As was easily predictable, the Democratic Labour Party’s strategy in this general election campaign has turned out to be a virtual carbon copy of the approach used back in 2013 when Barbadians last went to the polls.
The overriding objective is the same: provide an escape route for the DLP government to avoid coming under intense scrutiny over its poor performance record, especially in relation to the management of the economy, by targeting and relentlessly attacking the main opposition party leader in the hope that she is seen by voters as the campaign issue.
It happened to Owen Arthur in 2013, when the Dems effectively turned the election into a referendum on his suitability to become prime minister again, basing the case for his rejection on certain character flaws.
Fully aware that they could not fight Arthur and win on the economy, the Dems resorted to whipping up an emotional frenzy against the former prime minister, tapping into negative experiences and manipulating real fears which Barbadians had expressed. The plan succeeded. The Dems won a second term, barely scraping home with a two seat majority.
This time around, they are doing the same to Mia Mottley who is leading the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) into a general election for the first time. The only difference is that the attacks on her have been more savage, sustained and downright nasty in some cases, as was quite evident at the Dems’ campaign launch in Waterford. For five hours, speaker after speaker took turns on Mottley, instead of productively using the opportunity to spell out, clearly and convincingly, what steps a third term DLP government would take to make life better for Barbadians who today are collectively worse off after 10 years of DLP government.
The truth of the matter is that while some Barbadians, particularly die-hard Dems, may find temporary amusement in the gladiatorial savagery displayed by their leaders, attacking Mottley leaves Barbados and Barbadians no better off at the end of the day. The same vexing economic and social problems which have annoyed the average Barbadian for the last eight years in particular, will still be there in the continued absence of any clearly defined solutions put forward by the Dems.
If anything, an unwelcome consequence of the Dems’ strategy may very well be a more politically polarised society which can undermine the country’s recovery and development prospects. In what can be considered as a clear divide-and-conquer tactic pitching “them” versus “us”, the Dems have sought to resurrect historically sensitive class issues through a political narrative, directed specifically at the average Barbadian of working-class origins and grounded in the experience of colonial Barbados over 50 years ago.
In execution of the strategy, DLP speakers have repeatedly used highly emotive language to associate Mottley, who spent a large portion of her formative years in working class Eagle Hall, St Michael, with “bloodline politics”, “Sandy Lane”, “privilege”, “conservatism” and “two Barbadoses”. The subtle message being conveyed to Barbadians is that they should re-elect the Dems, never mind their poor management record, because the Dems are like the average Barbadian while Mottley represents “them” and should be rejected, even though she has presented to Barbadians, from a policy perspective, a better alternative for the economy and country.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has repeatedly said the Dems have nothing to be ashamed of as far as their record over the past ten years is concerned. That being the case, a pertinent question which must be asked is – why are they spending so much time seeking to “explain” Mottley instead of explaining “success stories” which would resonate with Barbadians? The obvious answer is that there is precious little to speak of because there is a disconnect on a fundamental issue.
The “progress” of which the Dems speak on the campaign trail, is generally regarded by Barbadians as their “regression” based on personal experience of being pauperized by DLP policies. It is quite easy to explain the Dems’ obsession with Mottley using simple logic. Isn’t it a natural human reaction to go after anyone or anything which is seen as a threat?
If a colourful butterfly enters a woman’s bedroom through the window, rushing for the Baygon is unlikely to be her immediate response. Rather, she is more likely to ignore the butterfly, or may actually admire its beauty, knowing very well that it will eventually leave. However, if she sees a centipede on the wall, regardless of how small, the rush for the Baygon would be instantaneous because of the fear of being stung.
The Dems are going after Mottley because, contrary to what they would have their supporters believe, they do see her as a major threat to their political survival in government, knowing fully well that Barbadians express far greater confidence in the competence of the BLP on economic matters. Actions always speak louder than words. Isn’t fixing the economy uppermost on the minds of Barbadians at this juncture?
With less than a week to go before election day, one can sense a general swing towards Mottley and the BLP. Barbadians are tired, indeed angry, over the persistent failure of the Dems to fix the country’s problems and are favourably disposed towards voting for change that would elect a BLP government. If Barbadians vent their anger on the Dems via the ballot paper, election night will not be a nice experience for them. Reminiscent of 1999, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
In Oistins last night, Prime Minister Stuart again demonstrated his ineffectiveness as a leader when the Dems officially launched their manifesto which, ironically, had been leaked and released to the public 24 hours earlier on a BLP platform. Instead of executing a flawless salvage operation by using what was a golden opportunity to rekindle hope, serving as chief marketer of the programmes and policies to be pursued by a third-term DLP government, Stuart’s focus was on the continuing DLP attempt to tear down Mottley. He also gave a history lesson about 1930s St Philip politics and then ventured for a little while into the magical world of Harry Potter.
If I were seriously thinking about giving the Dems another chance in this election, I would have had to change my mind. Stuart failed to present a credible and compelling reason why I should vote DLP. His issues and concerns bear little relation to mine or those of the average Barbadian. More than anything else, it is how each party proposes to solve the bread-and-butter issues which matter most to Barbadians, that will determine whether persons stay D, go B or elsewhere. Providing a clear answer to the “what’s in it for me?” question is crucial.
Time’s up for the Dems and the noticeably subdued voices on the platform in Oistins last night, suggest that reality is already beginning to sink in. The prevailing mood across Barbados clearly suggests the people are going with Mia. The shifting political tide serves as a reminder of an eternal truth found in Ecclesiastes. “There is a time and season for everything under the sun”.
The Dems’ season appears to be closing as the Bees’ season appears to be opening. After 10 years of the same old, same old, with clear signs of another five years of more of the same with the Dems, change would breathe new life into a moribund Barbados. The prosperity and happiness of Barbados must always be the primary consideration so that everyone wins.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist who is working for the Barbados Labour Party in the May 24, election campaign. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)