So what was the big deal?
Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony and his St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) have lost the general election in that beautiful island. And we venture an opinion that his defeat at the hands of Allen Chastanet and the United Workers Party (UWP) was influenced by the intervention of political consultant Hartley Henry and other Barbadian operatives, as much as comedian Trevor Eastmond was responsible for the reported break-up of Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy in the United States last August.
Dr Anthony made much ado about the presence of Barbadians in St Lucia in the lead-up to the general election. Some in Barbados attempted to make a mountain out of the presence of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and companions Miss Debbie Hughes and Miss Lucille Moe in St Lucia during the general election.
While we appreciate the concerns of Dr Anthony might have been born out of a sense that Damocles’ sword was precariously perched above his head, the criticisms levelled against Miss Mottley, et al., were somewhat laughable.
Miss Mottley explained her presence in St Lucia, and we have no reason to doubt her. But had she been in St Lucia on a consultative basis for either the SLP or UWP, we would have applauded her had she stood tall and boldly admitted it. And we posit this view on the basis there is no sin in political cross-fertilization, as long as it is done openly and within the laws related to general elections in the countries where such activities are conducted.
The idea of political consultants moving throughout the Caribbean is nothing new. Indeed, we have had non-Caribbean political consultants making appearances in the region for decades. Jennifer Laszlo, a United States-based political consultant, was brought to Barbados by the Democratic Labour Party and paid significant sums for her contributions to their defeat at the polls.
It is known that Trinidadian Roy Boyke was brought to Barbados by the Owen Arthur administration to assist with successful Barbados Labour Party campaigns.
The fact is that political consultancy is a business –– a major moneymaking business especially for the consultants. It should perhaps be encouraged as one means for regional professionals to sell their skills throughout the Caribbean and hopefully outside the region to aid in the boosting of their individual economies.
But what really was all the fuss about? Is there much difference between political consultants and snake oil salesmen? Do political consultants truly make a difference in election outcomes? They are practically in a win-win situation in the Caribbean.
With most, if not all of the region being basically the domain of two-party political entities, a consultant has a 50 per cent chance of a positive result from his consultancy. However, we suggest that the thought of a political consultant really impacting, to any major degree, the outcome of a general election is to insult the intelligence of the electorate and to minimalize prevailing social circumstances.
There are certain basics such as joblessness, poverty, poor social infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, among others, that tend to sway voters from one party to another. Of course, there are the die-hards who will remain with one party or the other, even if they can show nothing for their loyalties.
Whatever political nous, razzmatazz, strategy, gimmickry, or sleight of hand consultants bring to a political campaign, they will have little or no impact on either a population where the majority are dining on the fatted calf, or conversely, on a people picking on the calf’s meatless bones like vultures.
There are some who would suggest there is more “con” in political consultancy than there is concrete evidence these professionals’ contributions have any real impact on changes of governments, especially in the Caribbean.
Writing in the Washington Monthly, Lee Drutman states that political candidates in the United States, on the advice of political consultants, work feverishly raising millions to spend on campaigns, especially in advertising and marketing. He notes that in the 2012 election, of the US$6 billion spent on the campaign, US$3.6 billion went to political consultants.
He also suggested that Donald Trump’s rocketing to the top of the polls demonstrated just how fickle political consultancy can be. Mr Trump has basically done and said everything that not many political consultants would advise him to, yet he is the most popular Republican leader in the country today.
Within the regional context, St Lucian voters would have been influenced in their political decision by their day-to-day existence, more so than by anything Mr Henry might have done, or Miss Mottley might have thought to do, but didn’t, because she was on holiday. But, we suggest that such political activity across the region is healthy within the context of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy, especially when done transparently.
Mr Henry might be the first to state we recently created too much of a storm in a teacup over the role of consultants. Theirs is a speculative profession and provides no guarantee of colliding with a positive result. After all, for all his professional successes across the region, Mr Henry is yet to benefit politically from his own consultancy.