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Division disguised as unity

EVERSLEY FilesAt the heart of politics, especially the bruising, divisive type practised in our neck of the woods, is a persistent jockeying for position and power among the various actors operating at different levels within the social structure.

In political parties, this conflict quietly simmers beneath the surface most of the time, giving onlookers who do not understand the true nature of politics, the misleading impression that everything is fine and dandy. Occasionally, however, someone touches a trigger and causes these underlying tensions to spew into the open with the violence of an erupting volcano.

The turmoil in the Barbados Labour Party’s Christ Church West Constituency branch, which currently is the subject of national attention, reflects the intrinsic reality of party politics. Contrary to what many Barbadians seem to be believe, based on the concern they express whenever there is internal party squabbling, unity has never been a defining characteristic of politics. It has always been division.

Unity in political parties, therefore, is an illusion. What many Barbadians regard as unity really amounts to a disguise of division through skilful management of internal conflicts by the leadership to keep them from making the news. History shows, however, that factions or wings have always existed in political parties, and they are largely defined by differences.

Sometimes these differences are based on philosophical beliefs or approaches to achieving political objectives. There are also instances which are quite common in the Caribbean, where factions develop and coalesce around strong personalities
who are seen as possessing the right leadership qualities.

So that the “unity” which political parties present to the public is generally based on a fragile consensus in which the various factions agree to set aside differences for the time being and rally around common objectives on which they agree.

What is happening in Christ Church West reflects the natural course of politics. It does not mean that the BLP is disintegrating, as some persons seem to be suggesting. Open squabbling is healthy sometimes for a party –– a sign that internal democracy is working. After grievances have been fully ventilated, branch members will set aside their differences, find common ground and everything will be back to “normal” again.

Opposition parties somehow are especially prone to washing their dirty linen in public. The reason is simple; opposition parties are harder to manage than ruling parties. By virtue of being prime minister, the leader of a ruling party has more effective clout to impose discipline; he can bestow or withhold coveted rewards. The leader of an opposition party, on the other hand, is not so privileged and, in fact, is vulnerable to some degree.

Didn’t bitter squabbling plague the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) for more than ten years when it was in Opposition? It was so bad at one point that some even predicted the DLP’s demise; but it prevailed. After losing three general elections, the Dems finally had a reality check after David Thompson retook the leadership at the 2005 annual conference by defeating incumbent Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for the presidency.

With the approach of the 2008 general election, the Dems realized it was make or break time to end their long sojourn in Opposition. Motivated by a common desire to get back into Government, the feuding factions, including those bitterly opposed to Thompson, buried their differences and conveniently rallied around his leadership because they recognized his political star was rising as the new Moses.

What is happening in Christ Church West pales in comparison with what transpired in the then Opposition DLP camp. I am not privy to all the facts, but it does seem that a move is afoot to replace Dr Maria Agard as the MP for this BLP stronghold constituency.

The common complaint of people who mostly seem to be her critics speaks of dissatisfaction with her representation. On the other hand, it seems her constituents are quite happy. Instinct tells me there is a deeper, underlying issue and the real story is yet to be told.

Whatever the outcome, Dr Agard, as the sitting MP, should be treated with courtesy and fairness.

The glee being expressed by some DLP operatives, who suggest that the seat is now ripe for taking, can be contemptuously dismissed as the wishful babbling of political neophytes. If the DLP could not win Christ Church West during the best of times, how will it accomplish this formidable feat going in to the next general election in the worst of times, even though, admittedly, it has an attractive candidate.

Christ Church West was created in 1971 when single member constituencies were introduced. Beginning with Sir Henry Forde, then Dr William Duguid and now Dr Agard, the seat has been comfortably won by a BLP candidate in every general election since 1971. It will take nothing less than a miracle, therefore, for the Dems to win in Christ Church West,
in the same way it will take a miracle for the BLP to win in St John.

The only benefit which the BLP squabbling in Christ Church West has given the Dems is a welcome shift of public attention away from their many failings in Government. It will be short-lived, however, because if history serves as a guide, the Bees will soon kiss and make up because they have a greater appreciation than the Dems of the importance of presenting a united front to the people of Barbados.

But the Dems too have their issues. These have been simmering beneath the surface and are likely to spew into the open as the next general election draws closer. A major issue relates to the continued leadership of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart who is approaching an age when most Barbadian politicians retire from politics.

In the run-up to the last general election, there was a widely reported internal move to ditch Stuart when public dissatisfaction with his leadership was not at the present level. It is likely, therefore, that he will face a renewed challenge if he does not decide to throw in the towel. Given all that has transpired in the last three years, there are Dems who see him as a political liability.

Conflict, which is at the heart of politics, reflects the natural human tendency to seek to gain an upper hand over others. Politics is not for the faint-hearted, thin-skinned or naïve if survival and success happen to be key objectives. Achieving these outcomes requires effective management of the inherent conflict by having, firstly, keen insights into human nature and an awareness that what you have, others will want, and are simply waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

The challenge lies in identifying potential rivals, predicting their actions and having an effective counter-strategy. According to the late Sir James Tudor, the master Barbadian political strategist, if the brains of a politician’s opponents are going at 50 miles per hour, the politician’s brain must go at 100 miles to outfox their every move.

Those who fail to do so suffer the consequences of leaving their soft underbelly exposed.

(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist.

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