“Politics, when all is said and done, is a business of belief and enthusiasm. Hope energizes, doubt destroys,” US journalist Hugh Sidney as quoted by former US congressman Chuck Hagel in 1979
Despite the seemingly multi party nature of Barbadian politics today, for all intents and purposes, the next Prime Minister will emerge from one of two parties only, and there is nothing remarkable in this. What may be remarkable is that Barbados may quite possibly have a female Prime Minister for the first time in its political history.
From my perspective, all evidence seems to point inexorably to this historical moment. I may be entirely wrong of course, for elections are strange creatures and the unexpected may occur. A lot depends on the readiness of the party on Election Day. Parties must quite simply bring out their supporters, and parties have been known to lose elections by a narrow majority in a single constituency by fewer than ten votes. Perhaps, just perhaps, even with all the constellation of forces pointing to a sure defeat at the polls for the Democratic Labour Party, the party may be able to pull a rabbit from a political hat, somehow.
The party remains headed by a political leader whose speech is very formal and who remains distant from the people. Yet, this is surely an election for the Barbados Labour Party to lose and the DLP to win. But there is much that has been committed by this administration that hangs heavy on the national psyche. It would seem an incontestable fact that political support and thus electoral support for the DLP was eroded with every occasion on which the Government was afforded publicity. And that was often. The big unfortunate for the DLP is that it took office during a period of global financial crisis which it has not been able to weather well.
Indeed, throughout 2017, (and recent is important) the one worthy action that this Government has appeared to take is the decision to appoint a Governor General who by all measures is a popular choice with Barbadians from all walks of life. Of course appointments like these cannot be divorced from the debate on the relative merit of retaining this archaic and colonial symbol of British domination and control. But even the Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, despite recent statements, was quick to lend her support to the appointment.
Still by extension, given recent political developments in the country, at least two other would-be hopefuls have thrown their hats into the Prime Minister’s wrestling ring. Grenville Phillips of Solutions Barbados and Lynette Eastmond of the UPP. The question is, are they credible candidates? Are they popular choices? I do not sense that there is much enthusiasm for these new parties and their leadership sufficient to translate into a victory at the polls. Certainly neither candidate is imbued with the political charisma which Caribbean people so value. And that is speaking mildly! I do not believe that either leader has made a visible mark on the nation that is likely to appeal to an electorate which appears to be hungry for change. Given the rancour directed by new parties at the current administration and Ms Mottley in particular, it also appears that the politics of these organizations is to block and frustrate her political ambitions, and that is something that the BLP must be conscious of and engage in appropriate action to negate its potential impact.
Speaking of political ambitions, when associated with a woman, the narrative is often negative. So though Ms Mottley may exude many attributes associated with political ambition and leadership, unlike many of her male counterparts she is held to a higher standard. This is the doubly damned that confronts women with political ambitions. This must be frustrating, especially as we are often told that women lack political ambition and that such an absence is what explains the gender gap in politics. Is she up to it? Well 2018 will tell.
Who has the personality to be a good prime minister?
The leadership style of prime ministers is normally seen as a function of the situational environment and or to the specific institutional structure in which they operate. Be that as it may, how do you explain the difference in leadership ability of different political leaders operating within similar institutional context and impacted by similar situational circumstance? While I have said elsewhere that opportunity structure will certainly define a leader’s ability, nonetheless part of the answer has to do with personality.
We know that it takes all kinds of personalities to lead political parties and ultimately, if successful, Government. And this is important because often political leaders are crucial to the electoral chances of a political party. Indeed, the personalities and personal behaviour of political leaders whether prime ministers and leaders of the opposition for instance, are likely to influence the vote and therefore the outcomes of entire elections. I am aware that in our system even though leadership matters, often it redounds to the work of, and likability of the individual candidates, for after all, unless there is a massive swing away from a party and or there is a significant number of marginal constituencies, general elections under Westminster are a series of small contests in several constituencies.
Today I am going to borrow from the field of psychology and specifically the work of Steve Rubenzer, Denise Ones and Tom Faschingbauer who measured how experts such as historians, political scientists and biographers perceived job performance of past presidents. The authors contended that generally there are five’ big personality traits. These are:
➢ Extroversion, meaning that the individual is friendly, enthusiastic, full of energy;
➢ neuroticism, a trait manifesting tense, moody, depressed;
➢ openness, such personalities are defined by being curious, imaginative, and inventive;
➢ agreeableness lends itself to persons being sympathetic, unselfish, and modest; whilst
➢ a leader showing conscientiousness tends to be organized, self-disciplined, competent.
Clinical psychologist Leonard Holmes concurs with this assessment and argues that “great presidents were not only stubborn and disagreeable, but were also more extroverted, open to experience, assertive, achievement striving, excitement seeking, and more open to fantasy”.
Which one of these personality types exhibited greater leadership ability? In the opinion of the authors, openness of individuals to experience was the best predictor of performance of chief executives in the United Sates. They contended that successful CEOs in the United States have tended to show a greater ability to handle themselves in difficult situations. Moreover, they are assertive and forceful, yet, at the same time, cheerful and optimistic, with high energy levels. Does this not sound like Barack Obama? A personality type 1, 3, 4, and 5. An extrovert, open, agreeable and conscientious. Most commentators would agree that all of the above make for a charismatic leader. That intangible which has the capacity to attract followers because they have the ability to inspire and captivate others.
Such individuals display a greater ability to re-examine their social, political and religious values, and though they are likely to stretch the truth, it was also deemed to be a predictor of performance. For the authors, being low on straightforwardness ought not to be translated to mean a dishonest or manipulative person, instead it could be interpreted to mean displaying tactfulness and diplomacy. To be clear, we are not referring here to alternative facts and to Trumpism.
If we believe that there is some merit in these arguments, then we must weigh the personalities of all the would-be aspirants to the prime ministership of Barbados and this includes Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. What kind of prime minister has he been over the last seven years? Was he successful as a prime minister? We cannot from all appearances describe him as an extrovert, but is he open, conscientious and agreeable? And what of Ms Mottley? Politically all we have to judge her by is her work in the ministry of Education and Culture, as Attorney General of Barbados and of course political leader of the BLP. She is indeed an intellectual powerhouse. What of millennials who would be unfamiliar with her in these roles? But we have seen her in her capacity as Leader of the Opposition with the trials, tribulations and optimism. In many respects the current Prime Minister and Ms Mottley appear to be polar opposites. Would one make a better leader than the other based on personality type acting in concert with the political opportunity? We will have to wait and see.