Ben Jones

Wily but unassuming prime minister of Grenada

Ben Jones was a long-serving conservative politician who briefly became Prime Minister of Grenada between December 1989 and March 1990. His life story illustrated the difficulties faced by small Caribbean island communities at a time when responsibility for them was being sloughed off by a Britain anxious to lower its colonial profile.

Ben Joseph Jones, lawyer and politician: born 1924; Prime Minister of Grenada 1989-90; CMG 2002; (two daughters); died Moyah, Grenada 10 February 2005.

Ben Jones was a long-serving conservative politician who briefly became Prime Minister of Grenada between December 1989 and March 1990. His life story illustrated the difficulties faced by small Caribbean island communities at a time when responsibility for them was being sloughed off by a Britain anxious to lower its colonial profile.

Throughout his political career Jones was identified with the politically cautious professional people and smallholders of the tiny Grenadian economy, rather than with its manual workers. He followed his leader Herbert Blaize in decades of bitter opposition to the thuggish, rabble-rousing labour leader Eric (later Sir Eric) Gairy who attracted many manual workers. Gairy ruled Grenada off and on from 1954 till his overthrow in a bloodless coup in 1979 by Maurice Bishop, who set up a Provisional Revolutionary Government.

Jones spent most of his political life as Blaize's trusted lieutenant within the Grenada National Party, which Blaize joined in 1956 and was to dominate. In January 1960 came the first of many contests in which alternated first Gairy and Blaize in power. Blaize and the GNP put Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party (Gulp) out of office for 15 months and Blaize was named Chief Minister of the British crown colony. Gulp was to return. For his part Blaize, with Jones at his elbow, came back for a five-year period as Chief Minister in 1962. Gairy returned to power in 1967, taking the colony to independence in 1974.

As politics became cruelly polarised in a state for which Britain no longer had formal responsibility, Gairy become the increasingly tyrannical ruler of a sovereign mini-state in the Caribbean: polarisation continued under Bishop's revolutionary government that succeeded him. The GNP found no way to change things.

Its time, and Jones's moment, were to come after the massive US invasion of October 1983 and the overthrow of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, an operation Ronald Reagan and the nationalists in Washington executed in a bid to reassert their paramountcy in the region. An interim advisory council was set up under Nicholas Brathwaite.

Blaize, with Jones's help and the blessing of the US, moved fast to form an electoral alliance of the island's conservative forces able to fight an electoral battle for power. In August 1984 Jones was an important figure in a right-wing coalition, the New National Party, formed round the GNP with Blaize as leader. Elections followed in December which were held in the absence of many who had opposed to the invasion. The New National Party triumphed, gaining 59 per cent of the vote and 14 of the 15 seats, amid protests about voter registration and ballot counting.

Jones, who had made himself into an experienced barrister with a common touch, was quickly appointed foreign minister by Prime Minister Blaize. He also served as agriculture minister and attorney-general. The NNP, however, proved to be a highly unstable political vehicle. The leaders of the parties which had come together in the alliance found it hard to work together. In 1989 George Brizan and Francis Alexis went off to found their New Democratic Congress while in 1989 Keith Mitchell, the current prime minister, also went his own way. Blaize, now ailing with cancer, joined with Jones to start the National Party, TNP, which was little more than a re-creation of the original Grenada National Party of the 1950s. Brizan and Alexis were seen as the front runners inherit the prime-ministership but, when Blaize succumbed to cancer on 20 December 1989, Jones was well placed to secure the office for himself, which he did the next day.

Amid big financial deficits, in part produced by the failure of the US government to honour the pledges of aid which it had made at the time of its invasion, Jones, now leading TNP, was constrained to call elections the following year. TNP won 17 per cent of the vote and took two seats. For a time it seemed as if Jones would forge an unlikely alliance with Gairy and Gulp that would allow him to continue in office. But this was halted with a strong message to Jones from the party faithful which reminded him of the decades when the supporters of the two parties were bitterly hostile to each other. The collapse of his plan meant that Brathwaite took over the leadership of the little Caribbean monarchy for a second stint and Jones's time was over.

For all his wiliness, Jones was a modest and unassuming man who lived for most of his life and died in a small house in the village of Moyah in the parish of St Andrew.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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