Former Premier Reuben T. Meade Announces His Return to Active Politics

Montserrat’s first premier, Reuben T. Meade, announced this morning his intention to return to active politics and contest the upcoming elections.

In a candid interview on ZJB Radio Montserrat, hosted by Breakfast Show Host Basil Chambers and with members of the local media in attendance, Meade said he plans to launch a new party soon for the general elections constitutionally due this year.

“Today, you are hearing directly from me as to why I decided to leave the comfort, peace and safety of retirement to return to the rigours of political life. I can look anyone in the face and say yes, I am answering your call to return to active politics,” the politician said in a prepared speech at the start of the conversation.

Meade, who served as premier from 2010 to 2014, was previously Chief Minister of Montserrat from 1991 to 1996 and 2009 to 2010, when the title was changed.

The elder statesman, now 69, was asked why not return to the former party he started, and which is currently in power. Meade replied that he did not abandon the party, but he felt the party deserted him. He shared that when he resigned from office in 2016 to allow for younger members of the party to contest his seat, the intention was to work in an advisory capacity with the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP). However, although he campaigned for them in 2019 when they won, he was pushed out as an advisor. A voluntary post in which he desired to still make contributions to the party and Montserrat.

He revealed that although there have been murmurings for some time that he planned to return to politics, no MCAP party members or the leader have approached him. However, he has had discussions with the People’s Democratic Movement, who beat him soundly in 2014.

“Many of you from across the political spectrum have said to me – Reuben T; Premier; Chief, Montserrat needs your leadership now more than ever. Do not bury your talents under the blanket of retirement. I have removed that blanket, so let me reiterate that I will not only be a candidate in the next election, but I will also lead a new team as you have asked me to do.

“Montserrat has many needs right now. We know that the island needs visionary, creative, insightful political leadership backed by a team of competent, committed, caring people who will work as team while putting Montserrat’s progress first. I will be leading this new team to bring those and other relevant skills and attributes to the political table. The team members, like me, are being asked not to bury their talents but instead to put those talents to work in taking Montserrat forward. I know one of the first questions will be ‘who are the members of your team?’ These talented and visionary individuals will be announced in the coming weeks and months,” he read in a prepared speech.

While he declined to name the new party. He did say it would have the word ‘United’ in the title and the party members include someone in their 30s and others in their 50s. He intimated that some of the members currently hold government jobs, which constitutionally, they would need to resign from before they can announce they are contesting the elections.

“Montserrat has been lurching from crisis to crisis in recent years: electricity, air and sea access, road maintenance, the usurping of the democratic role of our elected representatives among so many others. I have unrivalled experience in crisis leadership when compared to any other politician or political hopeful. That experience will help us to chart a course out of these polycrises to opportunity, sustainability and success. Montserrat needs not only a present but a future. Montserrat needs hope and optimism; we do not need despair and pessimism. Montserrat needs a government that is not only willing but able. We have seen that patriotism and commitment are not enough. We need insight and innovation, courage and creativity, self-confidence and self-belief. We need fresh ideas based on Values that uplift us all,” he added.

For more than an hour, Mr. Meade answered questions from the press on his party’s intended policies on a range of matters including the public service, the economy, and the current concern of overreach by the governor. He shared his displeasure at watching the erosion of local leadership and the decisions which have been taken to bring in more British workers to head government departments. While he acknowledged that there was a need for more support from others, it should not be done at the expense of local workers.

“We must all remember that the volcanic crisis did not only decimate the Montserrat that existed at that time. It also diminished our options, opportunities and prospects for development. That applied not only to our physical and social infrastructure but to investments and our ability to keep our qualified young people at home. Montserrat has not only lost what it had but what it could have gained. That is the reality that confronts us. And yes, it will take not just courage, but creativity and teamwork. It will also take time but doing the wrong things will never get us there. Being incompetent in leadership, management and teamwork will never get us there.

“When we fail to empower our own people, we fail our people. Our new political team is committed to success, not failure. I come before you as a candidate and leader of a team, not because I think I am the magician who alone can fix everything, but because I will be leading a team of persons who can do a lot better than has been done by politicians in recent years. I am, as the old saying goes, older and wiser but I am also just as committed to serving the people.”

The former premier said he is looking forward to mentoring the younger politicians. Now that he is older, he aims to be a leader who focuses on empowering his team. He plans to delegate more and provide guidance to raise stronger politicians who can lead Montserrat. Meade was generous with his ideas for jumpstarting the economy, including grants and micro loans for businesses, removing duty and consumption taxes from construction materials and tools to help lower the cost of building a home, among others.

“Any loss of revenue from those taxes will be made up with increased employment and increased spending in the population,” he said on radio. He added that it will take more inward investment for the island’s economy to blossom. Sports tourism and agro-processing of staples like breadfruit and cassava under a Montserrat brand were also ideas he wants to see realised.

He said there must be an interactive approach to policy development. Too many policies were allowed to be developed without interaction with the people who will be impacted.  Meade also said Montserrat’s dwindling population can be bolstered by better care for Montserratians as well as the Caribbean nationals who reside here. He called for a new policy which will allow them to receive permanent residency after living here for three years, rather than needing to reapply annually for permission to stay. He added that many of those who have left Montserrat, left not for lack of opportunity but lack of respect.

Meade revealed that his time on the sidelines has allowed him to gain new perspective. He said he is also prepared to be a backbencher should his new party not gain power. 

“Covid has taught us so many things and we’ve forgotten how to use the things that we were taught,” Meade responded to a question on how to improve education and culture. He said we now have high speed internet. There isn’t a need for our students to be without teachers as there is remote learning. “Put supervisors in the classroom. The teacher can be anywhere in the world. The tech is there. We have to look at a different way of delivering services and not shy away from the tech but allow it to be used. Not only in education but health and other sectors.”

Meade also said the erosion of Montserrat’s national identity must be halted. He said there will be consideration for changing the flag as part of branding Montserrat. He reminded listeners that the island had already received permission to use their national song instead of God Save the King and this should be reinforced at every opportunity.

“We have so many things inside that are good and we need to develop that patriotism.”