“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8
Last week People and Things spoke to provocative behaviour on the part of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur. However, this scenario represents only one aspect of the leadership dilemma facing this nation. The other aspect relates to the actions (or lack thereof) of current Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
It could be argued that two of the three more recent holders of this office have been consistent regarding their political behaviour and in both instances the voting public should therefore not be surprised by their actions (or lack thereof).
In the last election “we” presumably assessed both leaders and “preferred” this one; hence the analysis of that election helps to assess both gentlemen.
It is fortunate that public opinion polls conducted during the election examined both leaders and presented valuable data on how “we” perceived them.
It will be recalled that even as the predicted fortunes of both parties shifted back and forth within the notorious margin of error of the polls, our preference for a leader was persistently undecided, as was our assessment of the shortcomings of both leaders.
In the last two polls conducted in February 2013 (one week apart), concerning the preferred leader for Barbados, one-third of “us” preferred both Arthur and Stuart, and if the margin of error is taken into consideration, both leaders were equally preferred just before the election.
A strong clue regarding the reason for this national indecision is presented elsewhere in the polls where respondents were asked to indicate their approval or lack thereof for both leaders and ironically both leaders received approval and disapproval ratings that were similar.
This helps to consolidate an argument that “we” were not thrilled about either option for the post of leadership.
Clear reasons why were articulated in response to a question raised in the May 2012 CADRES poll which identified the most “disliked” characteristic for both leaders and respondents said that they thought Stuart “took too long to take decisions” and that Arthur was “too old and needed to retire”.
Therefore, if one were therefore to summarize the implications of these sets of data on the election that followed it would be concluded that Stuart’s “pleasantness” (his most likeable quality) was preferred over Arthur’s “experience” (his most likeable) and “we” had less of a problem with Stuarts “slowness to make decisions” than Arthur’s “needing to retire”.
In one school of American political science they group leaders into “active positive and negative” and “passive positive and negative” and our scenario almost perfectly contrasted these two types and suggested that we were more comfortable with a “passive and potentially negative” leader (Stuart). Suffice to say, this preference surprised me, but speaks volumes about the Barbadian electorate.
The implications of our choice can be explored separately; however, the important point here, though, is that the type of political behaviour displayed by Arthur last week is neither new nor surprising.
The opposite question has, however, not been addressed and now should be since our Prime Minister has also been consistent in his slowness, apparent in his indecision and continues to communicate poorly with “his people”.
Barbadians were most concerned about Stuart’s slowness in the May poll, but this author has always found his unwillingness to communicate equally offensive. This assertion arises from the fact that he is so obviously a good communicator as is reflected in his well planned verbal attacks on his adversaries.
Certainly, he comes across clearly when he wishes to communicate the extent to which his opponent is “the only woman who finds him ugly” or the extent to which he and Arthur are of one mind regarding their lack of confidence in Mottley. His unwillingness to speak to and with us about this worrying economic situation is therefore a reflection of deliberate unwillingness, which is more tragic.
Therefore, as we lament the indecisiveness and absence of interaction with our leader in these times of adversity, it is reassuring to note that this is not a sudden change of behaviour, but a reflection of the extent to which Stuart is as consistent as Arthur regarding his political traits.
As disturbing as these traits might be, Stuart openly canvassed them as his “style” during an election which he ultimately won, which means that we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
In choosing him we have also affirmed the “correctness” of his approach to politics that still leaves much to be desired.
As much as Arthur presents a problem for the 74 000 of us who supported the Barbados Labour Party in 2013, Stuart’s style can impact profoundly on all of us.
Hebrews 13:8 reminds us of the virtue of consistency; however, one is inclined to think that such virtues are more appropriate to people like Jesus Christ, who was perfect.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).