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PURELY POLITICAL: The Owen threat


Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: The Owen threat

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THE recent NATION-commissioned CADRES survey, which admits to an air of uncertainty, has not only created uncertainty in the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), but also in the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on the issue of leadership.
It pits a fresh and able female, Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, against an experienced and tested male, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, in an environment aroused by political and economic curiosity.
The political curiosity is the consequence of a period of unfortunate ill health for Prime Minister David Thompson for the better part of the year, and which has been poorly handled by the Government from a public relations perspective.
This opened the door for speculation over who would succeed Thompson in the event of a worst-case scenario, culminating in the findings of the CADRES Poll which, quite frankly, failed to conclusively settle the issue and might have unintentionally fuelled the debate.
The fire has apparently caught the unsettled fields of leadership in the BLP as well.
In the prevailing political and economic uncertainty, interest in the succession to Thompson’s leadership is not confined to the DLP alone as would likely happen in a period of relative political calm and relative economic boom.
Instead, there are more widespread concerns as Barbadians grapple with the consequences of a world in its longest recession and a country in its worst state of political uncertainty.
This uncommon confluence of events has caused the leadership issue to transcend the political landscape in a way that suggests a fight not only for the short-term survival of the country but a battle to secure its long-term prosperity.
In these circumstances, the air of uncertainty of which the CADRES Poll spoke is understandable.
In the political arena, uncertainty is the source from which further conflict is derived. And given that conflict is the energy from which change is achieved, the local political arena could not be better positioned for battle.
The battle for leadership of the BLP is truly engaged in the aftermath of the poll that found Arthur to be the preferred leader (among uncertain voters) to Prime Minister Thompson and Mottley as the up-and-coming leader of the BLP.
This is similar to the characterisation that one may apply to the situation in the DLP.
It is the subjective view of pollster Peter Wickham that Arthur “maxed out” in 2009 and that “he will from this point pose less of a threat to the present leadership in the BLP”.
He had also noted: “On this occasion, the BLP’s leader [Mottley] has improved (although marginally) and is now equal to her highest support level in 2005 (if the margin of error of the poll is taken into consideration).”
Since I do not have the pollster’s skills, the bracketed words do not mean much of anything to me.
But it seems to me that the real question from the quote is how big a threat is Arthur to Mottley for the leadership of the BLP?
The poll finds that Mottley received 64 per cent of the party support, and yet, Arthur received 59 per cent of the same party support.
These numbers really do not allow me to reach any valid conclusion on who is the preferred leader in the BLP.
It does appear as if the method used to determine the preferred leader for the country – where Thompson polled 42 per cent, Arthur polled 22 per cent, and Mottley polled 18 per cent – is completely different from that used to determine respective party support for the leaders.
Even as a layman in this high stakes numbers game, I would still expect that each potential party leader would get a slice of the vote (cake) which must add back to a 100 per cent (a whole cake, and not 82 per cent), unless each person polled could have more than one choice for leader.
I must, therefore, confess to some uncertainty with the party support for leaders.
This brings me to something with which I am rather more familiar, some of the issues affecting Barbados.
They are broadly social, economic and political in nature and they are interrelated. Further, they are national.
Since I do not know the mood of the BLP membership, it is almost impossible for me to know who they favour, and why they elect their leader.
 According to other commentators, the poll does not ask a voter whether he/she is a member of a political party, but simply if he/she is a party supporter; so the poll does not resolve the party leadership issue.     
On the basis of the issues, the size of Owen Arthur’s threat to Mia Mottley must revolve around the national issues for the Barbadian voters and the extent to which he is capable of leading the party to victory in the eyes of party members.
And, of course, Mottley’s threat to Arthur is based on the converse.
Whatever the poll shows, the extent to which settling the leadership issue in both parties becomes “messy” would be dependent on the mindset of the politicians involved.
In this regard, the process is more important than the poll.
• Albert Brandford is a political correspondent for the NATION. 

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