For many years the island of Antigua has been like a second home to me. Every year, sometimes once, sometimes twice, I heave my ageing bones and gently creaking joints onto the eight-hour flight from Gatwick to St John’s, the capital of the Commonwealth of Antigua and Barbuda and home to V C Bird Airport, named after the first country’s first post-independence prime minister.

It used to be a walk down the steps and across the tarmac to the crumbling terminal building. What a joy to be met by the warmth of a tropical afternoon. Now it’s a modern jet bridge into a smart and air-conditioned terminal. Built with Chinese money of course. Immigration can be very slow but this is the Caribbean where patience is not a virtue but an integral part of surviving. The baggage hall is no worse than Heathrow or JFK and probably a lot faster. Luggage trolleys abound, although once past customs and through the customary electric sliding doors the path is blocked for them. Instead there awaits a gaggle of luggage porters who make a living carting bags from there to the bus stop or hire car collection point. Who cares? The body is on Antigua time and whatever stresses with which one climbed on the plane are still on board.

I arrived on Sunday, did the customary dash to the large American style supermarket in St John’s – not unusually, by Sunday there was no fresh milk left anywhere on the island and none would be available until the weekly container ship arrived from the States on Tuesday and went on sale on Wednesday – and then headed towards our little shack on the beach on the southern end of the island. Half an hour and a first dip in the warm sea. Wrong!

Having just passed the epic Sir Viv Richard’s cricket stadium, built with Chinese money of course, I encountered a motorcade of cars, vans and trucks festooned with banners and flags for the ABLP, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party, horns blowing and music blaring.  Some trucks carried huge sound systems with speakers fit for Glastonbury. The car would positively shake as they passed by. I’d missed the fact that there were general elections being held on Wednesday, 18 January. The motorcade went on and on and although it was coming towards us, it still took just under two hours to cross the island, all 12 miles of it. A unique and exciting experience, to be sure, but weary and thirsty at the end of a long day’s traveling, maybe not entirely appreciated.

The motorcade was the ABLP’s last ditch attempt to defend its overwhelming majority in the small but perfectly formed parliament. It only has 17 seats, all but two of which had been in the hands of the ABLP under the premiership of Gaston Brown.

There is the concept of the Antiguan Fact. The island runs on rumours, and the rule is that if one doesn’t have a rumour, one makes one up. That then becomes an Antiguan Fact.

Thus it was that I was reliably told that the motorcade had been eight miles long – they don’t do green on this island, not even the most basic recycling. Based on my own experience, it might well have been that long. Word is that the party paid any driver prepared to join the procession EC$800, a little under US$300, just to show up. A further EC$100 would be paid for each passenger and the cost of fuel would be covered. Where the money was to come from I know not although getting official approval for this and that is often speeded up, so I am told, by making an entirely unrelated but generous donation to party funds. One of my local contacts shrugged his shoulders and commented that it would in the end all be paid for by the taxpayers of whom he is one.

Actually, all Antiguans – it should by rights read Antiguans and Barbudans of which there are altogether less than 100,000 – are now potential taxpayers, as the outgoing ABLP government has for the first time introduced personal income tax. That alone was going to cost them much of their majority as they had held 15 out of the 17 seats. Although they might lose that majority, the chances of the United Progressive Party alone taking the nine seats needed to form a government also looked unlikely, as there is also the Barbudan Party and a possible independent MP to contend with.

Antigua is a strange place. Once a huge, monocultural sugar producer there is now barely a single stem of commercial sugar cane still being grown. The ruins of the stone towers which belonged to the 18th century windmills where the cane was ground down are still dotted around the landscape as are the rotting ruins of more modern but long deserted industrial processing plants. The sugar industry was nationalised immediately after independence but before long it was gone. The reasons for the decline are manifold although part of it, and this cannot be denied, is the collective sense that working the land remains associated with slavery and nobody wants that.

Historians and travellers will know that the island is strongly linked to Horatio Nelson – long before he was either an Admiral or a Viscount – and that he commanded the Antigua Station at English Harbour. Nelson’s Dockyard is now a UNESCO world heritage site and, thanks to the lack of local entrepreneurialism, remained decaying but undeveloped for a century and a half. It is today preserved as one of the most complete 18th century naval facilities in the world. The harbour itself snakes into the landscape and distinguishes itself by being protected from the worst of the hurricanes. The wooden navy could take refuge there and this facility above all other factors can be credited with Britain’s admiralty of the Caribbean Sea. Nelson was good but English Harbour was better.

The history of slavery is alive and kicking, even though it was abolished in Antigua along with all British colonies in 1834. There remains an anti-white bias. I prefer not to refer to it as racism although my local friends do call that particular spade a spade. Whether this sentiment dates back to colonial times or whether it was primarily driven by the huge presence, clearly not “inclusive”, of both the American navy, army and airforce during the Second World War is a matter for debate.

If the huge motorcade was anything to go by, the ABLP was set for another landslide. We awoke yesterday to the results. The ABLP took just nine seats with 18,890 votes. The UPP took six with 18,648 votes. There will be one independent and one Barbudan MP. The Labour Party hangs on by its fingernails and Gaston Brown was sworn in – on what just happens to be a public holiday – for a third term.

Our cleaning lady, who are still referred to and refer to themselves as maids, did not vote. “It doesn’t make any difference to me who’s in power. They do nothing for me and I continue to struggle”. Universal sentiment? A local restaurant owner and good friend said last night that he was hoping for an ABLP victory. The devil he knows over the devil he doesn’t. And anyhow, his manager was standing for the UPP and he didn’t want to lose him. We haven’t spoken yet but I don’t think he did. The incumbent is a master of patronage. Say no more.

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