PETER WICKHAM: Stuart’s strategy for re-election quite clear
ON THIS OCCASION I wish to commence by drawing attention to an article penned by a fellow political consultant which appeared in another section of the Press and represents an outstanding analysis of the context within which the Prime Minister’s recent attack on Sir Hilary Beckles should be placed.
This attack was both regrettable and reprehensible, but easily understandable in the context of the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) current political predicament.
As Reudon Eversley noted, this most recent political pickle can be traced back to the most recent NATION/CADRES poll. However, I would go further and argue that this pickle is but an instalment in an evolving scenario which will take a further three years to mature.
Our Prime Minister has conveyed his attitude towards polls in the now infamous comment made in May of 2012 that “he is neither interested in nor influenced by polls [and] will not be distracted by polls, even utility poles”.
Most experienced political practitioners, however, understand the strategy employed by President Nixon, who said, “I’m not a crook”. Clearly, if one wants to convince a population of some “fact” for which there is a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, it is best to state that “fact” upfront and preferably in a headline which heavily colours all that comes afterwards. As such, those among us who are thinking politically understand that this most unfortunate outburst is likely to have been influenced by the poll’s findings.
The question then becomes one of what exactly an attack on Sir Hilary achieves, and the answer lies in the poll’s findings on education, which were historic. The DLP over the years has taken much comfort in the fact that it was perceived to have a superior record in education, which was clearly a DLP “flagship”, and it is now clear the DLP can no longer seek shelter under this umbrella.
The fact that CADRES is led by an individual for whom the Prime Minister is known to have little regard would make it easy to ignore, had it not been for Sir Hilary’s reiteration of this uncomfortable truth.
Sir Hilary is infinitely more difficult to discredit and Stuart’s strategy therefore cleverly spoke to Sir Hilary’s motivation, while avoiding any discussion on the substance of the statement – which effectively demonstrated the extent to which it was true.
As we reflect on past events and project our minds forward over the next three years, it is clear that Stuart’s strategy to continue in office and secure a second term of his own will be very different to that of any previous Prime Minister here.
Thus far, all leaders have either endeavoured to be the best or, alternatively, the best under the circumstances. In Stuart’s case, he appears to be satisfied with being the one that emerged because he was the one for whom people settled because someone else was either unelectable or more offensive.
This was the case when he was first selected within the DLP and thereafter when voters appeared to opt for him over Arthur in 2013.
Having been endorsed by both his party and the wider Barbadian population, Stuart now understands the many powers he has to sustain himself, and one such important tool is the blind acquiescence of his peers at the level of the Cabinet and, of course, the “yardfowls” within the wider DLP.
Neither of these institutions will contradict a Prime Minister and this makes it easy to ascribe labels to any critic, whether this be the Editor-in-Chief of the Nation or the principal of the University of the West Indies.
This tool is also useful when setting the public agenda, especially as the leader can also rely on the propagandistic capabilities of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation. Stuart can therefore determine whether it is preferable to attack the source of a troublesome comment or simply change the subject, as was done with the introduction of the republic debate.
One cannot help but be fascinated by the way this strategy has worked thus far to facilitate the political sustenance of a leader who was among the least likely to succeed, and there has been an equally successful strategy that has worked to mitigate Stuart’s lack of popularity within the DLP and nationally.
Initially, Stuart compared unfavourably to Christopher Sinckler. However, as time passed, it was fascinating how Sinckler’s own weaknesses were nurtured to the point where he is now no longer considered an option to Stuart.
Similarly, Owen Arthur once led Stuart in the popularity ratings. But he too was allowed to undo himself, which upon reflection was an excellent strategy for a person who understood that he could not compete with Arthur on popularity.
There are now two logical targets, Donville Inniss and Mia Mottley. The former has emerged as the logical option within the DLP to Stuart, especially since Estwick seems to have disqualified himself.
Mottley competes at the national level and both she and Inniss possess political personalities which make them highly predictable.
I am therefore intrigued by the next chapter in this exciting book on political strategy which must be completed in three years.
Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]