As the 65th Annual Conference of the Democratic Labour Party nears, it is appropriate to examine that disastrous political party, which I shall do in a series of articles.
The Dems have faced an existential challenge since the death of its most beloved leader, E.W. Barrow. That the DLP has failed to build up a sustainable political movement after this tragic event, is perhaps best seen in the fact that the DLP’s list of notable achievements as a government seems to stop in 1976. Let us set aside the fact that the Democratic Labour Party has had two failed administrations since 1986, and that their last dispensation was particularly awful, and that to this day in 2020, they remain bankrupt of ideas and inspiring leadership. Let us look, presently, instead at the DLP’s paltry electoral performance since 1991 to illustrate the deep hole which the Dems have found themselves in, long before their much-deserved rout in 2018. [Note: the analysis which follows does not include the 2018 election, which is clearly a remarkable statistical outlier].
Since 1991, there have been six elections, three of which the DLP have won. However, a closer examination reveals something more interesting. In 1991 (with historically low turnout), a mere 1,075 votes gave the DLP another term in office. Similarly, in 2013, had two seats or 164 votes swung the other way, Barbados might have been saved the peril of the 2013-18 period. The post-1991 period simply has not been the DLP’s “golden era”, to put it mildly.
While the national picture is bad enough, a microanalysis at the constituency level reveals a party which simply has not created or maintained a solid, winning support base, even though the DLP is said to have more grassroots supporters than the BLP.
St Michael East is a somewhat marginal seat, however the Dems have done little to translate Joe Tudor’s commanding lead in 1991 and ‘94 into enduring success.
Where the BLP has been able to pull off substantial margins when they have won St Michael West Central (when you remove 1994), the DLP has not achieved anything more than a 4% margin of victory, since Wes Hall in 1991.
In reliable constituencies, they fare no better.
In St Michael West, after Branford Taitt, the DLP has not risen above 53% of the vote share at any time.
In St Philip South, since 1991, the Dems have won the seat four times, but have never made it back to 1991 levels, in terms of vote share.
St Michael South Central is much the same. The BLP has only won the seat once at its highest tide (again excluding 2018). However, since 1991, the DLP has not risen above 54% of the vote share in any election
In St Lucy, apart from 2008, there has been no significant expansion in vote share for the DLP, beginning and ending the period with 53/54%
Not only is the DLP not entrenching themselves in ‘safe’ and DLP leaning seats. They have also failed to make any tangible inroads in areas that are historically unfriendly to them, making it much harder for them to ever hope to turn those seats into DLP seats.
Apart from Byer-Suckoo’s win in 2008 in St George South, the Dems have remained consistently under 44% of the vote share since 1991.
In St James North between 1991 and 2013, DLP vote share fluctuated but ultimately returned in 2013 to the 1991 level of 45% showing little long-term growth.
The DLP faces a tough road ahead and will almost certainly remain in Opposition for quite a while to come. To get through the rough times, you should have a reserve store to fall back on. A mixture of terrible candidate selection and bad governance since 1991 has made that store remarkably thin, even without considering 2018 and the disastrous mouthings of their members and leadership since then.
Can they survive this time in the wilderness? Probably. It would be politically immature to count them out just yet. But certainly, if not dead, the Democratic Labour Party is, now and for the foreseeable future, comatose. Considering that Barbadians live better and Barbados functions better when the DLP is out of office, their time in the wilderness is for the best. Next, we delve into the quality of their performance, in and out, of government.