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The persistence of the Westminster-Whitehall Model

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Last week, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (Salises) held its 19th annual conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, under the theme Sustainable Futures for the Caribbean.

Part of the reason for holding the conference in Montego Bay was to reconnect with the historical event in September 1947 when the Conference on the Closer Association of the British West Indian Colonies was held there. Just over 70 years ago the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Arthur Creech Jones, convened a meeting of representatives from all of the British West Indian territories to discuss the idea of a federation for the region.

Ten years after that historic meeting, the Federation of the West Indies was born only to die in 1962. It was a noble attempt, but the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne had warned in their 1939 report that it was doubtful of success because of the insularity that they had seen, but nevertheless it was a laudable goal that should still be pursued.

Just over 70 years later, in the seventieth year of the University of the West Indies, the assessment of where the region stands on a whole host of issues was debated and discussed over three days (Wednesday to Friday). From my own perspective, my presentation addressed the fact that the Westminster-Whitehall model of constitutional systems that are operated in 11 of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries will continue to persist as it has done since independence with no substantive foreseeable change in our immediate future.

All of the 11 other Commonwealth Caribbean countries have retained the parliamentary model that is the hallmark of the Westminster-Whitehall model. This persistence may be explained, in summary, by recourse to (i) historical antecedents; (ii) the persistence of an elite colonial mindset; (iii) single-state independence as a response to the 1962 demise of the West Indian Federation; (iv) widespread public ignorance of alternative constitutional options; (v) general public apathy for any change; (vi) difficult procedures for undertaking actual reform; (vii) debate about evolution or importation of constitutional institutions; (viii) absence of political consensus on the reform issues and process; (ix) the desire to insert Washington model techniques to create a new hybrid without departing from the parliamentary model.

In terms of historical antecedents, it must be noted that at the end of the very same Conference on the Closer Association of the British West Indian Colonies held in Montego Bay, the following resolution was unanimously passed as recorded in the official report of the proceedings:

16. Mr H A Cuke, OBE of Barbados, then asked permission, as a representative of the oldest of the British Caribbean Colonies, to move the following resolution, which was seconded by Mr F A Pixley of Jamaica, as members of the conference rising to their feet while recording their unanimous agreement:


That this conference humbly affirms its loyalty and allegiance to the Person and Throne of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Sixth, and that the terms of this resolution be conveyed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for transmission to His Majesty.

Last week, all Caricom Heads of Government joined their Commonwealth counterparts to reaffirm their commitment that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will succeed his mother Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth.

This is not a criticism of that fact, but an explanation that the psyche of West Indian peoples is not alien to a connection with its British imperial colonial past. There are other factors that I alluded to that will account for the persistence of the Westminster-Whitehall model of governance to which the region has clung tenaciously without substantive change, with the exception of Guyana and the influence of left-wing ideology and electoral abuse.

For the time being, the Westminster-Whitehall model is here to stay.


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