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The biggest losers

Peter W. Wickham

The biggest losers

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In the course of political discussion it is often interesting to explore the available statistics to establish which practitioners were “best” and “worst” at their vocation.
And in the Caribbean, we are now at a stage where our electoral data is sufficiently comprehensive to conduct these explorations.
In this particular instance, an effort is made to establish which politicians (since Independence) have been the proverbial “biggest losers” in each election. This exploration is not designed to embarrass any politician, but to facilitate an examination of the conditions under which the margins of normal electoral swings are pressed most heavily.
Biggest surprise
Essentially, an effort is being made here to determine which electoral losses were the biggest surprise in each election year and which tell us most about the types of conditions that must be present in any constituency to mitigate or exaggerate the national swing to achieve a victory.
As such, all the examples explored relate to electoral victories that were “surprises” to the extent that they were outside of the margins of the “seats” that would normally be won within the range of national swing in that election year. It should be noted that several of these victories/losses were not “massive” in terms of votes, but nonetheless demonstrated considerable deterioration of electoral fortunes in any election year.
As is the custom with several CADRES analyses, the electoral swing tool is relied upon since this speaks to improvement or deterioration between elections. We have presented both the “personal”, “party” and “excess” swing to demonstrate how much of an individual impact a candidate has had.
The appended table is self-explanatory and presents the two biggest defeats in each election since Independence. We have omitted both 1966 and 1971 because the switch from double to single member constituencies and the major boundary adjustments in 1971 complicate the analysis in those years.
It can be seen that the two biggest electoral defeats took place in 1986 and 1999 in St Michael East and St Michael South East, respectively. Ironically, these defeats were not surprising and resulted from very peculiar circumstances, namely politicians crossing the floor in the direction of the national swing. These should perhaps be isolated from the other instances where normal electoral conditions prevailed.
If one were to separate these two “outliers”, the 1981 case of the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) loss to Sir Branford Taitt comes to the fore since Ralph Walker lost 15 per cent more than his party did and surrendered the seat to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Interestingly enough, the two biggest losses in that election took place in neighbouring constituencies which continued to become DLP strongholds.
Mid-range defeats
The mid-range defeats were recorded in instances where the candidates added more than ten per cent to their party’s negative swing resulting in surprise defeats. In each of these cases, plausible explanations could be given, such as the relative lateness of the DLP’s replacement for Richard Byer in St George South (1991) and the impact of the St Joseph Hospital inquiry on Sir Branford (1999).
It is also highly likely that in other similar instances, people close to individual campaigns could offer concrete explanations and, in some instances, might have expected the enormity of these defeats. The analysis is nonetheless valid since it presents an objective examination of the relative comparisons between party performance and individual performance.
The most recent election is worthy of note and, in this instance, two relatively safe BLP seats were converted. It will be interesting to see if St George South, especially, can resist the historical inclination to revert to its BLP tradition in non-swing years.
It is noteworthy, however, that these two cases are very different since the BLP’s candidate in St James South was of ministerial rank, while the BLP’s Ian Gill was new and replacing another BLP candidate who retired. Although the DLP’s candidate (Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo) was also new, one could argue that the BLP was to some extent at a disadvantage in St George South, while the same cannot be said for St James South.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).