Anyone who has been closely following developments on the political scene, especially within the last month or so, would have noticed an increasing number of clear signs that the so-called “silly season” of pre-election politicking is truly under way.
For example, the number of ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) meetings on Sunday afternoons, as the incumbent seeks to mobilize its base in preparation for general elections, constitutionally due by the second quarter of next year.
The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) too has been busy in the field, stepping up voter contact in the various constituencies, especially following its annual conference last month. The BLP has also upped its presence on social media, the new battleground of politics, as it too moves to place its supporters on an election footing.
The relative newcomers have been at it too. At an Independence Square event over the weekend, Solutions Barbados presented its slate of candidates, while the United Progressive Party (UPP) has been busy making the rounds, holding public meetings at constituency level. However, the other first-timers in the fray, such as the Barbados Integrity Movement, have not been very visible.
In what is expected to be a particularly keen contest for electoral success, politicians on all sides of the divide will be slugging it out day and night over the coming months as they seek to deliver compelling messages which move hearts and capture minds. The overriding objective in each case is to convince the electorate that their respective platforms offer the best policy prescriptions for addressing the country’s ills.
The main weapon for waging political war in the arsenal of each party is language or, to be more precise, the effective and clever use of language. In the final analysis, however one looks at it, an election campaign boils down to nothing more than a battle of communication in which each contesting party is aiming to achieve victory through superiority of message.
Pursuing such often involves the use of a subtle marketing technique known as repositioning where a deliberate attempt is made by one side to plant an unfavourable image of the opponent in the mind of the voter. Repositioning succeeds if voters, who previously had a favourable image of the opponent, decides to reject him or her, and switch support, simply on the information delivered in the repositioning exercise.
Which raises the question of truth in politics. It is no secret that politicians often lie in pursuit of their objectives. In fact, it is recognition of this tendency to lie that has led to a major erosion of trust in politicians over the years. An insightful article on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), exploring this issue, recently revealed that it was possible to lie by telling the truth which, however, often has the effect of misleading the target audience.
“Misleading by ‘telling the truth’ is so pervasive in daily life that a new term has recently been coined to describe it: paltering,” wrote author Melissa Hogenboom.
“That it is so widespread in society now gives us more insight into the grey area between truth and lies, and perhaps even why we lie at all. We lie all the time, despite the fact that it costs us considerably more mental effort to lie than to tell the truth.”
Paltering is commonly used in politics. A good example is when a politician states another truthful fact to dodge answering a question he was asked. Research has found that the person doing the paltering believed it was more ethical than lying outright. However, the individuals who have been deceived as a result, did not distinguish between lying and paltering.
“Facts” have so far emerged as a major theme in the unfolding campaign. The side pushing the “facts” claims it is doing so, as a spokeswoman explained at an event over the weekend, to counter the “alternative facts” — meaning “lies” in the political lexicon of Donald Trump — being pushed by the other side. Who determines, however, what is fact? The sender or the receiver of the message?
The point must be made that, given the propensity to lie in politics, voters cannot always afford to take everything they are told at face value. It may appear to be gold but it may very well turn out not to be. The application of critical thinking is therefore crucial if voters are to separate fact from fiction in an ultimate search for truth.