Federation and After

Effects of New Forms of Government

The Governments to which Mr. Oliver Stanley addressed his dispatch in 1946 were fundamentally different from those Major Wood had visited in 192. In 1921, the political leaders were outsiders,  not even members of the Legislatures. In 1945, they were all in the Legislatures and were mostly in the Executive Councils as well. In 1921, their opinions could be ignored; by 1945 nothing could be done without their consent. The initiative had already passed from the spokesmen of planters and merchants to the spokesmen of the electorates.

This had been in process since 1936, when elected members were conceded slightly less than half the membership of legislatures in the Leeward Islands. The franchise was still restricted, and the men elected were still essentially “Liberals”, who would cease to be influential when adult suffrage arrived in 1951. Still, by comparison with those who had previously dominated these legislatures, they were popular radicals, and their influence both in the Legislatures, and in the Executive Councils, was both powerful and progressive.

In 1941, the Legislature of Trinidad was brought into line with those of the Windward and Leeward Islands, and in 1945, adult suffrage was granted. In 1943, a change in the Barbados franchise, which multiplied the number of voters by five, enabled Mr. Grantley Adams to capture the control of the Lower House, and thus control of the Government. In 1944, Jamaica was given a wholly elected Lower House, with adult suffrage. Mr. Bustamante then captured the Lower House, with Mr. Manley becoming the leader of the opposition.

Full internal self-government, with a ministerial system, did not yet exist. However, there was no longer any doubt where the real power lay. It lay with the elected members sitting in the Executive Councils.

This change would affect the situation profoundly, in two ways. First, it began to erode one of the principal reasons why the political leaders had wanted federation. They had assumed that self-government would not be given to each island separately but would be conceded only to a federation. Hence part of the emotion attached to federation was due to its being seen as a necessary prelude to self-government. As the leaders now began to find that they could have self-government in their own legislatures, federation was not so necessary. On the contrary, federation began to be seen as an obstacle to the local leader fully controlling the affairs of his own island. The desire for self-government now began to work against federation, instead of in its favour.

On the other hand, these political changes brought the leaders together much more often than ever before, on official business, and therefore strengthened both their sense of the need to tackle West Indian problems co-operatively, and also their sense of West Indian nationalism. The idea that federation was desirable only as a means of reducing the cost of government disappeared altogether after the war. These new leaders wanted federation in order to realise their nationalist aspirations and were willing to pay something for it.