Despite that repetition is murder on the soul, let me once again congratulate the Labour Party’s campaign directors. As a passionate appreciator of effective communication skills, I have little choice but to acknowledge the obvious: Leo Clarke, Ernest Hilaire, Arthur Neptune, Jadia JnPierre—to name just four of the front-line activists—pulled off a small miracle that had less to do with what they were actually placing before the voter than with their keen understanding of the essence of propaganda and the importance of proper packaging. Some of the names on their election slate were relatively unknown outside their respective communities. Others were, well, too famous for the general good. Separating them in the public mind must’ve been tricky. Something the United Workers Party never learned how to accomplish, as we shall see!
My favorite UFOs also deserve their own special mention. Despite constant ridicule from certain (ahem!) quarters, they remained undaunted and determinedly undistracted. On occasion some of the more familiar hyperbolic voices of hysteria actually made sense. (Take a bow, Shazzi; you, too, Frank—though in your case it kills me to admit it!) The UFOs were demonstrably far less interested in how their targets perceived them than with reinforcing the public’s perception of the Stephenson King government—a task
equal to shooting fish in a barrel.
The programmed UFOs went so far as to openly acknowledge their eyes, noses and mouths (ears they have that hear not!) were capable of appreciating only
what was Red Zone friendly. They effectively divorced the term “party hack” from its pejorative sting and elevated it almost to an honorable accreditation, in much the same way black Americans had finally redefined “nigger.”
I believe Leo Clarke and his fellow spin meisters would readily agree the giant they sought to cut down and dispose of, never mind his state-sponsored and made-in-Taiwan artillery, had always been like Polyphemus after Odysseus put out
his one eye, and it would be only a matter of time before he was fit to be hogtied and carted away.
Though the SLP committed blunder after PR blunder, Stephenson King’s people did not—could not?—turn them to the government’s advantage. The prime minister had more than once echoed my own expressed sentiment that his public relations sucked. And yet, perplexingly, he had continued to rely on the obviously thrice-handicapped Darnley Lebourne, who was never easy on the eye, never once dared to look up at the camera when addressing potential voters via TV, and for whatever reasons was almost always woefully uninformed about the more controversial issues: the status of certain Black Bay lands, Grynberg inter alia.
Grossly huge, yet projecting a surprisingly wimpy TV persona, poor Darnley was never a match for the SLP’s corn-rowed and confidently soft-spoken Jadia JnPierre with her dazzling and disarming Delilah smile that belied her skill at delivering crippling blows below the belt. To hear the lady citing instances of discrimination against women by her opponents, the last thing you’d expect was to see her in proximity to guys who habitually bad-talked females, bragged about pushing their wives down flights of stairs with their feet, and other such misogynistic pastimes. But not once was she challenged to explain the company she kept and her positions of convenience. At precisely the right moment, the SLP had in Jadia’s favor jetisoned its regular male monster-mouth in favor of the split-toothed gem.
But then let it also be said that seductive propagandists alone cannot win general elections. The heart-rending truth that wounded UWP followers must live with is that the opposition party’s election campaign received much unsolicited aid from a most unexpected donor: Stephenson King himself—generous beyond measure, so affable and humble on occasion as to appear unctuous. I say humble, but then when you’ve been made to believe you have nothing to brag about what else can you be? What had his government achieved in nearly five years that might have warranted some horn-blowing in his own behalf, asked King’s opposition—enough times to render him too insecure to respond with any sense of accomplishment. (For one, soon after becoming prime minister he had survived a disjointed palace coup of sorts, the kind of rumble that in 1980 had brought the SLP to its knees and kept it there for close to 15 years. But then I guess few outside the House of King would consider that a vote-catching accomplishment!)
As much as I am tempted to offer as another worthy achievement King’s ascendance to the throne, I cannot resist the reminder that the office of prime minister was serendipitously dropped in his lap. Which might explain why for several months after Sir John had passed King continued to behave as if the fact of his good fortune had not registered in his brain and that he was still only a law clerk (the irrevocably unkind say he was never more than a go-fer) at the firm of Giraudy and Floissac where he started his professional life. Certainly, that would suggest why on the occasion of his first budget presentation in 2008 King’s opening lines had hinted at his discomfort at having to fill the huge shoes of his dearly departed immediate predecessor and speak from the precise spot where he had stood during his close to forty years as prime minister to present his annual Estimates of Expenditure.
Of course, the words King mouthed on the recalled occasion were handed him by Compton’s ghostwriter and self-server extraordinaire Ausbert d’Auvergne, doubtless with the connivance of Sir John’s grieving but aspiring widow Lady Janice (another tale from the Twilight Zone, later to be told!).
