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!