Response to poll worrying
IN LAST WEEK’S COLUMN, I identified the economy and leadership as the two key issues which would determine the outcome of the next general election.
Not surprisingly, the CADRES poll analysis published on the same day confirmed those two critical issues from the findings of the survey.
Notwithstanding that confirmation, what stood out most to me from the poll was the re-emergence of the Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur, coupled with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s being determined to be the least favoured of the top four politicians chosen by the respondents.
In that same column, I characterized Stuart as a procrastinator, which is another way of describing what the potential voters found to be the Prime Minister’s least liked quality: too slow to make decisions.
Significantly, it has been pointed out that Stuart’s ranking was the lowest of any sitting Prime Minister in a CADRES poll since those surveys began in 1990.
Apart from reflecting on Stuart’s leadership style, pollster Peter Wickham remarked that “the analysis is clear in its suggestion that regardless of the political party of preference, Barbadians are at this time motivated to vote for leadership first and foremost, followed by economic performance and thereafter party/team competence”.
This observation sends a very strong message to, and about, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), since former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley was shown to be the second choice for Prime Minister.
Further, as reported in the SUNDAY SUN, Wickham’s findings showed that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was seen as the better party in terms of leadership, economic performance and competence, with the DLP receiving failing grades for its handling of issues such as the cost of living, the economy, employment, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and health.
Outperformed in unity
In the circumstances, it was found that the DLP outperformed the BLP only in the area of party unity.
In this regard, the poll seemed to agree with my comment about Arthur’s political sagacity with his “overtly tactical” move to let Mottley respond to the presentation of the Estimates in March, on behalf of the Opposition, and reports that he has indicated she would reply to the Budget as well in June.
When this action is compared to the botched way in which the so-called Eager Eleven reacted to their concerns about the leadership style of Prime Minister Stuart, it goes directly to the heart of the difference in political acumen between the two parties.
For example, it is almost unheard of for a political leader to ignore the pulse of the voters, and especially so when all the vital signs point to the need for some expression of concern, and then he appears to be almost indifferent to the voters’ responses.
The political arena admires intellect, but moreso, it adores compassion. The latter is similar to a medical doctor’s bedside manner, while the former merely reflects his training. They are both important but the patient expects the doctor to have an intellect.
It is therefore not difficult for an equally competent person in whatever field to outperform his counterpart once he demonstrates that he has that human touch.
Given that in the area of competence the ruling DLP is not the preferred party, it becomes patently obvious that it is necessary for that party, and particularly its leadership, to reach out to people.
But how do you teach an old dog new tricks?
The tough attitude, which seemed to border almost on the indifferent, appears to be in the DNA of the leading Government ministers. Once called upon to explain or justify a decision, there is this instinctive, almost visceral desire to fight fire with fire.
For example, notwithstanding the visibility of Minister of Health Donville Inniss, the QEH and health received failing grades in the survey, which may more reflect his attitude than his performance.
The criticism which he received for increasing the cost of drugs to patients was met with aggression rather than compassion. No matter how credible the decision to make Barbadians contribute to accessing previously free drugs, the move constituted a major policy shift and deserved a fuller and more informed explanation.
It was not the policy in and of itself, but the minister’s attitude to the public’s reaction that caused some concern.
Indeed, the CADRES survey found that, in general, the public likes the policies of this Government, yet there seems to be some contention with the manner of implementation.
One only has to look at the recent revelation of the details of an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) document which has created some disquiet and uncertainty among taxpayers and businesses. This is another example of the way in which the method of implementation, the human element, has been taken for granted by the current Government.
It has been suggested that institutions tend to take on the personality of their leaders. This is even truer in the political arena, where impressions are more important than facts. In politics, it is sometimes more important to get “how you do” as right as “what you do”.
Last week, I introduced the concept of framing to the local political discourse, since it is widely used in the bigger countries. I said that according to the man who developed the concept, “framing is about getting language that fits your world view. It is not just language. The ideas are primary – and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas”.
In this regard is to be found an irony of ironies. Prime Minister Stuart, who is known for his command of words, has been unable to communicate in a way that elevates his compassion above his intellect.
After four years in office, this Government has not yet come down from the campaign platform sufficiently to accept that there is a language of opposition that differs from the language of government.
Again, the Government has very little time within which to find a language of leadership.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]