It’s early days yet –– and a day in politics is a long time, far less another two years –– but I feel comfortable enough today, based on my continuing analysis of public opinion, to call the next general election for the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Barring some cataclysmic development for the BLP between now and then, there’s hardly likely to be any major reversal of plummeting political fortune for the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
Earlier this week, two days after the third anniversary of the DLP’s phyrric victory in the 2013 general election, the findings of a recent opinion poll were published that basically reinforced what every clear-minded follower of local politics would have been sensing for some time. Namely, that Barbadians have grown tired of struggling to make ends meet under the DLP and are eager to move past the Freundel Stuart administration which they see as ineffective and irrelevant to their needs and aspirations.
Reinforcing the conclusion of a CADRES Poll last year, the privately commissioned Systematic Survey sends what the BLP, especially its leadership, should interpret as a positive message from Barbadians: “We are inclined to go with you, but you first need to get your house in order.”
Therefore, the task before BLP leader Mia Mottley is to move with haste to devise and implement an effective strategy that addresses these concerns of Barbadians, puts their minds at ease, and clearly positions the BLP as the instrument through which they can achieve their desire for change.
Unless Prime Minister Freundel Stuart opts to go for an early election, which is unlikely before next year, Miss Mottley has ample time to address these issues, beginning firstly with her own perception and the perception that the BLP is not fully united behind her leadership.
She must begin internally by holding out an olive branch to disgruntled party members, seeking to heal wounds which currently exist and, by so doing, get the party united, focused and fully ready to respond to the call of the people.
The challenge facing Miss Mottley is not unique. David Thompson had to grapple with similar issues prior to winning the 2008 general election which returned the DLP to office after 14 years in Opposition. Readers should readily recall the bitter internal squabbling that for many years created the perception of a divided DLP.
Thompson too faced his own perception issues because the BLP propaganda machine had done such a good hatchet job on him that many Barbadians had serious misgivings about his ability to lead. He rose to the challenge and triumphed.
I, along with fellow political strategist Hartley Henry, can claim some credit for turning around Thompson’s image and the DLP’s fortunes. When then Prime Minister Owen Arthur singled out both of us by name for attack in his address to the final BLP annual conference before the 2008 general election, I quietly smiled. It was confirmation of the effectiveness of what we were doing, especially in repositioning the BLP in the minds of voters. If it were not so, Arthur would have simply ignored us. Miss Mottley, therefore, can draw inspiration from Thompson’s experience.
There are at least two other significant reasons why the next general election is the BLP’s to win. The first relates to the fact that the BLP tends to enter an election battle with a major psychological advantage over the DLP. The problem is largely of the Dems’ own making.
Compared with BLP supporters who generally come across as confident, even in the face of adversity, the Dems have consistently demonstrated a tendency not to believe in themselves. The DLP rank and file are more inclined to be filled with doubt, especially when things seem not to be going in their favour.
It is an issue with which I had to grapple as an adviser to David Thompson in the run-up to and during the 2008 election campaign. Even on the afternoon on Election Day when I visited DLP headquarters and said, “We are well on our way”, they were some who still doubted. Winning always begins through adoption of a winning mindset. Demoralized and disenchanted with the present leadership, DLP foot soldiers may simply not have the will to fight next time around. They also may not be motivated for another reason: many feel the present administration did not really look out for their interests. The DLP therefore faces a situation where the majority of its supporters may simply feel it is not worth the fight because they have nothing to lose and nothing to gain.
The second reason relates to the economy. The top concerns of Barbadians at this time, as identified by the Systematic poll, generally relate to the economy. Unemployment and other issues hampering their quest for a better life are directly related to Government’s management of the economy. Following the death of Errol Barrow and the subsequent loss of Dr. Richie Haynes, the DLP has grappled with a perception since the economic crisis of the early 1990s that DLP governments are bad for the economy.
The experience of the last three years in particular, with all the pain and hardship, has only served to cement this negative perception of the DLP in the public mind. In contrast, the BLP enjoys a perception of being good for the economy and they can readily refer to what many Barbadians regard as good times during its 14-year tenure under Owen Arthur. This perception informs a comment occasionally made by many Barbadians that when the BLP is in government, the private sector demonstrates greater confidence and spends more money which benefits the economy and, by extension, the population.
Ironically, the DLP’s credibility on the economy suffered another major blow this week. The Caribbean Development Bank, in giving its 2016 outlook for the region, forecast that the Barbados economy will more grow by around 0.9 per cent, in contrast with the 1.5 per cent predicted by the Government. Compared with the Central Bank whose credibility some Barbadians have started to question, the CDB stands out as a reputable institution on economic matters. This development follows last year’s debacle in which the Government initially forecast one per cent growth but, by the third quarter, had revised the figure downwards to 0.5 per cent.
Overall, therefore, the odds of winning are more in the BLP’s favour than the DLP’s. In fact, the journey to defeat for the Dems started with the outcome of the last general election. With little to stand on, the DLP’s strategy for the next election is highly likely to be a carbon copy of 2013.
To divert public attention from their many failings, they will put the focus on Miss Mottley in the hope of getting Barbadians to view the election as a referendum on her suitability to lead, as they did with Owen Arthur in 2013.
Such a strategy, however, is unlikely to work this time. When it boils down to the final choice, worries about declining opportunities for a better life will most likely lead Barbadians to conclude that going with the BLP, even with its faults, is a far better option than the prospect of continuing uncertainty and hardship under the Dems.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.