An ostrich with its head in the sand is just as blind to opportunity as to disaster.
The logical question that arises from the publication of last week’s CADRES poll is whether or not the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) can “pull it back”. This is an issue that will present an intriguing challenge to the lucky political consultant who is assigned responsibility for the party’s 2013 campaign.
Although confident that I will not be that person, I welcome the opportunity to explore this issue and would say that it is entirely possible for the DLP to pull itself out of this political mess and return to office whenever the election is called.
The believers among us often say that “with God, all things are possible”. However, there is often a sharp distinction between the possible and the probable and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s reaction to last Sunday’s CADRES poll helps to persuade us of the likely outcome.
In politics, as in medicine, the “cure” is dependent on an accurate diagnosis and the administration of the appropriate medicine. In this instance, we are to believe that CADRES’ diagnosis is “irrelevant” so it is business as usual in George Street and Bay Street as the HMS DLP cruises towards an ever more certain fate.
Back on Earth, the DLP’s strategists might want to consider (since the Prime Minister will not read these reports himself) the simple message in this most recent report, which ironically is one of the most easily interpreted that CADRES has ever produced.
The poll suggests a profound level of dissatisfaction with the leadership of Mr Stuart, with a considerably less profound level of dissatisfaction with the DLP as a party.
Interestingly enough, the primacy of economic issues and the extent to which people believe these have not been well handled does not “square” with a level of party support that is statistically similar to that of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in the poll.
The possible interpretation to be drawn is that the DLP as a party still has substantial “goodwill” and this could be for several reasons, ranging from its history to lingering concerns about the BLP as an option.
The DLP’s best hope therefore is to sell the party, its candidates and historic policies to the people of Barbados in the 2013 election, and this is the type of message already emerging from George Street. In exploiting this strategy, however, there is an elephant in the DLP’s room and it is clear that its party-centred focus will be compromised each time the elephant shifts or moves about, as has been the more recent inclination.
One of the manifestations of this strategic compromise took place when Mr Stuart reminded us several times during a Press briefing that the decision to appoint a Commission of Enquiry into Alexandra School was a collective decision, thereby ensuring that the negative fallout was generously shared by any minister who retained greater goodwill than he did.
There are strategic options that speak directly to the DLP’s leadership which are worthy of mention, even if for purposes of discussion. The most obvious would be for the party to change leaders at this stage and present a more popular one.
This would, of course, not be entertained by the current leader but one would also hope that no wise potential leader within the DLP’s ranks would be willing to take control of the HMS DLP at this late stage. That option aside, there is also the possibility that Mr Stuart’s image could quickly be refashioned in a way that would make him more politically attractive.
I have long felt that this would be a fairly simple task since his political shortcomings are relatively few and could be easily “fixed”. Such modifications are not unusual within the realm of American political consulting. However, this process would require that our Prime Minister do two things which he appears indisposed towards: he would need to “rush” and also accept that he has political shortcomings. Neither seems likely.
In pursuit of a successful party-centred strategy, the DLP does have some assets it would do well to exploit. The most obvious can be referred to as the second elephant in the DLP’s room.
In life, one never likes to accept that one’s junior has equal or greater utility than oneself. However, it might be comforting to note that the leaders of both parties face a similar dilemma. The BLP leader has been sending signals that he recognizes the political utility of fully embracing one of the party’s more significant assets, while the DLP leader appears more partial to “lightweights” who are perhaps less threatening.
He would do well to understand that there is a political battle on the horizon that will be enormously challenging and, in such a situation, it is unwise to leave one’s most powerful ammunition behind.
Back on track
Notwithstanding recent events, the political impact of a public initiative to embrace marginalized sections of the Cabinet could easily help the DLP to get back on track. Certainly, if the BLP leader is able to identify patronage sufficient to bring his assets back on board, it should be easier for the Prime Minister to achieve a similar outcome.
Mr Stuart said last week that I have been consistently saying the same thing since 1999 and I must confess complete bewilderment regarding that of which he speaks. The appended chart reflects my findings on leadership since 1999 and seems to have evolved substantially over the past 13 years.
Clearly, Mr Arthur is half as popular as he was in 1999 when Miss Mottley was hardly noticed as the serious leadership option that she now is. Mr Stuart, now Prime Minister and preferred by 9.9 per cent of Barbadians, was “irrelevant” in 1999 (although he was a sitting MP). Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who failed to win a seat in 1994 and 1999, is now the most preferred Dem to lead the country.
It is most certainly true that a day is a long time in politics.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).