What will be the legacy of Sir James?
For the first time in over two generations, Vincentians have stepped into a new year without the towering presence of James Fitz-Allen Mitchell on the local political landscape. He was a most dominant figure in the politics of the country, even after he retired from active politics in 2001.
Sir James was a titan in electoral politics in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), both in terms of political longevity and political success. He was the last of our politicians who could claim to have been elected to national office in the pre-Statehood (1969), pre-Independence (1979) and post-Independence eras of Vincentian history. Mitchell held the distinction of a record nine victories at the polls, although this was not an unbroken spell. He won the Grenadines seat on four successive occasions, 1966-1974, then he left that constituency to contest the South Central Windward seat on the mainland in the 1979 elections, the first after independence.
It was during that outing that he was handed his only electoral defeat, losing to Offord Morris of the St Vincent Labour Party. Morris, not well known in local politics, soundly defeated two of the most prominent political leaders in our history, Mitchell and the legendary ET Joshua of the Peoples Political Party. Mitchell returned to Parliament after a Grenadines by-election in 1980 and proceeded to remain there until his retirement in 2001.
Joshua himself, victorious at the first elections after Adult Suffrage in 1951, had an unbroken run of eight victories, spending a record 28 years in Parliament before being upended in 1979. Putting this in context, current Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves now has seven consecutive victories, over a period of almost 28 years, to his credit.
When Mitchell retired in 2001, he maintained a strong influence over the direction and positions of the New Democratic Party (NDP) which he had formed in 1975. He returned to its platform during general elections campaigns and in the run up to the 2009 referendum on constitutional reform. It is said he remained the party’s fundraiser-in-chief and the one who controlled the purse strings, even as recently as in the 2020 General Elections. Despite being NDP through and through, Sir James, after his retirement was able to assume the role of senior statesman; a person willing, able, and with the authority to speak to supporters of both parties in SVG on matters of national importance. With his passing no other such person exists.
What will be his lasting legacy and what has been his impact will occupy the attention of historians and political pundits for years to come. SEARCHLIGHT will begin this discussion this Wednesday evening, January 5 on our Live discussion programme ‘The Press Room’ which will be broadcast from 8:00 p.m on our Facebook and YouTube pages.