Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: UCL Institute of the Americas


When Britain departed its colonies in the Caribbean it left in place political institutions and norms based on the Westminster model of government. Early analyses drew mainly positive conclusions about the effectiveness of the Westminster model in producing stable democratic states in the region, in contrast to other ex-colonial states in Africa and Asia. But in the last two decades, the Caribbean has experienced radical changes which bring into question the optimistic assessments of the early scholarship. Globalisation, the drugs trade, rising crime levels and the economic downturn are undermining the foundations of democracy in the Caribbean. The 'Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges' network brings together academics (from history, politics, development) and non-academics (NGOs, think tanks, policy-makers) to address the urgent need for new analysis of how the Westminster model has functioned in the post-independence Caribbean. The central aims of the research are: 1) To reassess how the political model inherited from Britain was adapted to the conditions of the Caribbean; its impact on Caribbean democracy; and the challenges the model has faced over the period of independence; 2) To advance earlier research by extending the time-frame under review, adopting a multi-disciplinary and comparative approach and examining the substantive as well as formal dimensions of democracy in the region; and 3) To reflect on and contribute to current critical debates on the evolution and perceived decline of democracy in the region as it prepares to mark 50 years of independence. Three major conferences will address different strands of research on adaptations, critiques and reformations of the Westminster model in the Caribbean. How have the different histories of colonisation, size, populations and ethnic demographics affected the nature and impact of the Westminster model in different countries? What role has the model played in distortions of democracy in the post-independence period? What alternative political systems have been developed within the Caribbean, in theory and in practice? Does the failure of radical alternatives (eg. the 1979 Grenada Revolution) testify to the legitimacy and robustness of the Westminster system in the Caribbean? Can the model withstand the "existential threats" of the present day? Given the small number and scattered location of scholars of the modern Caribbean in the UK, such research could only be achieved through collaboration with the larger community of scholars in the Caribbean and North America. The network will facilitate new interactions within the UK and abroad, new links across disciplines, and a forum for the exchange of ideas benefitting both academic and non-academic participants. The latter (NGOs, think tanks and policy-makers involved in governance in the region) will be involved in the network at all stages and will help shape the research agenda and outputs. The network forges new links with the University of the West Indies, the Commonwealth Democracy Network and the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. In advancing understanding of democracy in post-colonial states, the legacies of European imperialism and theories of small states, the network will both contribute to scholarship and feed into policy debates in the region today. The research will be disseminated widely via a range of outputs including a webpage, conference papers and reports, edited volumes and a special edition of a journal. A major output will be the development of an online Caribbean Democracy Bibliography, providing a lasting and valuable research tool for students, scholars and the public. The network will continue beyond the life of the grant and will lay the foundations for larger projects including applications to fund a doctorate in post-independence Caribbean political history and a post-doctorate to build a new digital resource base of primary sources on Westminster in the Caribbean.

Planned Impact

ACADEMIC IMPACTS AND BENEFICIARIES: The network fulfils the RCUK academic impact criteria of enhancing knowledge, addressing issues of importance to other countries and contributing to the health of multi-disciplinary areas.The small community of UK scholars of modern Caribbean history and politics will greatly benefit from being brought into a network which connects them with the much larger community of modern Caribbean scholars in the Caribbean and North America. This will facilitate new links across disciplines, new opportunities for collaboration within the UK and abroad, and a forum for the exchange of ideas. It will allow UK academics to test their research in front of regional specialists. Caribbean-based members will benefit from participating in international research conferences and disseminating their research to a wider, international audience. The research outputs produced will benefit UK and international scholars from a range of disciplines engaged in the following research areas:

MODERN CARIBBEAN HISTORY AND POLITICS: In a field dominated by slavery and post-emancipation, the post-independence period remains relatively under-studied. The research will significantly contribute to expanding the field and advancing understanding of this period. It also brings a much-needed regional and comparative perspective to a field that has tended to be fragmented into single-country studies. THE TRANSFER OF THE WESTMINSTER MODEL to other parts of the former British Empire (the Commonwealth nations of Asia, Africa and the Pacific). EUROPEAN IMPERIALISM AND ITS LEGACIES: The research allows for comparisons between the political systems and political cultures bequeathed by different European imperial powers and to probe differences in their colonies' post-independence histories. DEMOCRACY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD: The research raises comparative questions of interest to scholars of democracy in other ex-colonial states, testing assumptions that the British Caribbean has been the most successful in institutionalising democracy. POST-COLONIALISM: The research strands focusing on alternative political theories and movements developed within the Caribbean will be of particular interest to post-colonial scholars engaged with ideas of 'decolonising the mind' and resistance to European cultural and political norms. THEORIES OF SMALL STATES: The Caribbean case can contribute to comparative research on the peculiarities of small states, in particular how smallness affects political institutions and behaviours.

SOCIETAL IMPACTS AND OTHER BENEFICIARIES: The network will contribute to evidence-based policy-making, informing practitioners, and enhancing the knowledge of organisations. The research will benefit a number of NETWORKS whose members are both academics and practitioners. These include the COMMONWEALTH DEMOCRACY NETWORK (engaged in a large-scale comparison of democracy in Commonwealth states); the FIFTY/FIFTY NETWORK based at the University of the West Indies (reviewing 50 years of independence in the Anglophone Caribbean and generating proposals for regional development); and the CARIBBEAN POLITICS SPECIALIST GROUP of the Political Studies Association (UK). The research relating to contemporary political reforms in the Caribbean and the analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the Westminster model will benefit policy-oriented THINK TANKS such as the COMMONWEALTH POLICY STUDIES UNIT (London) which specialises in Commonwealth policy on democracy and human rights, and the CARIBBEAN POLICY DEVELOPMENT CENTRE, a coalition of Caribbean NGOs concerned with lobbying governments on democracy and development in the region. The research outputs will also be of interest to CARIBBEAN GOVERNMENTS AND POLICY-MAKERS. These groups will be involved in the network from the beginning and will help shape the research agenda and outputs. The dialogue between academics and non-academics will be beneficial to both.


