PEOPLE & THINGS: Comparative politics
AS THE DUST SETTLES on the Antigua election, the analysis of the lessons that we can take from it has started with particular relevance to Barbados.
Immediately following this landslide election, Dr George Belle noted that Antigua did something that we in Barbados seemed unwilling to do and while I agree with him, that comment only begins to tell the story of two islands that have followed a strikingly similar political path in recent times.
Central to this similarity is the fact that the two Prime Ministers (Spencer and Stuart) are alike in many ways and also share much in common with the former Prime Minister of Grenada (Thomas).
The three leaders have a personality type and political style that is similar, but expressed at different stages on this theoretical continuum. The exploration of this classification and consequent impact on our collective politics would be extensive and therefore needs to be pursued in another space.
On this occasion the intention is to identify similarities between the Antigua and Barbados case studies which can begin with the similarity between the leaders.
Both of them are known for “taking their time” which is a weakness that was exploited in the Antiguan case by way of a highly ill-advised United Progressive Party (UPP) campaign that focused on leadership which was said to “matter”.
Certainly there can be little that matters more than leadership in an election, but one also needs to appreciate the working material which makes it curious that anyone who understands Spencer would identify a theme which effectively exploits his most obvious shortcoming.
This unforced error helps us to identify one of the things that Stuart’s campaign did right. They identified a theme that focused on the party affectionately known as the “Dems” and avoided Stuart’s most noticeable shortcoming.
This seemed to have worked to the extent that it mitigated a definitive and negative swing to the extent that they were able to limp home.
The similarities continue with the less well known fact that the 2009 election which the UPP won was in many ways similar to the 2013 election which the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won.
The UPP emerged from that election with 52 per cent and nine out of 16 seats (on the mainland) while the DLP emerged from this one with 51 per cent and 16 out of 30 seats. In both instances if the opposition had gained one more seat the two parties would have been equal and while in the case of Antigua, the Barbuda one-vote majority would have sustained Spencer, in the case of Barbados a shift of 40 votes in one constituency would have sent us back to the polls.
In both instances the reality of an election that was narrowly won seems to have been lost of the two leaders, who saw their victories as a vindication
of their style and carried on as before.
This persistence arises from an overly simplistic approach to political analysis that focuses on the win and does not look beyond. In the case of Spencer, this was reflected in his failure to appreciate the weakness of his own seat. The correct approach should have been to give thanks for the narrow win but work to ensure that the factors which caused the negative swing (in both instances) were mitigated.
It is interesting that in both the Antiguan and Barbadian cases, a factor contributing to the re-election of the incumbent was the impact of a long-standing and in many ways an unpopular leader. In Antigua this was the Bird factor, while in Barbados it was the Arthur factor.
In both instances these former Prime Ministers were highly successful in many regards, but also had well understood and disliked negatives which made it easy for people to decide to vote “against” them in a tight race.
Antigua has now demonstrated that Prime Minister Brown could perhaps have succeeded in winning the government if he was leading the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) in 2009 and it is left to be seen if a similar tend will be repeated here.
In fairness to Spencer, the economic impact of his tenure has certainly been less negative than that of Stuart’s and in his defence one can also argue that he has battled more aggressive economic demons.
Both leaders have had to contend with a less than cooperative global economic environment and neither has taken a personal interest in the Economics Ministry.
Spencer relied on Errol Cort and thereafter Harold Lovell, largely because Cort lost his seat and could perhaps not run that ministry effectively from the Senate.
Stuart, however, has been consistent in his reliance on Christopher Sinckler and consistent in his refusal to adopt any aspect of the economic portfolio. Spencer’s administration faced down the collapse of both CLICO and the Stanford empire as well as the collapse of local banks and did so without a Central Bank from which they could borrow excessively.
In our case the Central Bank has been able to give the Stuart administration room to manoeuvre and it has thus far been able to avoid embracing the IMF like Antigua has.
Ironically, Spencer was challenged during the election on account of “low growth” while the issue here is considerably more serious, and one therefore wonders about the eventual political consequences Stuart will face.
• Peter W. Wickham (email@example.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).