That the government had somehow held things together at home, when throughout the world powerful nations were crumbling under the pressures of the great recession, was certainly something to crow about. Alas, those paid to trumpet the government’s achievements were too busy pursuing their petty personal agendas, among them arguing about who should do what, when and how—and to whom!
To return to King’s campaign contributions to his opposition. First and foremost were the instances of what the SLP’s spinners soon took to describing as “the government’s utter lack of respect for law and order,” in particular the so-called Tuxedo Affair. With an 11-6 mandate, what would it have cost the prime minister to publicly admonish Keith Mondesir the minute it appeared the health minister may have misled the Cabinet on the matter of his eligibility for certain concessions? It must’ve been clear to all concerned that the involved private premises—even if they were, as Mondesir weakly claimed, occasionally used as a hotel—had never been accordingly registered. As if further to stroke Anthony Astaphan’s monster ego, it was soon quite obvious that there had been no serious preparation on the government’s part for its Tuxedo-related appearance before a judicial review.
The attorney general never bothered to make an appearance. As for the other hired help, it seemed he could hardly wait to return to more rewarding briefs. No surprise, then, that the government’s pathetic defense went down the toilet, along with the tourism minister Allen Chastanet’s credibility after the court declared him a witness not to be believed. From that point on the SLP’s spinners, chief among them the Dominican Anthony Astaphan QC, set out to establish in the public mind that Senator Chastanet was in all circumstances a liar. If he said the sky was blue, count on the relentless fourmi rouge to insist contrarily that the sky had been far from blue on the day in question, that in fact it was cloudy and gray. Whenever the tourism minister announced, say, additional flights from Canada or the UK, his sound was drowned out by UFO exhaust based solely on the finding of just one court with regard to one case that “Mr. Chastanet was not a credible witness.”
Oh, how the senator struggled to regain his credibility among potential voters. Alas, in vain. Time and time again he was a guest on Timothy Poleon’s TV and radio shows. However, as articulate as he was most of the time, his position was reminiscent of a buffalo caught in the Serengeti mud and trying desperately to shake a pack of hungry hyenas when its front legs had been broken in an earlier attack by lions. Or, if you prefer, Chastanet was like a grounded grasshopper seeking to escape a swarm of soldier ants. His skin color often was targeted for cheap potshots by cleverly camouflaged SLP triggermen.
And then of course, there was the Frederick Factor. Richard Frederick, who had been (and remains) a magnet for SLP accusations from that moment in 2006 when word leaked that he planned to enter the political arena as the independent candidate for Castries Central. “The most frightening prospect facing Saint Lucia!” according to then prime minister Kenny Anthony. What a godsend was the bomb dropped by Compton daughter and breakaway UWP MP Jeannine Compton just weeks before the elections, that the U.S. Embassy in Barbados had revoked the housing minister’s diplomatic and visitor’s visas.
The government’s attempts via its benighted press secretary at playing down the fall-out amounted to dousing a firestorm with gasoline. Meanwhile the Red Zone’s soi-disant experts were assuring Newsspin’s “30 thousand daily listeners” that the U.S. authorities routinely notified ordinary holders whenever questions arose concerning their visa holders, and had never once failed to state in writing the reasons for the revocations. Since ostensibly that was the regular practice when ordinary citizens were involved, why then would the U.S. authorities go out of their established diplomatic way to disrespect a friendly government by pulling a minister’s visas as Frederick claimed his had been pulled—with neither prior warning nor stated reasons for revoking them? A published letter from the Barbados embassy denying the prime minister’s request for an explanation on the basis that “we are not at liberty to say,” was dismissed by SLP activists as “more fabrications from the “Lyin’ King!” (Oh, yes, amidst the corny gags and the naked prevarications, there were some undeniably clever formulations!)
Throughout all of the above the UWP’s commander-in-chief and prime minister carried on as if the least of the items on his agenda were the upcoming general elections. There were no counter-attacks, not even when the SLP shifted to the airwaves versions of their street campaign that had started soon after the 2006 elections then temporarily suspended in calculated deference to the departed Sir John. There was also the Facebook-YouTube propaganda, to say nothing of the several websites that existed solely for the daily churning out of anonymous libels against members of King’s Cabinet, alas not once challenged!
