We will resist the urge to refer to current happenings in Barbados as being attributable to the “silly season” – although some of the conduct is nothing short of silly, and not just by politicians.
The island is in full election mode, no matter how many times the Prime Minister Freundel Stuart refuses to disclose his election date. But truth be told, regardless how often we choose to pillory him for what is seen by some as “delaying tactics”, he is only doing what all Prime Ministers before him have done. Selection of an election date is a prime ministerial prerogative that all who have walked in Stuart’s shoes before has treated as sacred.
There is really no need to continue making the election date an issue – there are more important issues at play.
We are sure that, like voters in the US, Barbadian electors would benefit immensely from at least two debates involving the political leaders and at least one key player from each side. However, given the current temperature, we are more likely to see snow fall in Hillaby, St. Thomas than our leaders facing each other in front of the television cameras.
A large part of the partisan political intrigue of a general election is generated by the manifestos of the opposing parties, but both parties have a history of treating these with even greater secrecy than the Prime Minister does the election date.
So what happens is that sometime late in a two- or three-week campaign each side will distribute this document, characterised by vague promises that offer no detail on how they will be achieved. The end result is that the country then gets caught up in who can make the “sweetest” promises as opposed to the most realistic or sensible.
Worse than that is that the real debate on their practicality only takes place in the lead up to the following election, when they are looked at from the perspective of unfulfilled promises. This modus operandi does absolutely nothing for Barbados.
Our parties and their leaders need to be quizzed thoroughly on their plans early enough that voters can make informed decisions – and that the experts can weigh in on them, dissecting them for the benefit of the unschooled. Speaking to the faithful at branch meetings does not come close to being an effective substitute – not when the purpose of such gatherings is to fire up supporters. On such occasions the salacious item turns out to be the most effective tool, since those present will vote for their party, regardless of what is offered by way of national or parochial policies.
We believe it is time that Barbadians saw some “change we can live with” – and we do not refer to the Dems or Bees holding power, but the system we use to place them there.
But while it appears that the vast majority of our current crop of politicians are content to let things remain the same, we take hope in what appears to be a continuing statistical change that will eventually demand a new approach. There is good reason to conclude that the number of persons who view themselves as committed Bees or Dems is falling as a percentage of the total population of electors, and in the not-to-distant future it is clear that the non-committed voters will constitute the most critical bloc to any party seeking office. That group will not be reached in any branch meeting at Queen’s College or Grazettes Primary.
Our political parties have served us well, to suggest otherwise would be less than truthful. But times are changing and we need to change with them. We need to become mature enough to subject the work of our parties and their operatives to the most intense of scrutiny without being labelled as supporters of the opposing camp.
For sure, given the potentially devastating future facing Barbados, neither the Barbados Labour Party nor the Democratic Labour Party should be allowed to “walk” into Parliament based on grandiose promises without clear articulation of how they can be afforded and implemented. Duty free cars and free clothing for all, massive investment projects that include a sea for St. Thomas and calm waters on the east coast may win votes, but would they sink us?
We don’t just want to hear Stuart, we want to hear all our leaders away from their traditional stomping grounds, spurred on I-am-your-man-’til-the-end supporters; we don’t want manifestoes one week before election date, we want them now so they can be scrutinised.
What say you, Prime Minister Stuart? What say you, Mr. Arthur?