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Record and recompense


Record and recompense

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To: Prime Minister Stuart.From: One who can’t read your mind.
February 11: Parliament is automatically dissolved. (Do not become the first Prime Minister to have the door of the House of Assembly slammed on you.)February 13: Ash Wednesday and start of Lenten season. (Please do not cause this sacred season to be interrupted with late-night meetings and noisy political fetes.)February 14: Valentine’s Day. (Remember the season of love is the season of red.)February 19: Grenada’s election day. (Be aware Tilman Thomas is facing a one-term defeat.)March 11: Easter Sunday and end of Lenten season. (Let’s celebrate the resurrection, not the ruckus.)March 31: Deadline for the laying of the annual Estimates of Expenditure. (The financial business of Government begins on All Fools’ Day, April 1.)
WHILE WE continue to await the deliberate decision on an election date by the Prime Minister, it is emerging that the governing Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) strategy for this general election will be two-fold.
1. The DLP’s record these past 60 months.
2. The “unwanted” return of Owen Arthur to office.
The attention and energy being given to meeting the party’s manifesto pledges and important legislation suggest the governing party wants to be well positioned to prove it has performed on its promises. This will be the positive aspect of its campaign.
The second strategy is likely to be a negative campaign on Owen Arthur the man, the leader, his record as Prime Minister and Arthur as an alternative to incumbent Freundel Stuart.
Arthur, who has benefited from successful campaigns around his record – We Goin’ Wid Owen and Owen Now More Than Ever – will find himself under the closest scrutiny for the first time since the 1994 campaign during which the DLP sought to highlight his shortcomings and painted him as one with a compelling liking for liquor.
So what does the DLP have in store for the voting public as it seeks to defend its record and urge re-election in the upcoming campaign?
When the party was elected to office in 2008, its success was based on a far more enticing set of manifesto promises than those of the then governing Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
The Dems now find themselves completing a list of social and legislative attainments, and delivering terrace units to long-renting tenants, all to impress voters they have delivered on most of the ambitious agenda which earned them the right to govern Barbados.
In its 2008 Pathways To Progress document, the DLP listed 12 priorities, which included lowering the cost of living, improving access to property ownership, health care for all, education for the 21st century, families first and enhanced social security.
These were all fairly broad objectives that most half-decent manifestoes would normally address. It was on the specific details of its programme that the DLP won the day, particularly its several promises to achieve earth-shattering changes in the first 100 days in Government.
It is not possible to identify that laundry list, but I recall the removal of value added tax from building materials; establishing a Home Ownership Revolving Fund; and introducing the Agricultural Protection Act as among them.
The DLP also promised to create and build 2 000 “housing solutions” per year; provide 2 500 house spots for sale to low and middle income wage earners within six months; provide 500 lots of land in five months at $5 per square foot; increase tax reductions for mortgages to $20 000 per year; set aside 40 per cent of all government procurement requests for small and medium size enterprises; implement a “rescue the QEH plan”; upgrade the geriatric hospitals; establish pre-school learning centres at Wildey, Newton, Grazettes and Six Roads; better pay for police officers; integrity legislation; constituency councils; access to duty-free cars for the personal use of designated public officers, and so on.
Some proposals were introduced, some not. I suspect one of the planks of the DLP platform in this election will be its housing programme. With a theme of Housing Every Last Person (an attractive HELP acronym), it has built houses and provided land in impressive proportions. It will also have every right to boast about free bus rides to and from school for children and the sponsorship of free summer camps as part of its record of expanding social entitlement.
Of all its winning promises, the DLP will find itself having to stoutly defend the failure on its three-fold, priority cost of living commitment. But both the party’s successes and failures will form part of what the electioneering will be about, as the BLP will have its own version of the DLP accomplishments.
Equally engaging for blood-thirty supporters will be the DLP’s attacks on the Arthur record and character.
The broadest hint of the negative anti-Arthur campaign came during the past week when newspaper advertisements, sponsored firstly by an unknown, unregistered amorphous body referred to by the unfortunate acronym PARO (People Against the Return of Owen); and then by Renmarc Enterprises International, not known to be a political organization, but rather as a seller and installer of satellite and other entertainment systems, headed by one Jason Marc Ren Herbert of Perkins Land, Kew Road, St Michael, spewed venomous warnings about Arthur’s record and leadership, under the tantalizing title Not Wanted.
These were not advertisements with which the DLP wanted its name associated, but from which it would be difficult to create distance.
The sponsors of this advertising campaign are clearly very aware of, and feel threatened by, the gap created by Arthur over other leaders and potential leaders in the most recent CADRES/Barbados Today public opinion poll; and the need to narrow that margin if the DLP is to stand any chance of retaining the Government.
In that poll among all Barbados, Arthur was the preferred leader by 39 per cent to 23 per cent over Stuart. Among “uncertain voters” Mia Mottley captured 32 per cent to Arthur’s 21 per cent, Chris Sinckler’s 20 per cent and Stuart’s 18 per cent.
If it were possible to combine the two sets of statistics, Arthur would command 60 per cent to Stuart’s 41 per cent. Within the respective parties, Stuart gets 58 per cent of DLP support compared with Arthur’s 73 per cent in the BLP. These are not numbers to be ignored on the eve of an election, although pollster Peter Wickham warned in his analysis: “Clearly Arthur outperforms Stuart and indeed all competitors, but his individual assessment does not suggest that any overwhelming confidence is reposed in him either.” Wickham regards the Arthur showing as “passive because the DLP seems untenable at this time”.
Will the BLP respond to this ad campaign by defending the Arthur record and Arthur conduct, or will it focus on its pledge to “rescue, rebuild and restore”?
The nature of the BLP’s response to this aspect of the DLP campaign will help define how negative the 2013 election will become.
Indeed, if the election advertising is weighted heavily on Arthur’s vulnerability and his value and vision, both parties should tread carefully and trade cautiously, for personal attacks can cut both ways.
Further, let’s not forget that in the most recent poll, 74 per cent (three-quarters) of those polled rated the cost of living (38 per cent), unemployment (22 per cent) and the economy (14 per cent) as their three most important concerns.
Leadership came a poor fourth at eight per cent. Former United States President Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville coined the phrase: “It’s about the economy, stupid” to focus his candidate on the issue which the electorate cared most about. Enough said.
While Arthur may be fair game given how he angered many people in the last five years of his administration, personal attack ads may be less impactful than hoped for because his handling of the economy earned him high marks. It is this aspect of his record in the face of the global economic downturn that pitchforked him back into the limelight and as party leader two years ago.
The 2013 election should therefore be about Barbados. And Barbados’ vulnerability and its value. And each party’s vision for its future.
• Harold Hoyte is Editor Emeritus of THE?NATION.