The George Brathwaite Column – Stuart’s Abysmal Communication
“Not the gun but the word is the symbol of authority.” – Charles Lindblom, former American political scientist and economist.
Public discussion and debate are essential in a social democracy such as Barbados. Indeed, effective political language and communication are healthy for good governance, especially in the context where there is a contest of alternative policies and programmes by competing political parties. There is a held view in Political Science that, “politics without communication is like having blood without veins and arteries: it’s not really going anywhere.” Surely, Barbadians are prompted to ask what is the logic or intent of Prime Minister Stuart’s abysmal communication style?
PM Stuart’s intrinsic disinclination to engage the nation is problematic, and the lack of substance coming from the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is taking Barbados nowhere favourable. While the policy orientations of the Ministers of Cabinet may have flowed from manifesto promises or to address Barbados’ systemic shortcomings, their discursive practices – contextually constructed phenomena reflecting their power positions – have singed the local landscape by being roguish and shambolic.
The fact is, policy-making is a constant discursive struggle in which strategic communication is a prerequisite for national solutions. Political language fused into broader communication dynamics happens to be one of the main tools of policymaking. Strategic political communication refers to a multiplicity of techniques that reach out to audiences to build and maintain relationships and, to coordinate activities that can mobilise supporters and rally the nation. This type of communication helps to persuade and/or convince the audience to actively support the efforts being articulated.
However, one must not fall into the trap of thinking that political communication and propaganda are one and the same thing. Propaganda is ‘systematic strategic mass communication conveyed by an organisation’ such as our political parties, to ‘shape perceptions and manipulate the cognitions of a specific audience’ so as to achieve the goal of directing ‘the audience’s behaviour to achieve a response that furthers the political objectives’ of the organisation. It is not necessarily framed in or for the national interest, nor is it conducive to encouraging constructive criticism.
By their definitions, political communication and propaganda can be informative. However, strategic communication will be inclusionary, but propaganda will not engender deliberation and participation. Propaganda does not tolerate discussion and by its very nature, it rejects contradiction and discussion. The propagandist posturing evident in Barbados, is precisely the way Stuart and the DLP function. They have resorted more to propaganda than on fixing the problems which occurred under Stuart’s stewardship.
On the verge of what is expected to be a stubbornly fought general election, the language of politics will become more divisive, and increasingly unclear and conflicting. Numerous Barbadians have become aware that PM Stuart often reveals a greater propensity to scuttle national consensus-building than inspire through competent and transformational leadership. Stuart’s limited communication reveals that he can be utterly dismissive, thus producing disruptive national outcomes.
Popular discourse indicates that Barbadians in droves are ready to again express dissatisfaction with the current DLP Government. This displeasure goes beyond the previously held marches of protest and disgust. There are Barbadians hopeful of solace and are gravitating towards the inspiration of the Leader of the Opposition and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). To a lesser extent, small portions of the Barbados society are also drawn to emergent political entities. Noteworthy, is that the ‘third’ political parties have no relevant or proven track record of performing and delivering in the national interest, although all things are possible.
The next prime minister must seal a by far better deal for all Barbadians. Urgently required is an empathetic leader that will talk, can inspire, and that will prioritise the needs of Barbados. That leader must communicate a clear vision arising from nothing short of ‘rubbing shoulders’ with the electorate and listening to the expectations and complaints of the nation. Barbadians are craving for truthful information.
Admittedly, PM Stuart means well, but he has been ineffective on leadership. He does not seek to motivate and enhance national performances or even productivity. Strategic and effective political communication has escaped his attention. Indiscipline within his Cabinet divulges the validity of that sentiment. Furthermore, when there is necessity to inform Barbadians about the state’s priorities and the ills affecting society, or the means for achieving national goals, Stuart is frequently mute.
Freundel Stuart’s breastplate overly relies on serendipity, while this conundrum, is amplified by an ongoing mismatch between Stuart’s DLP as the key speakers and Barbadians as the listeners. There is definite gross misunderstanding between the expectations of the governed and the objectives of the governing.
PM Stuart, invariably, buckles when it comes to utilising and maximising soft power. Soft power arises from factors such as consideration for traditions, drawing on local political culture, and inculcating the dominant values that would have emerged in the post-independence period. Stuart’s resistance to local value systems and attributes that were essential in guiding Barbados’ local practices and policies since 1966, regularly scuttles his ability to obtain the DLP’s vision of ‘continuing on the pathways to progress’.
Stuart’s woeful stance, has redirected the DLP to becoming more autocratic while relishing on secrecy, coercion, and of course, propaganda. Why hasn’t Stuart seized the moment and the DLP utilise strategic communication and stakeholder deliberation as means for igniting national reforms in governance? With strategic communication and the use of soft power, PM Stuart could have achieved many positive things for Barbados.
Surely, Barbadians are being short-changed by a combination of extended periods of silence, stealthy behaviour, and disorderliness from PM Stuart and his Ministers. The hiatus in governance continues to widen due to the paltry efforts at communicating with the public. For example, it is true that Barbados ought to soon have a Teaching Service Commission. Yet, the teachers have not had adequate input into the constitutive elements of this innovation. The void is likely to throw out another set of avoidable controversies for the DLP.
Stuart’s refusal to use soft power, also fosters resentment on taxation. The DLP is unlikely to overcome Barbadians’ rejection of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL). The Finance Minister tersely pushed the NSRL up by 400 % from its original 2 %, but last week, he idly boasted that the tax was raking in more than expected since implementation. Sinckler’s brag was followed by the lukewarm defence of Minister Inniss, and retreat by Stuart. Surely, the $50 million in revenues are intended to enhance benefits for the people. With the credibility of the DLP near rock-bottom, how does one explain the authoritarian disdain?
Today, Barbadians still need to understand where the country’s economy lurks. How many more sacrifices will be necessary to stop the entire country from falling over the cliff? Secrecy and surprise are normally essential weapons of war, but these are undermining Barbados’ social democracy. There can be no war among ourselves. Acting Governor of the Central Bank, Cleviston Haynes interestingly stated more than a year ago that: “We must bring new energy and bold strategies to the challenges which we all face. The real enemy is not each other, but unemployment, poverty and the need to renew our confidence in the Barbados economy.”
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: email@example.com)