The challenge of relevance for Dems at 60
The ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) concludes its annual conference this Sunday when president and political leader Prime Minister Freundel Stuart delivers the customary keynote address, which is the usual highlight
of proceedings on the final day.
In the Barbadian political party context, presidential addresses at such events are usually of a partisan nature and designed primarily to fire up the political base. However, in cases where the president is also the Prime Minister, such speeches occasionally give insights into the Government’s thinking and plans in relation to certain policy issues.
This year’s annual conference has special significance for the Dems.
It coincides with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the party, which represents a significant achievement and milestone. It also coincides with the midpoint of the party’s second term in Government since winning the 2008 general election. At a national level, the conference is also taking place against a backdrop of considerable public concern and anxiety.
There is concern and anxiety over an escalation of gun-related crime, which has claimed a few lives this year; deviance among the youth, especially young men; increasing cases of banks and financial institutions foreclosing on homes belonging to Barbadians who have lost their jobs or businesses, or have otherwise run into hard times. There is also concern and anxiety about the Cahill project and the generally sluggish state of the economy.
These are but a few examples. In light of a recent Government statement that suggested the administration was looking to improve its communication with the public, an area where the DLP has consistently scored poorly,
Mr Stuart’s address on Sunday could make a difference if it demonstrates to the country that the Government is indeed serious about turning a new leaf where public engagement is concerned.
While satisfying the needs of the political base is understandable, the speech more importantly is an opportunity for Prime Minister Stuart, as Head of Government and leader of the country, to speak with clarity on the issues that matter to Barbadians at this time. The objective of the speech, from a national perspective, must be to give hope where there is despair by demonstrating that Government is fully on top of the issues from the standpoint of having workable solutions.
Interestingly, the DLP has extended an invitation for the general public to come to its George Street, Belleville headquarters on Sunday to hear the Prime Minister’s address. Instead of an offering of political harangue, words of hope and direction are what, we believe, visitors will be looking forward to. And they have every right to expect such, because in remarks at the start of the conference, Mr Stuart himself indicated DLP annual conferences were about serious discussion of issues.
Considering this comment, Barbadians should also take a keen interest in what comes out of the conference in terms of decisions to see what meaningful impact they are likely to have on changing people’s lives for the better. Interestingly too, Prime Minister Stuart had also asked delegates at the start of the conference to help the Government come up with ideas to inform solutions that would “touch and heal every single household in the country”.
While the DLP can look back with satisfaction on its past accomplishments and its pivotal role in the modernization of Barbados under the enlightened and visionary leadership of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, it should be mindful that the successes which got them here will not take them there. In other words, how good an organization or person is, will be determined, not so much by the past, but more by what the organization or person does today.
The fact of the matter is that the DLP no longer enjoys the confidence of Barbadians on the scale as back then when it was considered the natural party of Government. Public dissatisfaction with the DLP’s management of the economy post-Barrow, and the resulting hardships experienced by the population have caused confidence to wane. It happened in the early 1990s and it has happened again under the present administration.
To regain public confidence, the DLP needs to reinvent itself if it wishes to remain viable in the politics of Barbados. Around the world, quite a few established parties which were dominant have gone out of existence after losing relevance.
Hopefully, this annual conference has started the process of renewal
for the DLP by generating ideas that will inform solutions that are relevant to the needs of Barbadians in the contemporary context –– in the same way that DLP policies of yesteryear were.