It really is time to question Hamid Ghany’s efforts to explain our political development, which, insofar as joined-up thinking is concerned, reveal a remarkable lacuna, to borrow a term of which he seems to be particularly fond. In an item of his in the May 27 Sunday Guardian, there is much with which I could take issue, but I am constrained to focus here on his claim that the “path to the Westminster-Whitehall model that was adopted at independence in 1962 followed a predictable line from nominated members in the Legislative Council with domination by the Governor to the introduction of Cabinet government and a bicameral Parliament in 1959 and 1961 respectively.” Firstly, I proceed on the assumption that his Westminster-Whitehall model is simply an innovative but nonetheless anecdotal variation on the theme of the so-called Westminster model and its imagined transplantation to British colonies. This being so, it is important to recall that the traditional conceptualisation of the British system of government as the Westminster model, not to mention its precise definition, and its capacity for replication anywhere, has long been open to serious criticism.
As observed eons ago by Prof Birch at the University of Exeter, accounts of what constitutes the model differ, depending on the speaker or writer. And as noted by the late Freddie Madden of Nuffield College, Oxford, not only have there been doubts about the so-called model in the corridors of Westminster itself, but its system of government was never intended for export, but for consumption only on the premises. In this light, I have long since argued in these columns and elsewhere that the idea that the so- called Westminster model, in its purest form according to the Wooding Commission, was either imposed or adopted—whenever—in T&T is not supported by the available evidence. Undeniably, there are aspects in our system which are not unlike those developed in the UK, in the same way that there are political features in the UK reminiscent of others elsewhere. But the comprehensive transplantation of the historically evolving Westminster novel is a no-no. Secondly, therefore, the sensible and scholarly approach must be to consider carefully the origins, nature and function of the political machinery established at the Red House, in particular from December 1961, which is when a nominated second chamber, the Senate, was first established. Following this line of inquiry, it quickly becomes apparent that the origins of this chamber are to be traced to proposals advocated by an exceptional political visionary, Dr Eric Eustace Williams, in 1955, as he set out on his first electoral campaign.
At the time, so far from being predictable, as Ghany maintains, the introduction of a nominated second chamber to accommodate the nominated representatives being squeezed gradually from their privileged seats in the Legislative Council was widely regarded as a non-starter. This was so not only among the most progressive anti-colonial activists, but generally. On this point there was unanimity in the society, as Sir John Shaw, following his retirement as Governor in 1949, was able to remark at a public meeting in London chaired by Arthur Creech-Jones, the Secretary of State for the Colonies then.
Nonetheless, to the surprise, undoubtedly, of influential sources in the society, Dr Williams’ proposals in 1955 proved to be exceedingly popular, so much so that the cut-off point for signatories to the intended petition to the Colonial Office, among whom, incidentally, was one Bhadase Sagan Maraj, had to be extended. In the event, amid the controversy over Chaguaramas in 1961, Dr Williams and his government were able to emerge in triumph from the difficult negotia- tions with the Colonial Office regarding the Senate, which came into being following the 1961 elections.
By the time of its actual establishment, however, the second chamber was different in nature from that proposed in 1955. There were good reasons for this, which help to explain the function of the second chamber, as proposed, and as actually established, but they are much too complex to be explored here. Suffice it to say that both chambers owed more to developments in Malta and New Zealand than those in Britain and, as such, illustrate the breath and inimitable political scholarship of Williams. If, in all modesty, there is a lesson to be learnt from all this it is that we must be clearer about the origins, nature and function of our political institutions before we advocate or embark on their reconstruction. It would indeed be a very dotish individual who proceeded to try and demolish a house erected of bricks on concrete foundations, with a view to its refurbishment, “jus’ so,” in the mistaken belief that it was little more than a shack built of straw on sawdust. Or, as Sir Arthur Lewis warned in 1965, political writing is full of stereotypes, which must be cleared from our thoughts, if we are to make progress in studying particular cases.
Rawle Boland is a Trinidad-born lawyer and political scientist based in London