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Brief Political History and Dynamics of Barbados

In 1625, Barbados was claimed by England.  By 1627 Barbados was colonised in the name of Charles I by Governor Charles Wolferstone, as the representative of the Earl of Carlisle, after whom Carlisle Bay was named.  British control over Barbados lasted from 1625 until independence in 1966.  About fifty male settlers, including some slaves captured en route, arrived in 1627 to settle the island, which was uninhabited and had no food-bearing plants.  Twelve years later, in 1639, the House of Assembly was formed, the only representative legislature in the Caribbean to remain in existence for more than three centuries.

The form of Government in Barbados between 1627 and 1639 was Crown Colony Government which comprised; a Governor, a Legislative Council and House of Assembly (established in 1639). The Legislative council was a nominated body, of nine members, appointed by the Crown on the Governor’s recommendation and the Assembly was an elected body initally comprising two representatives from each of the 11 parishes.

During 1652, Col Thomas Modyford was elected as the first Speaker of the House of Assembly, who was then dominant in Barbados' politics.  After this, two Houses of Parliament sat separately, the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly.  Eventually the meetings of the Council were held for several years at the official residence of the Governor.

Crown Colony Government

Throughout the nineteenth century, Barbados resisted change.  Although free blacks were granted the vote in 1831 and slavery was commuted to an apprentice system in 1834, with emancipation following four years later, the ex-slaves stayed on the island and life remained essentially the same.  Barbados successfully resisted British efforts in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to abolish its House of Assembly and install crown colony government.  The British had found local assemblies to be intractable and cumbersome to manage from London.  Under the system called crown colony government, which was installed in all of the Commonwealth Caribbean islands except Barbados, the British replaced these argumentative assemblies with a unicameral legislature, the majority of whose members were appointed by the governor, and in which the king theoretically represented the lower classes.  As a result of multiple petitions, Barbados managed to retain its local House of Assembly, which functioned in addition to the Governor's Legislative Council.  Barbados was also successful in securing the repeal of the British sugar tax.

In 1843, the Assembly increased to 24 with the introduction of two representatives for Bridgetown. From 1660 until 1901, the life of the Assembly was two years, in 1937 it was extended to three years, and in 1951 it was then extended to five years.

Between the 1800s and the 1900s Barbados was the main Government for the British colonies of the Windward Islands, with the Governor of Barbados being the colonial head.  Barbados later withdrew from the Windward Island union in 1885, leaving Grenada as the colonial head.  It was later dissolved.  After Barbados parted ways with the Windward Islands, it tried to have Tobago join in its' political union to no avail.  It was warded to Trinidad by the British Government.

For almost 300 years, Barbados remained in the hands of a small, white, propertied minority who held the franchise.  Reform finally came after World War I, however, as a result of ideas brought back by Clennell Wilsden Wickham of Barbados, Andrew Arthur Cipriani of Trinidad, and others who had served in the British forces abroad.  Wickham returned home in 1919 fired by enthusiasm to make Barbados a more democratic place.  His newspaper articles inspired Charles Duncan O'Neal to organize the Democratic League, a political party that espoused franchise reform, old-age pensions, compulsory education, scholarships, and trade union organization.  The Democratic League succeeded in electing a few representatives to the House of Assembly between 1924 and 1932; however it was after the civil disturbances in 1937 that the modern-type political party surfaced.

In 1901, the legislative qualifications for voting was primarily property ownership, however, on 6 June 1950, a Bill was passed in the House of Assembly to amend the Representation of the People Act. The bill abolished the property qualification for membership of the General Assembly and introduction adult suffrage, thereby granting the franchise to every member of the population, 21 years old and over, to vote for members of the House of Assembly and on 22 October 1963 the francise was extended to persons 18 years and over.

Modern Political Era

In 1938, Grantley Adams a leader of one of the Trade Unions at that time, founded the Barbados Progressive League which later to became the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).  Under Barbadian governor Sir Grattan Bushe, the constitution was changed to effect a semiministerial form of government, and the franchise was progressively liberalized.  During the 1942 House of Assembly session, Adams led a fight for reforms that broadened the franchise by reducing the cost of qualification, increased direct taxation, established a workmen's compensation program, and protected union leaders from liability in trade disputes.

Under the terms of the Bushe reforms, Adams became leader of the government in 1946.  Between 1946 and 1951, he presided over uneasy coalitions in the House of Assembly as the BLP failed to win a clear majority.  In 1951, in the first election conducted under universal adult suffrage with no property qualifications, the BLP captured 16 of the 24 seats.  Although the BLP had finally gained a majority in the House, Adams was unable to hold the party together.  The BLP and BWU, which had formerly acted in unison, pulled apart in 1954 after Adams resigned as president of the BWU, became premier (the pre-independence title for Prime Minister), under a new ministerial system of government, and neglected to include the new BWU president, Frank Walcott, in his cabinet.  Meanwhile, a new member of the House, Barrow, emerged as leader of a discontented BLP left wing, which felt that Adams was too close to the governor and not close enough to labour.

