Lessons from the 2018 Barbados Election

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of politics, particularly during the “Silly Season”, i.e. the few weeks preceding the general election.  The mudslinging, name-calling, posturing and avoidance of important issues in favour of playing to the gallery, are turn-offs for me.  It isn’t as though I don’t understand that a part of being a politician means that one has at times to choose between what is politically expedient and what is actually good for your constituents or country.   It’s simply a choice I hope never to have to make.  I also think that by now, politicians in Barbados should fully understand that arrogance, lack of preparation and trying the pull the wool over the eyes of a population that successive governments have educated, will send you packing with a swift kick in the you-know-where.

We may live in a small island of just over 300,000 people, which has been independent for a little more than 50 years but we are more than well apprised of what is going on around the world.  We can tell you about how the Electoral College in the United States of America works, the history of the British Royal Family, the global refugee crisis and closer to home, the political intricacies of our Caribbean sister islands and of course, where to buy the best breadfruit bowl or sushi in Barbados.  We are constantly plugged in and for many of us, even if we do not have a full understanding of every political or social issue, we know how specific ones affect us and those around us.

Therefore, how on earth could a political party which has been in power for 10 years completely miss the mark in its quest to retain its management of a government and country in a most important election?  We as Barbadians and residents of Barbados knew that underneath the surface of the beautiful sea and warm sand, blue skies and smiling faces we dealt daily with few working buses and a badly crippled transport system, long-term water outages in northern districts, raw sewerage flowing in the streets of the popular south coast, garbage collections which moved from at least weekly to many times, once a month due to a lack of trucks, an economy which was downgraded by international ratings agencies too many times to mention and a pedestrian and clogged court system.  Sadly, our plight was magnified by internet exposure through heavily visited websites of The Economist, Reuters and closer to home, Trinidad Express and the Jamaica Observer, with writers vividly painting a depressing picture of the country that once was known as the “Gem of the Caribbean”.

The fact that our now former leadership failed miserably to address the public on several of these issues by press conferences or official social media posts and to be clear, transparent and humble in its explanations of the dire situations in which we have found ourselves was a unacceptable.  Even worse, they launched an election campaign which focused without hesitation on the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, instead of telling us unequivocally how they will fix the myriad problems we face.

“Do not take the low road to high office.”

Unfortunately, the above quote fell on the completely blocked ears of the Democratic Labour Party.  A campaign in which, among other things, our now Prime Minister the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, QC, was called “musty” and had her mental state questioned as well as her choice of hairstyle and clothing.  A campaign in which her personal life was brought under vicious attack by members of the then government, one in particular which was particularly offensive and disgusting and spewed from the mouth of a government minister who clearly lives in the darkest of ages. A campaign which was spectacularly tone deaf and filled with “Facts” which, when posted on Instagram, were ripped to shreds by the scrolling public.  Why would you state that you as Minister of Finance presided over the recovery of the Barbados economy when we are at the lowest point of foreign reserves in our history, our cost of living has skyrocketed and we have had to suffer the embarrassment of the aforementioned downgrades?  Madness.

Generally, Barbadians believe in giving people “a chance”, sometimes to a fault.  However, they were seething with anger at being kept in the dark for so long, with a Prime Minister who didn’t think it fit to address key issues which affected his people.  The then opposition then took the opportunity to use these many weaknesses to its advantage and stuck to the issues during the campaign while refusing to respond to the insults hurled from their main opponents.  Further, the then opposition swiftly launched its election social media campaign on a platform of inclusiveness and a seeming lack of fear to speak to those very points which hurt citizens and residents on a daily basis.

The result? A historic 30-0 win for the opposition Barbados Labour Party.

Lessons Learnt for any political directorate of Barbados going forward:

  1. Listen to the population and take note of their concerns, comments and criticisms.
  2. Engage your public.  Address them officially and let them know what is going on and invite questions.  There are too many avenues for this nowadays to say that you cannot.
  3. Focus on the issues which plague your country during your tenure as well as during the election campaign.  While jabs at your opponents while on the political platform may be a part of the fun, do not underestimate the fact that the electorate has changed and is generally more inclusive, smart, technologically savvy, anti-discrimination and “woke” than even 5 years ago.  They want to hear how you will lead the growth and enhancement of the country and not pull it down by irrelevant rhetoric.
  4. Be humble. Never take your position for granted.  Public apathy mixed with an “x” will put you out of a job and may tarnish the legacy you hoped to build.
  5. Live your lives as though you are always on camera.  This is the era of social media and the expectation that our leaders will set the best examples for children and adults alike.  Do not expect that your behaviour does not trickle down to the child who is cursing on the bus, littering and defacing public property when you as someone who holds high office is not setting a good example as a civic-minded, patriotic and level-headed person.

To the Democratic Labour Party, you know you have to rebuild internally.  Your members over the years have been pivotal in building Barbados and members of the public are well aware of this fact.  To the newest entrants to the political fray such as Solutions Barbados, the United Progressive Party and the Barbados Integrity Movement, I’m sure the past few weeks have been unforgettable and hopefully a teaching experience.  If you can, stick around.  You may rise to the top of the Barbadian political landscape in the future.

We all know that the road ahead now that we have a new government will not be smooth.  However, let us work together for the betterment of Barbados and ensure that we hold our new Members of Parliament accountable every step of the way.  If we fail to do this, we have failed not only ourselves but our country as a whole.

 

 

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