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Description The key findings resulting from the conferences and papers developed as part of this award are collated in two main publications: (1) The special issue of the Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, vol.53:1, 2015 on 'Westminster in the Caribbean Revisited' and (2) The edited volume Beyond Westminster in the Caribbean: Critiques, Challenges and Reform, Ian Randle Press, Kingston, Jamaica, 2018.
Exploitation Route Academic routes: We anticipate further collaborations between network members, in the organisation of events, presentation at conferences, and further publications. For example, the PI of the research network was invited to participate in a workshop on constitutional crises and heads of state and in the Commonwealth, and will be publishing a chapter in the resulting edited volume. Non-academic routes: The findings would be of interest to those working in the fields of governance and political reform.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Westminster in the Caribbean research network 
Organisation University of West Indies
Country Jamaica 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Institute of the Americas UCL collaborated with the University of the West Indies, Mona on the conception, development and execution of a new international research network entitled 'Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges'. The principal investigator at the Institute of the Americas, UCL (Kate Quinn) developed the proposal for the network in collaboration with then UCL PhD student Dylan Vernon. The initial proposal was then further developed through the network's steering committee which included Professor Brian Meeks (University of the West Indies, Mona) and Peter Clegg (University of the West of England). UCL hosted two of the network conferences (September 2013 and March 2014) and provided all the administrative and logistical support for the conferences. The PI (Kate Quinn) and network coordinator Dylan Vernon also developed the network webpage www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com and were responsible for populating the site with the network's news and resources. The network co-ordinators (Dylan Vernon, UCL, and subsequently Paul May, UCL) created the Caribbean Democracy Bibliography on the network website.
Collaborator Contribution The Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges research network was developed in full collaboration with the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Professor Brian Meeks joined the steering committee of the network at its inception, and had full input into the selection of speakers for the network conferences as well as their thematic content. SALISES hosted the third conference of the network (Beyond Westminster in the Caribbean, September 2014). They provided the venue for the conference, logistical support, marketing, catering etc. They hired a film company to film the whole conference, and have subsequently made these films available online on the SALISES website. Professor Meeks will co-edit with Kate Quinn a volume arising from this conference to be published by Ian Randle Publishers in 2016.
Impact Special issue of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics (53:1) edited by Kate Quinn, forthcoming 2015 (multi-disciplinary: history and politics) 5 journal articles in special issue (above), arising from papers presented at the network conferences (multi-disciplinary: history and politics) Co-edited book Beyond Westminster in the Caribbean edited by Kate Quinn and Brian Meeks, arising from papers presented at the third network conference (multi-disciplinary: history, politics, policy) Network website: www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com Conference papers Online resources including Caribbean Democracy Bibliography; videos of keynotes of first and second network conferences; complete film of third network conference (September 2014); conference report on second network conference: all available on www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com
Start Year 2012
Description Westminster in the Caribbean research network 
Organisation University of the West of England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution See previous entry on Westminster in the Caribbean research network for full details. Specifically in relation to this collaboration, the Institute of the Americas, UCL, hosted the second conference of the research network, which was organised by network steering committee member Dr Peter Clegg (UWE). We financed the conference from the AHRC grant, provided the venue, organised the conference reception, provided administrative support in advertising the event and administering conference registration, and posted outputs from the second conference on the network website.
Collaborator Contribution Peter Clegg (UWE) sat on the steering committee of the Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges research network and had input into the selection of speakers for the conferences. In collaboration with Professor David Killingray and the Political Studies Association Dr Clegg organised the second of the conferences to be held under the umbrella of the Westminster in the Caribbean network. The conference on the UK Overseas Territories and Dependencies was held at UCL in March 2014. Dr Clegg also wrote the report on the conference, which is available on the network website, www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com.
Impact See previous entry on the Westminster in the Caribbean network for full details. In relation to the specific collaboration with UWE the outputs are (1) Conference on the UK Overseas Territories and Dependencies, March 2013; (2) conference report written by Peter Clegg available on www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com (3) Video of conference keynote by Emilio Pantojas Garcia, available on www.westminsterinthecaribbean.com.
Start Year 2012
Description Conference paper, Perspectives on the Grenada Revolution Conference, Grenada, March 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited to present at 'Perspectives on the Grenada Revolution, 1979-1983' conference, 8-10 March 2016. Presented paper developed out of WIC project: 'Conventional Politics or Revolution? Black Power, Grenada and the Radical Challenge to the Westminster Model in the Caribbean' to an audience of academics, postgraduate students, high school students, former participants in and witnesses to the Grenada Revolution, and the general public. The purpose of the conference was to reflect on the Grenada Revolution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Conference paper, Society for Caribbean Studies, Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presented conference paper 'Conventional Politics or Revolution: The Radical Challenge to the Westminster Model in the Caribbean' to annual conference of the Society for Caribbean Studies (UK), The Drum Cultural Centre, Birmingham, 1-3 July 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Participation in workshop on Crowns and Clones in Crisis: Constitutional Heads of State and Political Crises in the Post-War Commonwealth held at Christ's College, Cambridge
19-20 July 2017. Delivered paper entitled 'Crises, Political Interventions and Heads of State: Notes from the Caribbean (Extending D.A. Low)'. The participants comprised academics as well as public servants (such as the former Governor of Bermuda).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017