Editorial: Walk good!

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The final few sitting of the House of Representatives before the 2018 general election, have been different for one main reason; they saw two of Antigua and Barbuda’s political heavyweights say goodbye to the lower house. We are speaking of none other than the second and third prime ministers of our bit of paradise:  Sir Lester Bryant Bird and Dr. Winston Baldwin Spencer.
Both of these men have spent an extraordinary amount of time in the trenches of politics and in the seats of the lower house, with Sir Lester first being elected in 1976 and his long-time political nemesis, Baldwin Spencer in 1989.  Since being elected, former prime minister Dr. Spencer has held his seat in an unbroken win-streak of six consecutive elections.  Sir Lester was also extremely popular with the voters and found favour with them to win eight elections.  He was on a six-election win streak from 1976 to 1999, when he was defeated by the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) Errol Cort in 2004, but he became the “comeback kid” in 2009 and then repeated his victory in 2014.        
Although born 10 years apart, with Sir Lester being older, both men have very similar careers during an overlap of time. They were, as we stated before, each other’s political nemesis for a long time, slugging it out on the campaign trails and as leaders of their respective parties in the parliament. Sir Lester succeeded his father, Sir Vere Cornwall Bird, to become the country’s second prime minister in 1994. He served two terms, repeating his initial victory at the polls in 1999. Similarly, Dr. Spencer served two terms as prime minister after defeating Sir Lester to become the country’s third prime minister. He rode the wave of ‘change’ in 2004 to break the Labour Party’s 28-year grip on the reigns of power. Like Sir Lester, he repeated his victory in 2009 but his party was defeated in 2014 so there was no third term.
The similarities between these two men go deeper than that. They were both born out of the belly of labour and as such had remarkably similar labour centric political platforms. Both men can claim significant achievements during their time in office with Sir Lester being forever tied to the birth and initial growth of the tourism sector and Dr. Spencer expanding social services in areas like the school meals programme and the uniform grant programme.
These comparisons touch only the surface of their political careers and are not intended to be a review of their performances or a contest to pick a winner; rather, it is our way of showing our gratitude to both of these men for the service to the public as parliamentarians and as prime ministers. While they both have their supporters and their critics, there is no doubt that they both contributed greatly to our political landscape and has helped shape Antigua and Barbuda into this place we call paradise. A place that is flawed with extremely tribal and combative politics but still a place that we call home and are in no hurry to leave.
In a final analysis, Sir  Lester Bird and Dr. Baldwin Spencer probably shared as much in common as they differed. As operatives in the labour movement, they both had a people centric political platform and while they may have shouted across the aisle of parliament, they had the same goal in their hearts. As we speed into the 2018 general election, we should take the time to pause and acknowledge the contributions of these two political icons. No matter which side you backed, or currently back, it would be hard to imagine one career without referencing the other. We would suggest that they made each other better politicians and better servants to the people and while they may speak and spit fire from across the political aisle, there will be an earned mutual respect between them.
We know that there will be many who will dismiss the occasion as nothing more than the retirement of two politicians from ‘days gone by’ but that would be a disservice to their political careers. In fact, although they are retiring from ‘active’ politics, we are sure that they will still be very much active in the world of politics and while we may not see their influence in the future, we will likely feel it as their colleagues seek their advice on moving the country forward.
So, we would like to say thank you to Sir Lester Bryant Bird and thank you to Dr. Winston Baldwin Spencer for your many years of service to Antigua and Barbuda.  Walk good!

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