Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s attempt to introduce classism into the general election campaign is nothing short of desperation, according to political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham.
In an address on Friday night to Democratic Labour Party (DLP) faithful at the opening gala of the party’s 62nd annual conference, Stuart charged that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur had betrayed his working class roots when he handed the reins of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), the country’s older political party, to Mia Mottley, something he said he had raised with Arthur in a private conversation.
He also promised to “explain the present leader of the Barbados Labour Party” to the Barbadian public during the campaign.
However, while stating that Stuart had to do what he thought was necessary to win the election, Wickham said playing the class card was a desperate thing to do.
“It is clearly an act of desperation, but also reflective of a political reality in which these issues are emotive. I also appreciate that a political party has to do what it can and I think that is something it can latch onto,” Wickham told Barbados TODAY.
The pollster, whose survey in June found that Stuart could muster only eight per cent support compared with 52 per cent for Mottley, came to the BLP leader’s defence, insisting that labelling her as a conservative was a perception that was far from the reality.
In fact, he said Stuart was peddling a rather emotive issue to diehard DLP supporters, hoping it would resonate.
“I will challenge anyone to tell me that it is one class of people that is currently prospering and one class of people that is currently suffering. The middle class and the working class are now in a worse situation than they have ever been,” he said.
“I think that . . . Stuart is speaking . . . to his base and that’s really all there is to it,” he added, going on to contend that the DLP had exploited both class and race in recent times, without providing details.
Wickham dismissed arguments that only members of the working class could toil tirelessly to promote the interests of their class, pointing to two of Barbados’ former leaders, whom he said had not come from the working class, but had done a lot for the country.
“If you look at Barbados’ history neither the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams nor the Right Excellent Errol Barrow were members of the working class. If you go across the region you have people like Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines who has effected significant change, Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Dr Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago and none of these are working class people.”
The leading Caribbean pollster delivered a damning critique of Stuart’s address, saying it was proof that the Prime Minister was living in a world of his own.
In Stuart’s world, he suggested, “the Democratic Labour Party is well qualified, is ready and is strong”, and none of the major issues confronting the country really exist.
“Stuart’s message was a message of readiness. I would say that the Prime Minister essentially continues to shrug off criticisms. He continues to ignore the naysayers, one could argue, and he sent a message that the party is strong and he is ready to deal with all the criticisms of him. What I think is also clear is that none of the concerns that have been raised in the public domain about the economic situation, the historic march that recently took place, none of that has affected him,” Wickham said, adding that an over-confident Stuart would call the election when he was ready and whenever he felt he was in the best position to triumph.
The June opinion poll found that the BLP had 51 per cent support, while support for the DLP was at an all time low of 11 per cent. Satisfaction with the DLP Government at the time was at 3.3 out of ten compared to 5.3 for the BLP, while 71 per cent of Barbadians said they would like a change of Government, compared with 48 per cent when the Government last changed in 2008.