he can do more good for labour as Minister of Labour. In a way, if this were his reason, it would seem to me to show a lack of faith in the People's Partnership since it would imply that their labour policies depend on the presence of a single individual rather than a strongly held position of the party.
With respect to structure for governance the MSJ should aim, if it got into power, to have not more than 15 ministers. The history of past governance structures and the advice of former heads of the Public Service such as Reggie Dumas and Annette des Isles could be drawn on to decide on the groupings of government activities that should be made to create these 15 ministries.
The MSJ should immediately appoint 15 shadow ministers or ministers-in-waiting and announce who these appointees are. The party's strategists should think long term. It needs to be remembered that the Labour Party in the UK was formed in 1900 and after brief periods as minority governments in 1924 and 1929 under Ramsey McDonald, got into power in 1945. It took World War II to wake the British people up and turn from Conservative governments and to vote in a Labour government. Major changes were then made under Clement Atlee, including the introduction of the health service. However, it was not until 1970 that it can be said that the Labour Party in government achieved most, if not all, of the social objectives formulated by its founders in 1900. The Labour government introduced social changes which even later Conservative governments have not been able to change fundamentally. The same is true of Canada which has an excellent health service created by a Labour government and this has not been changed by subsequent Conservative governments.
Having named the 15 shadow ministers the MSJ should then appoint a small number of advisers (five or six) to each shadow minister to plan and develop programmes in each area of ministerial activity. Political parties in opposition often hesitate to spell out their policies since they fear that they may be adopted by the "other side".
If the MSJ is well organised with effective contact with the wider population (through Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media communication systems), then it will be clear to all where the ideas originated and this will influence voting in favour of the MSJ in the following election or in the future.
The small groups of persons selected to advise the shadow ministers should form contacts with the wider society. They should first outline skeleton policies and invite comments and ideas from the wider community starting with labour and its sympathisers. These initial appointees may change as the party attracts more members but the groupings of government activities for governance should be permanent. There should be a normal progression and individuals should not feel hard done by when changes in leadership and/or membership of the groups occurs.
If the MSJ cannot recruit 15 competent persons to lead these groups then it might as well shut up shop immediately and give up the attempt to form an effective political party.
Part 1 appeared on July 26.
• John Spence is professor
emeritus, UWI. He also served as an independent senator