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Political personas

by Walter Edey

The February 21 election will present another occasion when a Prime Minister – who inherited the leadership role after the death of a predecessor – will face re-election.

The late Sir Harold St John lost the election and his seat in a “peanut race”, while Sir Lloyd Sandiford lost the Government, but has indelibly written his name in the history books for protecting the Barbados dollar.

So, will the strategy of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who clearly stated at the first DLP mass meeting that now that he had completed his exhibits he was ready to fight an election, make him third time lucky?

If the CADRES 2012 and 2013 polls are any guide, the absence of any major difference could suggest that the BLP has peaked and the DLP has stopped the bleeding. One could further argue to John public that Arthur is known and if Stuart – relatively unknown in the eyes of the public – is able to persuade his base that he has mettle, and runs a campaign which pushes the BLP on the defensive, a 17 – 13 outcome is an optimistic DLP view.

While campaigns produce winners, they carry an internal push and pull or exchange of votes that divides the difference in varying proportions that are determined by momentum generators.

Frank Blackman, a games master at Harrison College and one of Barbados’ 100 yards champions, was a master at the art of managing momentum. He used eight poles of reference to execute this sprint. He would, for example, use the point at which the sound gun left his ears to change the angle which his body made with the ground to a more upright posture that allowed him to float for the next 60 yards.

Blackman would instil in his athletes the need to look straight ahead and run through the tape without looking left or right. William Bourne did not follow instructions and, as he looked left for his rival, Sam Scott breasted the tape, and won the race.

Elections also have poles of reference and can be lost or won by message discipline and outliers. Here are a few historical examples:

* Sybil Leacock won a St. Peter by-election by one vote which was later contested in the court. The court ordered a rerun. During the second election severe flooding occurred. Some posited that it was the use of political largesse that gave Arthur the seat that started his political career.

* In the 1986 election Dr. Don Blackman broke his two-year silence with a political thread that took root and shaped a campaign which pitted the BLP as the party of the rich and the DLP as the poor man’s party, which matched the shared advertising dollars.

* In a St. Philip constituency, a candidate changed the minds of a small voting block by simply holding a party and playing the saxophone. The candidate won the box and the election by eight votes.

For better or worse, one can argue that in the vacuum caused by the perceived non-engagement of PM Stuart – any check with media reports will show that Stuart did indeed speak to many constituent groups but not in response to the BLP – allowed the BLP to define the DLP. One recent example is the false claim about the life of Parliament, which was accepted as true by some. Commonsense dictates that for Parliament to end, its life span can only be counted from the time it started.

Another example is the view that the impact of the world recession is something of the past, even though many countries are in financial crisis. Two more recent examples: the method of announcing the dissolution of Parliament and a change of heart with regard signing a code of conduct for the elections.

One political strategy thread that will be tested is Stuart’s silence and non-engagement of the Opposition and if in the eyes of Barbadians, it is a personality or a leadership flaw.

So far, unlike Prime Ministers Barrow, Adams and Arthur, Stuart’s personality does not appear to be robust and in your face. To date he has not fired anyone or rearranged the pecking order.

Using classical behaviour styles and terms, Stuart appears to be a high C – compliance. Bill Clinton is a C. Cs seldom complain and makes the most of any situation. Some are perfectionists and strives for quality. Under stress C’s, for example, prefers to read good books or do something that is quiet.

Arthur is a D – Dominant. Most of our leaders have been D’s. D’s are autocratic and in organisations are restless if they are not at the top. A D tends to focus on the task and can be insensitive to people’s feelings. The continual call for elections are consistent with the D’s personality, who likes to create confrontational environment in order to get attention.

In the Bible, Paul for example is a D and Moses a C. Both of them were leaders in their own right, so is it true to say that one is better than the other? Truth be told if we choose examples from the Bible, it is clear that there are horses for courses. In other words, if you need a carpenter, don’t go looking for a teacher. Paul influenced the part – church, while Moses connected to the whole – the people.

The debates in the recent American election provide classic examples of the impact of personalities and their management on campaigns. In the end it was the sensitivity of President Obama and the connection to women and social issues that prevailed.

Now will there be television debates? And who if any, will sweat. Recall the Barrow/Adams debate and a perspiring Barrow who was perceived as nervous.

One other point of interest. In the 1961 elections, J.E.T. Brancker was the leader of the DLP, but Errol Barrow – by virtue of his profile in the campaign ended up as Premier. To what extent will the performance of Mia Mottley and Chris Sinckler impact the elections? Will a rivalry between these two bring the young people into the fray?

Now that the political battle has begun in earnest, one will soon know the heart of the campaign but await the size of the turn out and the impact of the elections.

Contrary to what many believe, governments always lose, opposition parties never win. If the Government looses it will have nothing to do with the economy as the recent American political campaign showed.

The Alexandra affair is a gift horse in the mouth and the education wicket is an area of historical ownership and credibility. Performance, however good and necessary, only views life through the short term lens where emotions become rampant, selfish, of the flesh and always personal.

Hope, needs a long term lens. It is a conversation about the impossible. We need a conversation that will attract the attention of the Caribbean. We need to do at least two things: redefine education and empower our educational leaders, our teachers and our students.

This will not happen if elections, manifestoes, and the corridors of political power remain the pillars of growth and change.

We have had clear evidence that political musical chairs will not resolve current world challenges.

It is my hope that one of the manifestos contains an instrument for a reduction in the size of the Ministry of Education and the creation of a Human Enterprise Council and Research Foundation that would advise Government, rationalise and manage the existing school system.

We need to show our children that they are worth more than transfers. We also need to remember that it was from Speightstown that our exports left for Charlestown, South Carolina.

* Walter Edey is a Barbadian now resident in the United States.

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