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STORMY SEPTEMBER (Part 2) – The September Showdown

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It is said that “where there is smoke there is fire”, and the puffs of smoke generated by Hon. E.T. Joshua whilst still a Minister in the Alliance government headed by Sir James Mitchell in August 1974 at the National Agricultural Exhibition, were a forewarning of fire behind. Lots of fire in fact!

Early in September Joshua unloaded his cannon again. In a nationwide address he began as follows:

“It is my duty to give to this state an account of financial and other disabilities which now shackle St. Vincent and has it on the verge of disintegration and bankruptcy.”

That was serious stuff coming from the most senior member of government. He went on to blame Mitchell for just about every national ailment, from financial stagnation to using the 1973 oil crisis “to discredit and crush the leader of the People’s Political Party (Joshua himself) by starving out the people of the working class…..”

He went on to heap culpability on Mitchell for the perilous state of affairs then afflicting this country claiming that even though he (Joshua) was Minister of Finance, decisions were being taken without his knowledge or consent.

This included, according to him, diverting money which Cabinet had approved to purchase lands in Lauders, Diamond (village) and Owia for agricultural reform and housing to pay July salaries for public servants.
He concluded with these dramatic words:

“I can no longer tolerate this behaviour of Premier Mitchell. As a result I have handed my resignation to His Excellency the Governor Sir Rupert John which comes into effect as soon as this address is ended”.

This set in motion one of the most tumultuous periods in our political history. There had been speculation that Joshua and his wife would “cross the floor” and join with Labour’s six seats to establish a parliamentary majority and a new government without elections.

But that was immediately quashed by Premier Mitchell who the very next day made it plain that his government had no intention of resigning and handing the government to the Cato-Joshua concoction on a platter. He was constitutionally appointed in 1972, he reminded his listeners, and would soldier on with his duties. The Premier concluded by saying, “I am quite willing to return to the polls if that is what Mr. and Mrs. Joshua require”.

Two weeks later one of the most dramatic meetings of our Parliament took place, on September 18, 1974 to be exact.

There, to borrow a colloquial saying, “the bowlee buss” and in a very acrimonious series of exchanges Parliamentarians sunk our country to its worst, hurling all sorts of allegations across the floor, including accusations of corruption in office. Both sides of the House engaged in this gutter politics, abusing parliamentary privilege to publicly name citizens for collusion in these deeds.

At the end of it all, a motion of no-confidence in the government was passed, signalling not just the end of the Mitchell/Joshua Alliance government, but the institution of what became to be known as the “Junta government” which would govern our country for the next 13 weeks until elections were held on December 6, 1974.

Significance

I have taken time to retrace those happenings because, not only are they new to the younger generation, but many of my generation seem not to grasp the significance of those events, four decades afterwards. They set the scene for the abandonment of his party, by a candidate for the status of National Hero, Ebeneezer Joshua, to join his long-time political rival, Milton Cato, also a candidate for National Hero status, in another unholy alliance which, like Joshua’s pact with Mitchell, did not last three years.

It also represented a betrayal of the working people who had faithfully supported the PPP for almost two decades and who were not even consulted about the Cato-Joshua arrangement. It was this which led to the crafty Mitchell taking advantage of the betrayal to capture the PPP base which was used to build his New Democratic Party.

The rule of the “Junta” was marked by accusations of corruption both at the national and local government level. In fact, when the Cato-Joshua combination took office a Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Kingstown Town Board but, apart from juicy revelations, and lawyer fees, nothing came out of it. Perhaps it was a forerunner to the ULP’s Commission into the NDP administration’s Ottley Hall project, which also came to nought.

There were several other outcomes from this saga, a shameful chapter in our political history. One was the institution of elections in the month of December, for the first time since Adult Suffrage. Since then we have had another five December polls, all won by the Labour party and its successor, the ULP of today (1974, 1979, 2005, 2010 and 2015), while the NDP has won all but one of the five of the non-December elections since then. Any implications for 2020?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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