Exploring the ‘third party’ idea
Some leading political commentators have rubbished the idea, but, with increasing frequency, Barbadians are clamouring for a serious alternative to both the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which have dominated national politics for the past 50 years.
The rejection of a “third party” as a viable idea is largely based on historical grounds. The gist of the critics’ argument is that others have tried before and failed. Hence, any fresh attempt is doomed to suffer a similar fate. Mostly political scientists are spouting this line.
They cite, in particular, the short-lived National Democratic Party (NDP) which was established by the late Sir Richard Haynes, after he resigned from the Erskine Sandiford Cabinet and left the DLP with three other MPs in the late 1980s. The party contested the 1994 general election, winning one seat after fielding a full slate of candidates, and remained active until about the mid-1990s.
Critics argue that if a high-profile personality like Dr Haynes, with national stature and charisma, could not pull it off, it is unlikely anyone else will. I beg to disagree. What transpired almost 30 years ago is not a reliable gauge for predicting what will happen today because fundamentally different conditions exist.
However, I am not surprised political scientists have taken this stance. It is a reflection of how their thinking has been conditioned by their training.
Political scientists are primarily exposed to political history, theory and philosophy, and see issues from this perspective. They are not trained in the practice of politics which is the focus of the offshoot discipline of political management. Hence, my esteemed good friend and former comrade in battle Dr Tennyson Joseph would label persons like myself who believe a third party can succeed, as “dreamers”.
In his haste to pour cold water on the idea, what Dr Joseph, head of the Department of Government at UWI, Cave Hill, overlooked is the irrefutable fact that in order to achieve, one must first conceive. Being called a dreamer, therefore, is not a badge of dishonour. Dreaming, as most successful people will attest, is always the critical first step towards striking it big.
My training is in political management. Currently taught at just a few universities worldwide, the discipline emerged in response to the limitations and deficiencies of political science in explaining the complexities of real world politics. Hence, political management places heavy emphasis on imparting skills for the effective practice of politics at the party and governmental levels –– put another way, dealing with real world political problems and coming up with relevant, effective solutions.
A political scientist lacks that background and does not bring such an approach to the analysis of politics. Political science, therefore, can be summed up as the old-fashioned way of looking at politics. Political management, on the other hand, involves a new, modern and more practical approach.
When I confidently say, therefore, that a third party can succeed, I speak from a political management perspective and also draw from considerable hands-on experience that allows me sometimes to see hope where others see despair and possibilities where others see impossibilities.
In the consumerist culture of today, almost anything can be made a success once it is given the correct branding and backed by an effective marketing strategy to reach and persuade target audiences that the product on offer is the right solution to their needs. In political marketing, a party is a brand-name product developed to offer solutions to unmet needs identified through research.
Polls conducted over the past several years, mostly by Peter Wickham’s CADRES and, of late, Joe Davis’ Systematic Research, have consistently shown a high level of voter disenchantment with both DLP and BLP. The reason for this trend and the clamour for a new party are quite obvious: both parties are seen by disaffected voters as no longer satisfying their needs and aspirations which relate to the universal human quest for continuous improvement in the quality of life. In a new party, therefore, they see the hope of better opportunities.
The assessment by my political science friends that any fresh attempt at a “third party” is doomed to fail, also rests on a flawed assumption that both DLP and BLP still, to a large extent, enjoy an impregnable degree of voter loyalty. This assumption ignores fundamental changes on the political landscape in the last 25 or so years, resulting from the rise and influence of consumerist culture on contemporary Barbadian thinking.
Whereas our parents and grandparents may have consistently voted Bee or Dee and, in many instances, passed on this loyalty to their offspring, children today are not taking cues from parents in terms of political choices. They are, generally speaking, uncommitted to either party and are more inclined to vote for who, in their judgement, offers solutions that best satisfy their needs and aspirations.
They are what we call in political management the new “political consumers”. Many mature adults too can be so defined.
Sun Tzu, the ancient father of strategy, advises that when going into battle, which is at the heart of politics, it is important, first of all, to survey and understand the “terrain” or layout of the battlefield. Political battles, especially at an electoral level, are waged on the battlefield of the public mind.
When I survey and assess the terrain, I see many favourable conditions that represent opportunities which a new party can convert to its advantage. Naturally, a new party will not reap immediate electoral success to form a Government but, through strategic targeting and selection of constituencies where favourable conditions are most pronounced, it should be in with a good chance of winning at least a few seats at its first outing.
This way, it can emerge in the enviable position of powerbroker where the two mainstream parties find themselves with no choice but to seek its cooperation to advance their agenda. This way, a new party would be able to exercise considerable influence on the development of public policy because its support can make or break either party, especially in Government.
Only Grenville Phillips II so far has publicly come out with Solutions Barbados as a new political alternative; but, in my estimation, it is unlikely to have much of an impact. To begin with, it is obvious that Phillips does not understand the intricacies of politics. Politics is not a Sunday School or beach picnic. It is war, as stated earlier. On the current path, he and any followers are like innocent lambs going to the slaughter.
Solutions Barbados’ first major mistake –– which I brought to Phillips’ attention –– was the adoption of a wrong political narrative. Prospective candidates were basically told on the group’s website to expect to lose. Any party which debuts with the mindset of a loser is wasting its time.
The second major flaw relates to Phillips’ plan to run only candidates with a business background.
If the aim of Solutions Barbados is to corporatize Government, it has got it dead wrong. Government was never meant to function as a business, even though it can benefit from incorporating some business practices to achieve efficiency. Government, in the final analysis, is about equitably serving the broad masses of people, promoting social justice, being a catalyst for development where necessary, ensuring public safety and security and creating an “enabling environment” for private sector-led growth through implementation of an appropriate policy framework.
I will wrap up this discussion next week. Meanwhile, your feedback is most welcome.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.