Barrow had served in the Royal Air Force in World War II and subsequently studied and passed the bar in London.  After returning to Barbados in 1950, he joined the BLP and was elected to the House in 1951.  In 1954 Barrow left the BLP and the following year founded the DLP, which he led for the next thirty-two years.  In spite of Barrow's defection, Adams led the BLP to victory in the 1956 election.

West Indies Federation

Plans for a British Caribbean federation had been drawn up in London in 1953, and elections for a federative assembly were held in 1958.  The BLP also swept these elections, capturing almost all of the seats allotted to Barbados; subsequently, Adams, who had been knighted in 1952, was elected Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation.  He was the only individual ever to hold that office because the federation dissolved in 1962, when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago both opted for independence. After failed attempts by Adams to form other Federations, Barbados went back to its Self-governing Colony status.

Adams' devotion to the cause of federation cost the BLP dearly.  H.G. Cummins, who had become premier of Barbados when Adams was elected Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation, was unable to hold the party together.  By the late 1950s, unemployment, always a persistent problem in Barbados, exceeded 20 percent.  While Adams struggled with increasing problems in the federation, Barrow supported the sugar workers in their campaign for higher wages and in turn won their support for the DLP; as a result, the DLP won the 1961 elections by a large majority.  Barrow became premier and continued to lead the government until 1971.  Between 1961 and 1966, the DLP government replaced the governor's Legislative Council with a Senate appointed by the governor, increased workers' benefits, instituted a program of industrialization, and expanded free education.  Barrow also explored the possibility of joining another federation of the so-called Little Eight islands (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Christopher [hereafter, St. Kitts]-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines); this too came to naught, however, and the DLP espoused full independence with the concurrence of the opposition parties.  The DLP won the election of 2 November 1966, capturing 14 of the 24 House seats.  On 30 November 1966, Barbados gained independence, and Barrow became its first Prime Minister.

Post-Independence Era

Since Independence Barbados' two main political parties have been the BLP and the DLP, both centrist social democratic parties with roots in the British labour movement and no major ideological differences.  The BLP is considered more conservative than the DLP, with both parties strongly supporting private enterprise and regional integration.  Since the 1960s, party differentiation has been mainly in style and rhetoric, but mainly in the personalities of the leaders.

During the first 20 years of Barbadian independence, the DLP and BLP each ran the government for ten years.  The DLP, with its founder, Barrow, as Prime Minister, was the majority party from 1966 to 1976 and was returned to power in 1986.  The BLP was in power from 1976 to 1986 with J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams as Prime Minister until his sudden death in office in 1985.  After Adams' death, H. Bernard St. John became Prime Minister until the DLP victory in the May 1986 election.  In June 1987, a year after resuming the post of Prime Minister, Barrow also died; thus, in the short space of twenty-six months Barbados lost the two party leaders who had run the country since 1961.  Barrow was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, a member of the House since 1971 and the holder of a number of ministerial portfolios under two previous DLP governments.

Owen Arthur led the BLP to victory in the 1994 elections.  The BLP returned to power in the election of 1999 and for a third term in May 2003 elections with Owen Arthur at the helm, winning 23 seats and the DLP gaining seven seats with David Thompson at the helm. 

In 2008, the DLP’s fortunes were reversed, winning 20 of the 30 seats in the January 15 general election, with David Thompson becoming Prime Minister.  Two years later, on October 23, 2008, Thompson died of pancreatic cancer and his Deputy, Freundel Stuart, became the seventh Prime Minister of Barbados.
  Bajan Free Party   NDP = National Democratic Party   United Progressive Party
  Barbados Integrity Movement   People's Democratic Congress   WPB = Workers Party of Barbados
  Barbados Labour Party   PEP = People's Empowerment Party   Independent Candidate
  Democratic Labour Party   PPA = People's Political Alliance   *incumbent
  Kingdom Government of Barbados   Solutions Barbados   ** Political Leader
Barbados Electoral and Boundaries Commission
Bajan Free Party (2018). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/Bajan-Free-Party-BFP-HonAlex-MitchellEl-1767331239973521/
Barbados Integrity Movement (2018). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/barbdaosintegritymovement/?ref=py_c
Barbados Labour Party. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.blp.org.bb/
Coalition of United Party. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/alexmitchell.el/
Democratic Labour Party. (2018). Retrieved from http://dlpbarbados.org/site/
Solutions Barbados. (2018). Retrieved from https://solutionsbarbados.com/
United Progressive Party. (2018). Retrieved from https://uppbarbados.org/
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   Barbados Country Profile
   Barbados Government Structure
   Barbados Election Basics
   Political History and Dynamics
   Barbados Heads of Government
   Women in Politics in Barbados
   Barbados Timeline
   Teacher Resources
  Bajan Free Party
  Barbados Integrity Movement
  Barbados Labour Party
  Democratic Labour Party
  Kingdom Government of Barbados
  People's Democratic Congress
  Solutions Barbados
  United Progressive Party
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