Elections are approaching and last week the battle lines were drawn.
Mia Mottley capped off her Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) annual conference with a fiery speech outlining her plans for moving the country forward.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler also delivered a speech calling his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) troops to order. However, there was a great deal about this speech that we should all find reprehensible and troubling.
In remarks at a joint meeting of the DLP’s Christ Church constituency branches, Sinckler cautioned there were “[political] forces gathering that have a particular agenda to impose on the people of Barbados and it was not the agenda that you or I or that our parents and our children and that right thinking people in Barbados want or can afford at this time in the 50th year of our Independence”.
“The discourse in this election, whenever it is called, will have to be about the morals of Barbados, because if they [Opposition political forces] feel that many of us good Christian soldiers are going to roll over and play dead, whilst they rampage around Barbados and bring their form of thinking to this country, they have another thing coming,” he said.
Sinckler did not zero in on a specific issue in his appeal but there is one issue that we speak about in this way as the imposition of a foreign agenda. There is one issue which has been often cited as evidence of moral decay. As such, it has become a touchstone for those looking for one more way to divide an already fractured country.
This moral undercurrent has existed beneath more pressing issues. Issues like economic decline and job loss, unreliable access to water for too many citizens, the non-collection of garbage, and the imposition of university fees. Issues for which this DLP government has failed to find solutions and in many instances has not even postured as if the issues are theirs to fix.
So it is no surprise that Sinckler chose to relegate any substantive analysis of the issues to the endnotes of his speech when he said “I am going to speak about the economy, but I want to make this point very clear tonight.” By any objective standard, Sinckler and his team have underperformed and so, to do that, is as astute a move as could be made at this late stage.
In the absence of a sound record for the DLP to run on, he thought it fit to create a moralistic bogeyman made of straw, all in an attempt, it seems, to make electors believe that despite the DLP’s dismal performance, that if they make another choice at the polls, they all risk turning into pillars of salt. It must be noted that this is not the first time that there has been such an appeal or a veiled and coded attack on the BLP as immoral.
Some of Sinckler’s colleagues have preceded him in these ad hominem attacks but this is the first time it has been placed in such blatantly political terms. Let’s be clear in some ways that this is our fault as an electorate, because we have never made it clear to legislators and public officials that it is reprehensible to traffic in intolerance, implicit as it may be, and sell it as political narrative or public policy.
We have made it so that Sinckler seemingly believes that this dog whistle and carnival bark of a speech may just be compelling enough to ensure that whenever the next election is called, he and team are able to maintain power, having ridden a wave of intolerance to its crest.
As unfortunate as Sinckler’s comments were, none of us should be confident enough to suggest that they will not be effective. Barbadians are a people who deeply cherish their moral identities and there is a chance that they may vote in keeping with those convictions.
In addition, we have seen propaganda and untruths
energize voters in the not too distant past. We all remember
the DLP-produced bus ad of the 2013 election cycle, in which it was suggested that a BLP government would mean the privatization of the Transport Board and doom for pensioners across the land.
The ad undoubtedly was one of the more
clever creations in Barbadian campaign history.
It can only be hoped that the Christian force to whom Sinckler directed his appeal will consider broken promises and inaction in the face of dire consequences to be a breach of their moral code as well, and not fall for the folly of this outreach from a party that has not only reneged on promises, but has apparently forgotten them altogether.
Democracy is about choices made based upon the issues. Both parties should be outlining a way forward for the country, and there should be many more things to vote for, than vote against. For voters, there are track records to be evaluated, although the evidence could not be more glaring that we, as a nation, have regressed leap years in the last eight years.
That aside, neither party should take the next general election for granted, for no candidate should believe victory is a fore drawn conclusion. There can be no sacred cows when so many people have been sacrificial lambs.
However, this is not an issue. Instead, it is an attempt at othering and an attempt at hoodwinking average Barbadians. It is insidious, nasty and an insult to the intelligence of Barbadian electors.
Implicit in democracy is the belief that your opponent is worthy, and a commitment to fight them on their ideas, to tussle on that which they have done, and not who they are.
This is a low moment for our democracy in this our 50th year. To let this be without express objection, would be a slight of all who came before us including and especially the Father of Independence. Intolerance and bigotry take root in the absence of adequate opposition.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s in international trade policy and is currently pursuing a law degree)