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Barbados: Political Dynamics
Country Study > Chapter 5 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics


Since independence in 1966, responsibility for organizing the government has been almost evenly divided between the two major Barbadian parties, the DLP and BLP, which are both centrist social democratic parties with roots in the British labor movement. Although the BLP is perceived as somewhat more conservative than the DLP, there has been relatively little ideological difference. Both parties strongly support private enterprise, but both have undertaken large public works as a necessity in a country where unemployment ranges between 15 and 20 percent. In foreign policy, both the DLP and the BLP have endorsed and coordinated regional integration initiatives. Since the 1960s, party differentiation has been mainly in style and rhetoric and in the personalities of the leaders.

During the first twenty years of Barbadian independence, the DLP and BLP each ran the government for ten years. The DLP, with its founder, Barrow, as prime minister, was the majority party from 1966 to 1976 and was returned to power in 1986. The BLP was in power from 1976 to 1986 with J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams as prime minister until his sudden death in office in 1985. After Adams's death, H. Bernard St. John became prime minister until the DLP victory in the May 1986 election. In June 1987, a year after resuming the post of prime minister, Barrow also died; thus, in the short space of twenty-six months Barbados lost the two party leaders who had run the country since 1961. Barrow was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, a member of the House since 1971 and the holder of a number of ministerial portfolios under two previous DLP governments.

Barrow, who has been called the "Architect of Independence," led the DLP from its inception in 1955 until his death in 1987. After having completed a term as premier (the preindependence title for prime minister) from 1961 to 1966, Barrow and the DLP were elected to a second five-year term on the eve of independence in November 1966. Barrow had instituted many programs in his preindependence term of 1961-66 and continued them throughout the DLP governments that lasted until 1976. Barrow's achievements included free secondary education and school meals and many capital works programs, especially public housing projects. Under his government, the Barbados economy diversified by encouraging tourism. Barbados joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) in 1968, continuing its efforts to achieve some regional integration, and later joined Caricom, the successor to Carifta.

During Barrow's third term (1971-76), the Barbadian economy suffered from oil price increases and the international energy crisis. Unemployment increased, and there was increasing worker dissatisfaction. In 1976 the BLP, under the leadership of Tom Adams, won the election, gaining seventeen out of twenty-four seats in the House of Assembly. Adams was the son of BLP founder Sir Grantley Adams, Barbados' most prominent preindependence leader. Tom Adams was born in 1931 and, like both his father and Barrow, had won the Barbados Scholarship (to Oxford). He had earned two degrees in England and had been active in the British Labour Party. When Adams returned to Barbados in 1962, the West Indies Federation had dissolved and the BLP was a minority party. Adams went to work as honorary secretary for the BLP and in 1966 was elected along with his father to the House of Assembly. Adams became leader of the BLP in 1971 after BLP leader St. John had been defeated in the elections. In 1976 Adams led the party to victory and was elected prime minister after a campaign focusing on the rise in unemployment, inflation, and government waste. In his first term, Adams managed to cut unemployment nearly in half, increase per capita income and growth, achieve a balance of payments surplus for three years, and expand tourism. Because of the country's economic prosperity, the BLP government was reelected for a second term in 1981, winning seventeen out of twenty-seven seats.

Adams's second term was marked by economic problems and a major crisis in Grenada. Inflation had begun to rise again in 1980, and growth slowed down from its 1979 peak of 8 percent. This trend continued, and during the early 1980s GDP declined. Although public opinion in Barbados supported Adams's actions, there was concern about the possible precedent set by military intervention. Adams continued to be a vigorous supporter of the RSS until his death.

Deputy Prime Minister St. John succeeded Adams as BLP prime minister in March 1985 and served in that capacity until the elections of May 1986. St. John had been a member of the BLP since 1959, a senator from 1964 to 1966 and from 1971 to 1976, a member of the House from 1966 to 1971, and had served as deputy prime minister during both terms of the Adams government, holding a number of ministerial portfolios during that time. St. John attempted to improve the economy and mend the relationships in the Caribbean that had been strained by the economic recession and the Grenadian crisis. With an eye on the 1986 elections, St. John promised tax relief, but he was unable to create a constituency during his short time in office.

By the time of the 1986 election, unemployment in Barbados was about 19 percent. The election campaign in May 1986 was bitter and included accusations that the BLP was corrupt and racially biased in favor of whites and that it favored the middle class over the poor. The DLP promised to reduce taxes and lower the price of utilities and gasoline and also spoke of reducing participation in the RSS. The DLP was elected in a landslide, capturing all but three of the twenty-seven seats and sweeping out St. John and all but one of the BLP members elected in 1981. Barrow once again took the position of prime minister; Henry Forde, a former attorney general and minister of external affairs and the only BLP member elected in 1981 to retain his seat in the House, was named leader of the opposition.

On becoming prime minister, Barrow, in an effort to reduce unemployment, cut taxes substantially and increased public expenditures on roads and transport, creating a large fiscal deficit; however, Barbados remained in the RSS and took part in maneuvers with the United States and Britain.

On June 1, 1987, Barrow died of a heart attack and was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Sandiford. The new prime minister had been a member of the DLP since 1964. Elected to the House in 1971, he was a cabinet minister in Barrow's third administration, a senator from 1967 to 1971, and was chosen deputy prime minister in 1986. Sandiford pledged to continue the policies of Barrow.

Data as of November 1987

Last Updated: November 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Barbados was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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