Dems let chance slip
Hartley Henry is a political consultant who has devised successful election campaign strategies in 14 Caribbean countries in the last 26 years.He was credited by late Prime Minister David Thompson for his key role in the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) 2008 victory, and was appointed Government’s lead political advisor.When Thompson died in 2010, Henry declared: “The kingmaker dies with the king,” and has not been actively involved with the Government since.In this interview with THE?NATION’s Sanka Price, Henry – a losing DLP candidate for the St George South constituency in the 1999 general election – breaks his silence on the forthcoming poll.
What’s your perspective on Campaign 2013?
Henry: What comes to mind is whether there should be a campaign 2013. All indicators back in June-July last year suggested the correct timing of this election might have been in November. That was reinforced in the aftermath of the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) annual conference when a clumsy use of language by the Leader of the Opposition [Owen Arthur] led, for the first time since the ascension of Freundel Stuart to Prime Minister, to the BLP being on the back foot with respect to the privatization issue.
That was an opening the Dems had not bargained for and a party that was four years in office should have been prepared at that time to capitalize. That was the last grand strategic opportunity for an election to have been called.
To go into 2013 it should have been with a particular strategic plan to build momentum. So in December-January one should have been seeing a hype in activity – jobs being created, backpay being given, pensions raised, houses handing over, ribbons being cut, sod being turned – stuff that would have given a sense of something happening. Then you would call an election early in the year.
But the pace at which the Government ended 2012 and has to date preceded with 2013 leaves me very worried and puzzled as to what is the point in postponing an election where you are now, rather than on a high sprinting to the finish line, it seems basically holding your waist and hips trying to make it to the end. At this point the calling of the election in itself has become an issue, and I’m not sure that there’s any perfect time now. They frittered away potential goodwill by dragging this election into 2013 needlessly.
The Government has created an environment in which it is calling an election that is seen as long overdue, and this in itself will take away from what is still an above-average performance overall as a government, given the economic circumstances that they found themselves in.
Are you involved in any way with the DLP’s re-election campaign?
Henry: The selection of a campaign advisor/strategist is a personal thing for a leader. It’s like a woman requiring a gynaecologist. In all my years I have been approached by political leaders to assist them in crafting a campaign strategy. I have not been approached by the leader of the DLP to do that. David Thompson said: “Ever so welcome, wait for a call.” I have not been called.
If you were called by the leader, would you have assisted?
Henry: Yes, I would have availed myself. But that would have had to be several months ago because in the Caribbean you need a minimum of nine months to plan an election. When I saw the first half of last year and there was not an approach by the leadership of the party, it was clear to me they would have pursued other options.
Why do you think the Prime Minister did not approach you?
Henry: I don’t want to try to get into his mind. I would hope it is a question that he would not have to answer in a painful way henceforth.
It is his right to choose whom he is willing to repose his confidence in. As a political strategist, you effectively manage a prime minister or candidate for leadership in every aspect – his look, his sound, his mannerisms, his personality.
So you have to find someone whose hands you are willing to put your life, your future in. I’m sure Mr Stuart has given this thought. I’m not sure in whom he has reposed that.
Do you think the Prime Minister has a problem with you?
Henry: I don’t think it has to do with Hartley Henry as opposed to anyone else.
What is your impression of the DLP’s strategy to date?
Henry: I’m viewing some departures from norms and practices, and I’m very keen to see how they play out. I’m not sensing this is a Government that is behaving like if it is eager to get back in because there is a whole set of stuff on their plate, and they’re busy getting things done. What is coming across is a tiredness. That bothers me because it is not leaving one with the sense that better days are coming.
What are some of the major issues?
Henry: One is succession. Of the seven prime ministers we have had, three died in office. We are going into an election with two leaders in their 60s and the issue of deputy leadership is being deliberately shrouded. Barbadians can no longer approach an election not having some focus on who is next in line in the event of either leader winning and, for whatever reason, not being able to finish their term.
CADRES polls suggest Chris Sinckler and Mia Mottley are the most popular alternative leaders. Should they be elevated?
Henry: The first thing you should have in a deputy is public appeal because no matter how intellectually gifted you are, in this economic environment you must enjoy a certain level of confidence and goodwill. If the public has said repeatedly that these are the two persons in whom they have confidence, then it is perhaps a little risky for the leadership of both parties to sweep that aside for persons whom they personally may feel a bit more comfortable with, or less challenged by.
Mr Arthur said Miss Mottley has issues. Wouldn’t these issues affect her ascendancy?
Henry: All politicians have issues. When you look back at the last two years, the removal of Mottley from the leadership of the BLP might have been a good thing for the party and for her.
Mia Mottley of 2010 may not have been ready. I don’t know that is so, but if you look at 2013 I cannot think of a better person to walk next to Arthur, to strengthen his perceived weaknesses, than perhaps Mottley would.
