Political parties in the English-speaking Caribbean generally do not relish the thought and experience of being in opposition. When the full reality is considered, their position is quite understandable.
The generally divisive and exclusionary approach to the practice of politics in this region, makes being in opposition not
a pleasant experience for the most part.
Our “winner-takes-all” electoral system ensures that almost all the spoils go to the ruling party, including effective control over how resources are to be distributed both nationally and at the individual constituency level. Left with next to nothing, opposition parties often find themselves unable to as effectively serve the needs of their political base
as they would like.
Long-standing Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Member of Parliament for St Andrew George Payne alluded to this challenge last week in remarks at the annual general meeting of his BLP constituency branch.
“I feel that I am not as good a representative as I should be, in that I cannot do the things [for St Andrew] . . . I was doing when the Barbados Labour Party was in Government,” he was quoted as saying.
At a personal level, opposition politicians sometimes suffer great inconvenience, especially if they do not have a profession that allows them to enjoy a high degree of financial independence. It is also not uncommon for known allies of opposition MPs to be overlooked for consideration in the award of government contracts, even though they may be well qualified
for the particular assignment.
Regrettably, such is opposition life in the tropics.
Yet opposition can be an exciting and rewarding time for a political party and politicians, if they rise above these challenges, focus on the big picture and adopt a positive mindset to performing their important constitutional role. Opposition presents a golden opportunity to stay connected with the pulse of the nation, gain clear insights into immediate needs and long-term aspirations and then to apply this information to tailor relevant, responsive, people-friendly policies for implementation in a future government.
Opposition also provides an opportunity for parties, especially after experiencing defeat, to engage in critical self-examination, assess the continuing relevance of policy positions, review the effectiveness of existing party structures and, where necessary, institute reforms aimed at building capacity, so that the party is strengthened and placed in a better position to be responsive to the needs of the people. Both major parties on this island are in need of reform.
Although working with ruling parties has obviously better advantages, I particularly enjoy working with opposition parties to get them ready for elections. Free of what can be described as the contaminating effect of state power, the leadership and candidates tend to be more down-to-earth, accessible, open-minded and receptive to criticism, advice and suggestions.
For me as a strategist, it is particularly rewarding to be involved in the full experience of helping an opposition party make the transition to government. It begins with an assessment of the political terrain, studying political competitors, identifying political opportunities, brainstorming on issues, designing an appropriate strategy and then watching public response as it is implemented on the road to victory on election night.
Going into this weekend’s annual conference, the opposition BLP has good reason to be in an upbeat and confident mood. The conference, taking place at the Christ Church Foundation School, coincides with the half-way point of the incumbent Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) generally lacklustre second term in office.
The choice of venue is of symbolic significance. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is a Foundation old boy. The BLP seems to making a statement that it is taking the fight to Stuart on his home turf and that their strategy for his political demise officially begins at Foundation this weekend and continues through to Election Day fait accompli.
Because of the DLP’s uninspiring management of the country’s affairs, the BLP is obviously sensing that the political pendulum is once swinging in its favour. Unless some major catastrophe occurs, I am sensing that the BLP will convincingly win the next general election, in the same way that I told a few doubting Thomases some months ago that Justin Trudeau would become prime minister of Canada, which he accomplished in Monday’s federal elections.
Peter Wickham’s CADRES Poll earlier this year showed quite clearly that a major swing in the BLP’s favour was taking shape. The dilemma which faces the DLP right now is that its credibility is so badly damaged that even if it were to start getting things right, it would still be wrong in the assessment of the average Barbadian who sees nothing other than the pain he or she has experienced as a result of the bruising DLP economic policies.
The Dems are making a fundamental mistake of trying to intellectualize politics to predict voter behaviour at the next general election. Political choices by the average voter are hardly ever made through the application of reason. Rather, they are mostly made on the basis of emotion –– that is, how the voter feels at the particular time about a party, leader, politician or issue.
In the case of the Dems, these feelings are generally negative. Turning around these feelings, even for the most experienced and skilled political strategist, represents an uphill, almost unachievable task.
Which leaves the BLP with a good batting wicket. Returning Hope To Our People, the theme of this weekend’s conference, is an appropriate choice in the present political circumstances of Barbados. In the last two and a half years, this DLP Government, in the name of economic austerity, has taken away significant benefits from Barbadians that represented the foundation of the good life we have enjoyed. What the Dems seem not to have realized is that they also took away hope.
The CADRES Poll showed significantly more voters favoured BLP leader Mia Mottley over Prime Minister Stuart. Based on how her political narrative is framed, Miss Mottley has a golden opportunity when she delivers her keynote address on Saturday, to reinforce this favourable perception and increase her ratings.
Her message must speak powerfully to hope, and present a clear strategy showing how this will be restored and why the BLP represents the better choice for voters.
The generation of hope, in a political context, is generally tied to the articulation of a realistic policy platform which voters believe provides the answer to their needs and can deliver the security of a better life to which they aspire. This is the universal yearning of every human being, whether he or she lives in Barbados, Great Britain or Timbuktu.
If the planning of this weekend’s annual conference is really effective, Miss Mottley and her team should be able to leave
the University of Church Hill on Sunday with higher public approval.
For this to happen, the conference must be designed to generate “bounce” –– a political term for a surge of public support that happens after a political event. The surge occurs whenever what has transpired resonates with the people, and gives them hope that better is coming in terms of solutions to the things they care about.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist.