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A Pyrrhic victory

Peter W. Wickham

A Pyrrhic victory

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This phrase is often used in politics with reference to electoral battles, the cost of which is such that the victory is simply not worth it.  
In the wake of the DLP’s 2013 election success, I concluded that this outcome would prove to be the quintessential example of such a rare political event. Although convinced, I was hesitant to express this view since the Dems were anxious to confront analysts (such as myself) who predicted DLP failure in that election.
Convinced that my perspective would be seen as nothing more than an attempt to make excuses for an apparent misreading of the political landscape, I thought it best to say little while DLP made its victory lap.
Although few Dems were anxious to go on record regarding their delight at the outcome of the election, one brave soul, the Reverend Guy Hewitt noted in these pages that he was happy I “got it wrong”.
In response, I agreed with him that I “got it wrong” and suggested that we would now all have to deal with the consequences of my “getting it wrong”.
It is ironic that in the same year when these events occurred, I can now also place on record my thesis regarding the extent to which this outcome was perhaps the worst possible for both the DLP and this county.
In the case of the DLP my argument is predicated on a little known fact that the 2008 victory of the DLP was not “rousing” as many appeared to think.
The DLP was numerically strong but popularly weak which implies that the public perhaps reposed little confidence in the DLP in 2008, but elected it primarily because of dissatisfaction with the BLP. Sadly the DLP was not able (in my opinion) to fully exploit the 2008-2013 period to enhance public confidence and was clearly struggling as it approached the 2013 election.
It could be argued that critical economic decisions were highly advisable in 2008, but imperative in 2013 and a responsible government therefore had little space to play political games.
The DLP therefore could either take the political high road and dazzle us with its superior capacity to manage our affairs or the political low road and bribe us to get it past the finishing line.
Readers can determine which road the DLP took; however the latter would be costly for the DLP as there has been a seismic shift away from this party since the 1970s and this has been demonstrated by reference to statistical evidence.
I am therefore persuaded that if the DLP’s shortcomings of 1994 which ensued from a position of political strength placed them in the political wilderness for 15 years, a fall from this position of weakness could sacrifice a full generation of DLP political leadership.
The national aspect of this thesis is hinged to the urgency of our economic challenge. Clearly we needed to take action on the economic front since 2008; however the DLP could understandably not have done so since it wanted to win the 2013 election and economic adjustment has always been politically unpopular.
Post 2013 there is, however, no option for further delay but we are in the unique and unprecedented position where we have a Government that lacks the political capital to address our economic problems, which will therefore only get worse.
The term political capital is an “Americanism” which is reasonably defined in Wikipedia as “the sentiment that a politician has a legitimate political mandate to enact policy in the eyes of the voting public”.  In this instance I would argue that the lack of political capital is rooted in the DLP’s slim majority, combined with a low level of public trust.
The practical impact of the absence of political capital is easily demonstrated with reference to the current “negotiations” with the unions over job cuts. It is being suggested that the unions would agree to a voluntary pay cut as an alternative to government cutting jobs and we all agree that this is preferred.
The problem here is that negotiations only work where both sides trust each other and the unions here should be very suspicious of anything this Government tells it, since its “commitments” have been very much a moving target.
Hence the unions might willingly cede three per cent of their salaries to save 2 000 jobs only to find that the 3 000 figure was actually a minimum point and they end up losing both.
It is against this background that I made the somewhat controversial comment last Sunday that the best thing for Barbados now would be for this Government to collapse and this is a statement made without political bias.
A collapse of the Stuart administration does not necessarily mean an end of the DLP; however it does mean that we would have the opportunity to make a clear choice between two competing sets of proposals to tackle these economic challenges.
This time neither party could argue that such a discussion is not warranted and as such the victor would have the political capital necessary to address these problems frontally. As much as this would be preferred, I also acknowledge that this is unlikely and it is for this reason that I worry since a further prolonged period of inaction will sap what little confidence is left in our economy.