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Arthur put on backfoot

Peter Wickham

Arthur put on backfoot

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In the aftermath of all elections we can expect to witness political nativities, as well as obituaries.
The St John by-election is no different. Last week’s article attempted to speak to the former aspect of the outcome as it relates to the new MP for St John.
Ironically the latter aspect does speak to her political adversary in that battle since one assumes that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) did not consider his political future to be particularly bright in the first place.
Instead, the political character that appears most scarred as a result of this political excursion is the politically “reconditioned” leader of the BLP, who has no one but himself to blame for this state of affairs that will undoubtedly damage his legacy irreparably.
This type of cynicism regarding Owen Arthur’s performance should not surprise readers who follow my writings and note the extent to which I am consistent (and genuine) in my critique of Arthur’s more recent machinations.
Certainly, I considered it unwise for the BLP to have restored him at this time since I fundamentally believe he is a “spent force”, and some might recall the most recent CADRES report which, in my opinion, provided some amount of statistical support for these arguments.
I noted with some dismay the contrary views of Dr Tennyson Joseph who argued that Arthur’s irrelevance could be transitory, as was the irrelevance of Sir John Compton in St Lucia whom the people of St Lucia resurrected (politically) in 2005.
It is noteworthy that Dr Joseph is himself a politician and this might explain his failure to appreciate the evidence that suggests that both of these gentlemen (Arthur and Compton) made colossal mistakes when they sought to rise again politically.
Collateral damage
In the case of Arthur it is now clear that there is considerable collateral damage that was caused, not only by the fact that he resumed leadership of the BLP, but also by the manner in which he approached that task.
A detailed analysis of the St John election data will confirm this, but it seems as though Arthur has offended the women in that constituency and those within the BLP appeared to have stayed home in larger numbers than normal.  
Arthur would do well to remember that in Barbados (as elsewhere in the region) there are on average three per cent more women than men in every constituency, and moreover the voter turnout is almost ten per cent higher among women.
Since several of the constituencies are won or loss by less than five per cent it is clear that the support of women is something that every serious politician should cherish.  
Ironically the wrath of women will perhaps not cost Arthur his seat, but could impact negatively on some of his most supportive colleagues who won their seats by very slight majorities.
At the national level Arthur appears to have locked himself into a ripe political “pickle” since he has now lost his second election to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and is therefore psychologically wounded as he prepares for the third in less than two years.
He cannot realistically attempt to hand the leadership back since it would appear as though he is now running from a battle that he initially wanted to fight.  
Tough image
He also cannot seek to placate those that he offended since we are all aware of his motives and this would make him appear less genuine, in addition to damaging his “tough” image.  
Arthur’s best hope therefore would be for those whom he offended to publicly embrace him and join the assault against the DLP in a way that is both meaningful and consistent with Arthur’s style which would indicate that he was correct. This is, of course, unlikely, and leads one to the conclusion that Arthur is politically “looking down the barrel of a gun”.
In every political scenario there are always strategic options and for Arthur his best strategy would be to return to his old “playbook” which is exactly what President Bill Clinton did when he sought re-election.  
Arthur has two distinct sides to his political personality and it is convenient that we love one as intensely as we dislike the other. On the “good” side he has the capacity to draw people to him, especially because of his capacity to inspire confidence and, uncannily, the ability to identify political nomads and give them domicile.  
On the flipside there is the nasty temper, along with a tendency to appear uncharitable in instances where most of us think that politics should give way to other more noble considerations. In the past, Arthur has skilfully managed both of these sides of his political personality presenting each where and when necessary.  
Less flattering side
In instances where we saw the less flattering side, he has been quick to say “I’m sorry” and “I am not perfect” which are phrases that few politicians utter but are extremely effective in disarming adversaries.  
One assumes that Arthur’s handlers understand how effective this approach has been in the past and might effectively adopt these methods and breathe life (albeit temporarily) into a political legacy that appears to be failing fast.
If this strategy does not work and the DLP does not self-destruct over the next two years, then it looks as though Arthur would exit politics in 2013 after sustaining a series of political body blows which even his most ardent critics would agree is unfortunate for a man who has redefined the political history of this country in so many positive ways.
 Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).