Manifesto litmus test
When applying for a job or entrance to a university it is customary to attach a letter or an essay with your resume. These cover notes are the first screening point and either intentionally or otherwise becomes the first impression.
By the same token, people read the titles and covers of books before making a decision to read or purchase the book.
For all the above, I believe that the same litmus test should be put to manifestoes. It is easy to put together a set of ideas that sounds or looks good, but though necessary, is not sufficient. In the book, Three Laws of Performance, the authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan argue that generative language lays the performance for change. Indeed the second law states: How a situation occurs arises in language.
Besides character, context and performance, the other issue in examination is truth which Emerson, a renowned philosopher describes in this way “the greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it”.
Since governance is a serious matter, I used the above as a lens to drawn some conclusions about the manifestoes:
The BLP’s cover has a large picture of Arthur’s face. This concept was used in a previous campaign. The DLP’s cover has a picture of Stuart embracing a female with a background comprising several projects. One entry point is Arthur alone. The other shows some kind of relationship.
Both themes use comparative language. The BLP’s promise of a “Better Tomorrow” can certainly imply that the current is good, and, their promise is that better can be done. This is similar in concept to the DLP’s request for another term some year’s ago — How long is too long, if it is good? The DLP’s theme “Continuing On Pathways To Progress”, is definitely a plea not to change. Neither theme has an implied intent like “Empowering A People By Design”
The most significant difference in these statements is the way language us used and the organisation of thoughts. The opening statement signed by Arthur does not give a context, does not include a clearly defined thesis statement and the general use of language can be easily described as “fight talk”. Stuart’s letter describes a manifesto as a declaration of intent and presented as a structured argument.
Arthur’s letter titled, “We Offer You Leadership” has an interesting opening paragraph: “These are difficult economic times. Too many Barbadians are hurting. All across our nation, people are struggling to pay their ever increasing electricity and water bills. More families than ever before are feeling the strain of ever increasing costs to keep a roof over their head, gas in the tank and food on the table.”
Note the word Barbados could be replaced by America, or England, St. Lucia and survive a fact check. The next two paragraphs are filled with fighting language and describe the current Government as failed, weak, doing nothing, without ideas or solutions, and waiting for the International community to fix our economic problems. In particular the line, “The current leadership is doing nothing” sets itself up for the retort: How can Arthur know what the Government is doing when he is never in Parliament — that is of course if Stuart’s 68-hour claim is true.
Another paragraph identifies the Barbados Labour Party as the party with a proven record:
“The BLP is a team of strong and effective leaders with a proven record of creating jobs and uplifting our people. When the BLP left office, Barbados enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in our history. We created over 30,000 new jobs. Our economy grew by nearly 12% in the last three years of our administration. That’s leadership – leadership that delivers jobs and opportunities for all Barbadians.”
Here is the central argument, but no declaration of intent or world view. Seldom does the author speak for self and when a statement of declaration is introduced it is never defined.
“A better Tomorrow for a Better Barbados – this is our promise, this is our pledge.”
In contrast, Stuart’s message is structured, tells you what to expect and delineates a vision:
“A Barbados that is socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound and characterized by good governance. These pillars are further explained in summary detail.”
The importance of language, context, and declaration is clearly demonstrated in the debate in the House of the Assembly, that introduced a resolution calling on Britain to convene the Barbados Independence Conference of January 4, 1966. Back then, the late Errol Barrow spent a large portion of his speech increasing awareness of the history of Barbados from the early days and expressed a wish that nobody would get up and ask stupid questions.
Listen to his language: “I am a penniless politician, but I want to remain an honest one, and if you want to be honest with people, you have to tell them the plain facts of life. If they do not like the decisions taken by the government in office they have recourse to the ballot box.” Page 73 – Speeches by Errol Barrow (Hansib Publication)
In terms of content, there is overlap of ideas. My preference is for the Barrow or Bloomberg — the Mayor of New York — approach where cause and effect are clearer and there are activities that touch the lives of the most, that create flow and that build networks, and that create opposition groups. In this way we can separate application of an idea to a small country versus a large country.
That being said, the DLP’s manifesto is a superiorly structured document and framework that the social partnership and others could build on. We could begin with the pillars of growth and amend or adjust. I, for example, would upgrade the pillar on education to Human Enterprise Capital that would represent the collective experience of our workforce and students. Just imagine a data base of our workforce by skills code. The challenge would be find productive work for civil service rather that lay offs.
While both manifestoes mention the concept of innovation, there are few, if any ideas that truly show thinking outside the box. Example; Air Conditioned Bus pooling, zero garbage, mobile police centres and staggered working hours as energy saver.
Finally, I do not sense that we have the political will to tackle transformational issues. The large import stream of goods is an easy route for private sector profit and government revenue.
Clearly there is conflict between what needs to be done and the effort to do it. This dissonance is best expressed by the view of Peter Drucker who believes that “every organisation must be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive”. Maybe, we despise colonialism but are happy with a dependency on government for the single reason that we get pleasure from crucifying each other.