The week leading up to the 57th annual conference of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in Barbados has provided the opportunity for that party to present a face of unity to the electorate, and to consciously attempt to negate any residual claims of internal dissatisfaction with the leadership of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Thus, as the country moved into the conference last weekend, these efforts reached a deliberate crescendo, with the SATURDAY SUN carrying pictures of a smiling Stuart, flanked by party operatives, hands held aloft like a boxing champion, as he walked confidently into an applauding auditorium.
The conference promised to present the election “all hands on deck” war cry signalling the party’s unanimous acceptance of, and confidence in, Stuart’s leadership.
The dilemma for the DLP, however, is that its recent past stands too obviously as a glaring factual reality that insistently mocks and ridicules the very propagandist efforts intended to negate it.
Whenever propaganda is seen too nakedly as propaganda it fails miserably as propaganda. At best, it may satisfy only diehard uncritical adherents to the faith; but it will leave the discerning outside observer unmoved. It is good, like a second look in the mirror, only for boosting self-confidence, but it fails to improve the appearance.
The DLP’s main electoral challenge will be to identify a suitable propagandist narrative in light of the fact that many of its governmental wounds have been self-inflicted.
Thus, for example, because Stuart’s leadership doubts were entirely self-created and internally driven, the conference’s party unity and leadership confidence hype comes across too much like pre-election enforced discipline and pretence.
No matter how well his praises are sung, the DLP will always be confronted with the fact that the doubts in Staurt’s leadership were created, not by the Opposition, but by the lukewarm response of a significant segment of his own party.
The propaganda dilemma of the DLP is also seen in its insistent claim on “building a society and not an economy”. Whilst it is impossible to show where “economy” ends and “society” begins, and despite the evidence of a collapsing society (which Education Minister Ronald Jones readily acknowledges), the DLP’s claim as the party of society continues unabated.
Easily forgotten, however, is the fact that the “society before economy” slogan emerged in the defensive context of the DLP’s need to counter public perceptions of Owen Arthur’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) as superior economic managers. Further, when measured against the actual performance of the economy, the slogan damages rather than advances the cause of the DLP.
As the election approaches, the DLP will have to shift its message to appeal more to the discerning outsider, rather than to sing songs of praise to itself which can satisfy only those who do not need to be convinced.
Truth, rather than propaganda, is required.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]