The same thing applies to the DLP. If Mr Stuart recognizes that, like all men, he has his own failings, he needs to look around and find someone who can augment his offering and be able to be compatible to provide a combined leadership structure that gives the country that peace of mind it requires.
As for Mr Sinckler, could his elevation be affected because he told the country the equivalent of the National Insurance Scheme in St Vincent and Dominica were buying into the Four Seasons Project, only for those countries’ prime ministers to deny this?
Henry: That incident reflected youthful exuberance, perhaps a jumping of the gun in terms of speaking before you put into effect your plan. If Mr Stuart had lost confidence in him as Minister of Finance, he would have removed him, or said something to articulate that.
On the economy, several Barbadians earn less today than they did four years ago, yet you said Government has done relatively well. Please explain.
Henry: Were I an advisor to the Government, you would go back to 2008 to the forecast of respected, creditable, tested and proven economists such as Owen Arthur and Clyde Mascoll, and see what was foretold for Barbados in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. The fact that much of that has not materialized on the surface, means a good job was done in avoiding the worst case scenarios.
You stressed “on the surface”, but what about Government borrowing monthly to pay public servants and how this is widening the fiscal deficit?
Henry: The fact that the average Barbadian does not perceive he or she is in that crisis speaks to the flawed strategy in the Opposition not bringing home those points to them. Were I advising them, every person in Barbados would perhaps know what obtains.
The fact that everyone does not know what obtained and may believe things are better than they are is a reflection on the Government. The fact that things are as bad as foretold and anticipated to be is also a reflection on the Government’s work in sparing the population. Or it could be that the forecasts were exaggerated.
We mourn the loss of people like Wendell McClean to whom we could have looked for some kind of independent guidance. This is where the University of the West Indies can perhaps be accused of failing us because at a time when people need answers, the university appears to have gone into a comatose state.
What’s another issue?
Henry: Representation. You are in an era where both leaders have their fair share of negatives, where neither party has to date articulated a fiscal policy or programme that is inspiring and which you can buy into; so you’re going to find a lot is going to come down to effective personalities at the constituency level.
A few of the incumbent MPs on both sides, but moreso the Government side, stand real risks of paying a price for what could be perceived as ineffectiveness because reality has not been properly sold to the country as to what realistically could have been done in this economic environment.
And you’re going to find this particularly in the St Michael constituencies where unemployment is rising [and] the quality of life for many is declining.
You need to have Members of Parliament who would be accessible, pragmatic, responsive, sensitive and highly visible. A few of the incumbents have not been of that order. A few of them may have allowed the demands of office to come between them and their people.
Therefore, notwithstanding what I maintain is a satisfactory performance by the Government overall, it is going to come down to an assessment of the stewardship of some of the incumbent MPs and the level of their representation will go against them being returned.
Are you suggesting the DLP will lose this election?
Henry: When you move around and look at all the indicators, it would appear the Government is under some stress. But again, when you come down to numbers and attempt to count the seats of the BLP in light of that perceived momentum, there are very few persons who can get to 14 without struggling to find 15, and 16, and 17.
That tells me that even though you have an atmospheric condition that suggests change, there is still going to be a hard sell on the part of both parties to land some of their candidates.
In terms of strategy, the BLP made a fundamental error in its candidate selection process; they should have rotated some of them. Take for example the people of St Michael West. Five years ago they put Joseph Atherley in the balance, found him wanting and invested in Michael Carrington. If today they are not happy with Carrington’s stewardship, what do they do? Do they remove that indictment?
So even though you have a set of incumbents who have been less than spectacular, it is not automatic that people are going to go to the polls and return en masse a group of alternative candidates who were less than spectacular last time, and who have done nothing since to suggest their modus operandi will be any different.
So though the mood of the country is one of very harsh judging of the Government, I am not persuaded that has translated into victory for the BLP on the ground.
I believe if persons were voting tonight, the DLP would be returned to office. However, as it is constitutionally required for a minimum of three weeks between the dissolution of Parliament or the issuing of the writ and the holding of the election, the organizational structure of the BLP on the ground, especially in St Michael, would serve to give it the final push that is required in the last six days.
The BLP’s machinery is such that, notwithstanding it is offering candidates who are not the most attractive, it has the potential for outperforming that of the Dems, especially with the type of campaign the Dems seem to be unfolding. It is from that point of view there could be credence in what Peter Wickham is forecasting (a BLP victory).
Are you saying the electorate has a dilemma in the quality of candidates offered?
Henry: My worry is that when you take away the top eight BLP offerings and the top eight DLP offerings, you have 44 personalities, none of whom in their respective ridings can be relied upon to deliver and to perform to the level that the electorate would be expecting. Therefore campaign organization and efficiency will win out.
The people may suffer in the process because many of the problems that are besetting us, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that a year from now they will not get worse.