The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Anatomy of an Election Campaign II
In the first part of this essay last week, I commented on the positive and negative consequences of the Prime Minister advising the Governor General to issue the writ for a general election to take place on May 24; the likely record number of parties and individuals contesting the elections; the prominent role that the offence of bribery was playing in early popular discourse and the relatively minor part that more substantive issues were occupying in the public domain.
With the launch of the campaigns of the major parties last weekend and the excitement of Nomination Day last Monday, the battle has now been well and truly joined.
What has been noteworthy about the approach of the so-called duopoly is their identical treatment of the launch of the campaign and the introduction of their respective candidates being two distinct events; a strategy available to the better-funded campaigns only, I presume. None of the others has followed a similar course, contenting themselves with traditional spot meetings and social media campaigns.
Having attended none of these four main events thus far, my commentary is based mainly on hearsay and the other secondary sources of media reports. The similarity in strategy between the older parties appears to have ended in the staging of dual meetings however, since the opening gambits appear to be diametrically opposed. For the Democratic Labour Party [DLP], the engagement strategy appears to be the one pursued so successfully by the all-conquering West Indies cricket team of the 80’s and 90’s, -that is, if we can prick the bubble of mystique that surrounds the leader of our opponent, then the battle is already more than half-won. It is a strategy better known in the Barbadian vernacular as indicating the importance of the brain (head) to physical soundness –“When de head gone, the whole body gone…”
While it is, of course, far too early to gauge the effectiveness of this approach, it is one clearly fraught with some degree of risk since the leader of the Barbados Labour Party [BLP] is female and it is not irrational to assume that its supporters might readily conflate what is intended to be a purely partisan political barracking with an attack on the female gender in general… even though a reasoning electorate should be careful to distinguish between the two by virtue of the content. In other words, a broadside against the political acumen and leadership ability of an individual -whether male, female, blackish, whitish, affluent or “scrunting”-, ought not to be melded into an assault on all those identically situated merely by virtue of the identified characteristic.
Nonetheless, to found an election strategy on a plinth that requires the appreciation of such a comparatively fine distinction by an impassioned local electorate appears in hindsight to be unarguably risky. The call is not mine to make, however.
For its part, the BLP appears to have adopted an equally risky strategy for its platform. While it is understandable that the promise of a better economic future for the citizenry would be an attractive sop for a jurisdiction and an electorate in deep economic “doo-doo”, the more cynical voter might be mistrustful and wary of promises of a soonest return to a former prosperity that would entail a revival of formerly available civic entitlements, an increase in a named social security benefit and the concomitant reduction of a much despised imposition.
In light of the actuality that an electioneering promise is not otherwise enforceable except as a matter of propriety, a party should be diligent to persuade an discerning electorate of its bona fides by reasoned argument and not merely by platitudes that require them to trust the word of the promising or representing entity.
I readily accede to any argument that I am not a politician, and it may be too that I am unfamiliar with how a local electorate reasons, if it does so at all. If I had my druthers, though, I would not have advised either of the strategic approaches adopted by the major parties so far as being too electorally risky.
As for the other combatants, I remain hopeful that a creditable platform will emerge from among them, one that is based on practicable policy as well as one that respects the guaranteed fundamental rights of citizens.
Just recently, I received a flier from one “third” party’s candidate in my constituency and I am forced to wonder whether a competent individual was allowed to vet the material therein by before publication. One paragraph speaks to “Charged Persons” and boldly indicates that “only the charges and court cases of those convicted will be published”. And, as if this threat to press freedom were not sufficiently chilling, it is further stated that publishing any such details of innocent and not-convicted persons will attract “defamation fines”. The material proposes to quantify these penalties on the loss of reputation and loss of earnings (suffered by the innocent party, I presume) owed to the publication.
This is surreal. While our neighbours are striving to abolish the offence of criminal defamation, we are attempting to apply it to a wholly inapplicable circumstance -one where there is no defamation- and further to impose monetary penalties therefor where there can be no likelihood of loss of reputation caused by the publication. Lord, put a hand!