The unpopularity of the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration begs the question whose vote can they count on when the bell for the next election is rung. Or, put another way which I heard recently, “who voting for Dem?”
Barbados has not benefitted from a public opinion poll measuring the viability of the political principals for some time now. However, it is difficult not to notice that the current DLP administration seems to be out of favor with Barbadians. Thus, it is now their job to reverse the tide. If the DLP is to win the next election, it will be through the creation of a compelling campaign narrative that diminishes their opponents’ support and leaves “dem” as the only option for leadership.
Narratives are central to political success but we know by now that surely they need not to be reflective of any particular historical accuracy or truth, the single objective of the narrative is to be effective. To take the air out of the room, to make all other options which previously appeared reasonable to the electorate wholly unreasonable.
Electorates are divided into two camps: the die-hards and the independents. Die-hard voters are those who stick with a party or a candidate pretty much regardless of performance. In the DLP context, these are most likely individuals loyal to the founding fathers of the party and their early work, or individuals who have some personal connection to the political institution.
The party will be able to depend on them in what is set to be a tough campaign where it should be difficult to make an argument about what is going well. Perhaps, a line from one of the more popular songs out of Trinidad Carnival this year describes the support of the die-hard best: “the treasury could bun down; economy could fall down; they jamming still.”
Admittedly, the die-hards are less important in any race than the independents.
The political principals in this election, as in every previous one, will jostle for the support of the independents who will ultimately determine how power is distributed post-election. As independents constitute the group of voters who are presumed to consider issues the most deeply among the population, it is to them that the DLP will be making its most desperate pitch.
It is the job of the DLP to convince independent voters that things could not have been any better under them than they were, that any alternatives are bad, and that a new mandate for “dem” is best. The party’s aim, through the use of the narrative, will be to get the independent voter to forget some things, in a type of strange cognitive dissonance, and deeply believe others.
Any person who votes for the DLP in the next election has to believe that the economic recession of 2008 impacted the ability of the party to have any economic success to boast of early on and even now. This argument, in reality, should be difficult to make at a time when many countries are growing economically and have stopped blaming that bad time back in 2008 for any shortfalls.
This adds to the fact that the economic plans of the Government and their revisions have failed time and again and should cause the DLP to end up with what is the most unconvincing argument in Barbadian electoral history. Because of the difficulty of the economic argument and the fact that no matter who the DLP supporter is — university student, single mother, businessman — they have felt the impact of the Government’s policies or conversely have not, no substantive economic argument might be made at all.
The DLP may be more minded, therefore, to make a moral argument as per the instructions of Minster of Finance Chris Sinckler in a speech to party faithful at the end of 2016. These arguments will be defined by a barrage of personal attacks on the personalities in the BLP in an attempt to paint them as unfit to led. As I have said before, this attempt to leverage moral identities and to pit sections of the country against each other would represent the worst of our politics. Nonetheless, this could make for a compelling and successful narrative, unfortunate but successful nonetheless.
In a system where the electorate casts a ballot for a candidate and not the party, the easiest choice for the DLP voter rests in some of their candidates; those who are the most active and earnest members of a team of slow coaches. Minster of Commerce and International Business, Donville Inniss, is perhaps as good an example of this as could be found. Inniss is someone for whom there is goodwill and support due in part to his willingness to appear to “call a thing a thing” and offer lukewarm critiques of his colleagues. Inniss and candidates like him may represent the largest degree of hope for a party which has a tough sell to make.
The DLP eked out a win at the last election at a time when it was clear that public support was waning. With a slim win, they had the opportunity to not start anew but adopt a new style of leadership; one characterized by responsiveness and a deeper appreciation of policy and its implications. It is safe to say that that was an opportunity wasted.
Barbadians who vote for the DLP in the next election may fall for one of these things, or maybe they will fall for all. In any regard, the DLP voter in the next election is perhaps the most perfect of emblems for what it takes to get us to where we have gotten, and exactly how much more we are willing to bear.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture)