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ALBERT BRANDFORD: Contrasting leadership

ALBERT BRANDFORD, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: Contrasting leadership

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A RECENT CADRES mid-term poll done for this newspaper confirmed the suspicion that there is a collective disappointment among Barbadians in the Freundel Stuart Government.

The survey revealed that as many as 70 per cent of respondents expressed disappointment, suggesting it runs across party lines.

While the poll tends to be more an assessment of Government’s performance, the Mia Mottley-led Opposition – notwithstanding some element of disunity in its ranks – would have been heartened by the rejection of Government’s performance, in particular its management of the economy.

It never ceases to amaze political analysts that the bread and butter issues always take precedence over the qualitative issues of leadership and corruption, among others. In this regard, the poll showed that cost of living is still the leading concern followed very closely by unemployment with the economy being next.

The public tends to be better able to evaluate the country’s circumstances when it can measure the issues more directly by way of their impact on its purchasing power and quality of life.

The increasing concern over unemployment is a major consequence of Government’s poor economic leadership. However, it may also be reflecting the fact that the issue has finally reached into the public sector after Prime Minister Stuart promised in the last general election that it would not.

It is this kind of shortcoming that gives resonance to issues in the political arena where there is an ongoing desire to prosecute the other side, especially on matters of trust.

In an environment where Barbadians have been asked to hold strain for the better part of seven years, there is no doubt that revelations from the CLICO audit implicating the late Prime Minister David Thompson and his sidekick Leroy Parris would have reinforced the issue of trust. This is compounded by the embrace of Parris by Stuart, leaving a living link between him and the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

While the issue of leadership remained in fourth place among major concerns, its ranking was elevated in percentage terms, almost doubling between February 2013 and March 2015. It is in this context that Mottley’s performance as leader of the Opposition, in the poll, has to be evaluated.

Once former Prime Minister Owen Arthur cleared the way for her to emerge as the undisputed leader of the Barbados Labour Party, the issue of leadership is now focused on an enigmatic Stuart and an unencumbered Mottley.

The latter has been exposed to several different ministerial posts along with being a deputy prime minister, while the former seems to prefer being the general in the war room whose interest is predominantly winning the battle.

In some respects, silence is golden; unfortunately in real war it is appropriate but in the political world, the “soldiers” have completely different emotions.

In an economic environment that cried out for leadership as Government’s economic spokesmen stumbled in search of clarity, Stuart remained uninspiring, opting for silence instead of embracing the people in the spirit of Winston Churchill.

Mottley and her economic spokesmen offered perspectives such as the need for economic stimulus, tax relief and access to education at all levels that painted a genuine picture of contrast.

The CADRES findings on the issues of cost of living, unemployment and the economy cannot be divorced from the persistence of the Opposition in putting a case for an alternative approach to economic management over the last seven years. The issue of leadership has also taken on more significance now that there is a clear head-to-head contest.

Clearly, there is also a contrast in the styles of the two leaders. Mottley is inclined to substance, which is one of the factors on which a leader ought to be evaluated. Stuart is more inclined to style, which has its share of admirers.

Silence is associated with wisdom that is perceived even if not revealed. So far, Barbadians have suffered in the presence of such silence.

The journey to the next general election is going to be filled with expectations, but the decision-making process will be done on the same set of bread and butter issues identified over the years in the CADRES poll.

It is therefore not difficult to anticipate that Government will be doing all it can to sell that the economy is recovering, while the Opposition will be insisting that the people are worse off.

In both cases, the issue in the presentation will be perspective with respect to time period and measurement.

Some analysts have already indicated that since the economic circumstances will not change dramatically, the battle will be predominantly political in the sense of winning the minds of the electorate. The battle lines are clearly drawn as disappointment in the Government confronts the hope for better among Barbadians.

Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.