If Barbadians were paying close attention to domestic politics last weekend, they would have seen evidence of a sharp contrast which is emerging between the two parties vying to form the island’s next government following general elections less than a year and half away.
There was, on one hand, the image of a confident, upbeat and purposeful Barbados Labour Party (BLP) articulating aspects of an imaginative policy agenda, days after finalizing an attractive slate of mostly new candidates who come from different professional backgrounds.
The agenda speaks, among other things, of a bold strategy for revitalizing the ailing Barbados economy beginning with the restoration of confidence which has nosedived under the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
It speaks as well of reforming our outmoded governance model to bring it in step with 21st Century reality. There is also a commitment to practising what can best be described as “family-friendly” government.
On the other hand, we saw evidence of an intellectually bankrupt, tired and despairing DLP. Having failed to deliver on the economy and to improve the collective well-being of Barbadians after eight years in office, the DLP, like a drowning man catching at straws, latches on to morality as its great defender in the hope of finding electoral salvation with the obvious support of its conservative Evangelical political allies, with whom such a call to arms will powerfully resonate.
After George Pilgrim’s prediction of a political bloodbath at last weekend’s BLP annual conference failed to materialize, the DLP’s decision to make an issue of morality, as if it has suddenly become an offshoot of the US Republican Party, was obviously calculated to shift public attention away from Miss Mottley’s well-received annual conference address which outlined her vision for taking Barbados forward.
I will return to the DLP tactics of despair later on. Needless to say, the tragedy which has befallen the once great party of Errol Barrow and Cameron Tudor is that its brand identity and reputation are so badly damaged that its own members are no longer clear about what it stands for, far less the average Barbadian who is even more confused.
For sure, the DLP can no longer claim to be the party of education. By introducing tuition fees for Barbadians to study on Cave Hill, despite assurances from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that such would not happen, the DLP has repudiated the cornerstone policy which Barrow and Tudor had put in the place in the 1960s. Similarly, it can no longer claim to be the party of the small man. Ordinary Barbadians have suffered the most under the DLP’s draconian policies.
I will readily admit that when I was aligned to the DLP and wearing their partisan blinkers, I was among Miss Mottley’s critics. In fact, in a political article published in another place, I had referred to her as a woman “in a hurry” during her first incarnation as BLP leader. However, the Mia Mottley I am seeing today, through non-partisan lens, has grown in stature and has matured politically. She reminds me of David Thompson in the run-up to the 2008 general election after he was finally able to shake off the perception which had dogged him for years, that he was just not leadership material.
Miss Mottley’s governance reform plan captures my interest. Since returning from Canada after a year immersed in the study of modern political practice, I have consistently made the point, in this column and elsewhere, that in order to fix the economy, the politics must be fixed simultaneously because of the symbiotic relationship between the two. Miss Mottley’s plan, therefore, offers some of what I believe is best for Barbados.
Political decisions inform public policy which impacts on all aspects of the economy. Getting the politics right, therefore, is indispensable to getting the economics right. The study of political management fully opened my eyes to how badly our system of governance is in need of reform.
Improving governance, however, is clearly not a priority for the DLP. Otherwise, they would have honoured their 2008 election promises to provide more transparency and accountability through, among other things, passage of a Freedom of Information Act, adoption of a Code of Conduct for Ministers, and meaningful public engagement on a regular basis.
The BLP’s “family-friendly” approach to government is also imaginative. As Miss Mottley put it, “No household in Barbados shall go without a living income, whether it is from a job, a pension, NIS benefits, or through additional welfare-related benefits, or government working with civil society.” Many Barbadian families, pauperized by the DLP’s policies, are struggling to make ends meet, going some days without food to eat. Sounds incredible but this is a fact of life in 2016 Barbados.
The Dems do not have solutions to the serious problems facing Barbadians. Have you noticed their tendency sometimes to express concern about a problem without articulating a solution? In other cases, their response is, “Don’t blame me because I am not responsible” even though the buck stops with them.
Anytime a government lacks vision, the people perish. It was not surprising, therefore, that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler resorted to trumpeting morality as as he addressed a gathering of the Christ Church constituency branches last Sunday. The Dems may see morality as the panacea to their political problem but it does not provide food for hungry bellies or opportunity for those whose dreams for a better life have been shattered by DLP policies.
Will the Evangelicals realize that they are just the means to a political end? The Dems roped them into their winning coalition for the 2008 general election, not out of a genuine desire to promote Christian values, but specifically because the Evangelicals had significant votes to deliver once the leadership was massaged with the right messages. I was in the campaign engine room.
At any rate, the Dems lack credibility even on morality. When a party solemnly promises to do one thing during an election campaign but then proceeds after taking office to do the exact opposite, the betrayal raises moral questions. Weeks prior to the 2013 general election, Barbadians were told a vote for the DLP was a vote for public sector job protection because a BLP government would fire people left, right and centre. Months later, thousands were going home as casualties of a downsizing plan.
The danger of not standing for something is that it becomes easy to fall for anything. Such is the sad predicament of today’s DLP which finds itself like King Saul in the First Book of Samuel after the prophet informed him that he no longer enjoyed the divine favour. “The Lord told Samuel: ‘Saul has stopped obeying me and I am sorry that I made him king.’” It was downhill for Saul from then on and so it will be for the Dems.
The Bible, by the way, is replete with examples of Almighty Yahweh using persons considered sinful by men as instruments for working His divine purpose out. What this affirms is that God does not judge people by human standards. As demonstrated in the most unexpected case of Persian King Cyrus, related in the Old Testament, God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, especially when it comes to the liberation of His people.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)