My own irrepressible curiosity would uncover why the UWP insisted on playing dead. With reference to the SLP’s TV and radio propaganda, the government’s election candidates either had never heard about them or had dismissed them as “ineffective.” One particular sage assured me that there really was no need for concern. Negative ads had not worked for the Ausbert d’Auvergne-directed UWP in 1996, he reminded me. Imported propagandists had been paid a king’s ransom to attack George Odlum and this writer (we’re talking of an earlier life, remember?) but their televised dirty bombs had succeeded only in turning off viewers, including UWP supporters.
It had never occurred to the UWP’s strategists that there was a clear-cut difference between messages that were pointlessly negative and negative messages that contained some element of verifiable truth, however small. For while an uncommitted voter might dismiss unproven allegations, it was altogether something else when that same voter recognized in a negative ad even a scintilla of what he believes is true.
Whatever doubts might cloud certain allegations about, say, Richard Frederick, that had been around since 2006, there could be no denying his visas had recently been revoked for unspecified reasons, none possibly positive. Throw into the mix four or five other vulnerable government ministers who allegedly had committed breaches, whether “identity theft” that may or may not have occurred over 30 years ago, or exaggerated traffic violations, serve the devil cocktail night after night, and before long the suggestion of a rogue’s gallery will take up residence in the voter’s mind. Put it down to attrition, if you like. It remains an unassailable fact that in politics public perception is everything!
That Frederick survived is the election’s second miracle. His desperate attempts at self-defense were at times pathetic and may well have earned him the empathy of other victims of “public perception”—especially following his resignation speech.
As for his government colleagues, most of them secretly would’ve preferred to see the last of him, and not because they necessarily believed his visa problem was connected to criminality. Indeed, few gave any thought to the possibility. What seriously concerned them, even after he threw in his Cabinet towel, was that the SLP would turn Frederick into a cat-‘o-nine-tails with which to flog them at the polls. It had never occurred to them to circle their wagons, at least until their besieged colleague had proven guilty as perceived—as indeed the SLP had circled theirs around some of their own vulnerable brethren. Frederick’s Cabinet colleagues, to say nothing of what passed as his party heirachy, were the first casualties of the visa-centered SLP propaganda.
Meanwhile, the UWPs conducted their 60s-ish campaign, desperately ducking TV interviews, avoiding reporters and generally carrying on as if the media, regular and social, were the other party’s inaccessibly private domain. They ignored the advice of consultants. Their radio and TV announcements just days before the big event were toothless, limp, weak, abominably uncreative, as if indeed they were 1979 back-room productions by rank amateurs. Yes, depressing, if not immediately forgettable. At one point SLP lawyers successfully demanded one media house immediately pull a “libelous” UWP message. Still the UWP’s own advisors never took the what’s-good-for-the-goose hint. Without the smallest resistance they permitted the same media outlet to continue maligning their candidates in the worst way, day after day and night after night.
I imagine they counted yet again on Taiwanese largesse to get them to the finish line ahead of the pack, despite that they had never once stood up for Tom Chou, who was by now as much abused by the SLP as was Richard Frederick, albeit unfairly.
The Taiwanese ambassador was left little choice but to speak up, not only in his own defense but also for the unperturbed accused government ministers. It can’t be all that hard to imagine what must’ve gone through Tom Chou’s mind as he compared the SLP’s TV ads and their party’s domination of the media with the pitiful, half-hearted efforts of their fatted, lazy, old-fashioned and yes, egregiously unappreciative counterparts. With all the green generously bestowed on them by the People’s Republic on China,
how to explain the sorry fact that the UWP’s defense never stopped being yellow!
It is worth pointing out, despite all of the above, that public support for the UWP remained obviously strong, that is, until the very last week—or days!—before Polling Day, when without warning the atmosphere turned a deeper shade of red. En Rouge!, to be more precise. Was that when jittery self-preservationist-businesspeople, convinced now that the other side was incorrigibly effete, abruptly decided to remove themselves from the list of endangered species? Did they finance that last-lap dance, despite their collective determination not to stain their manicured fingers on anyone else’s behalf? Or did the programmed tsunami originate in Venezuela? No matter, it threw the sleeping UWP, still woozy on the highs of their final incredible William Peter Boulevard jump-up, totally off-kilter. The party never recovered its equilibrium, not even to stand up against resurrected wrecks such as Desmond Brathwaite and Mikey Pilgrim—and Pugh Deterville, who can always be counted on to drag himself to the right place at precisely the right time in the right shirt.
Oh, but I’ve hardly mentioned my favorite bête noir (well, not quite noir, but you get the point!). Whatever else I might say about the man (looking back, I’ve written enough to fill the shelves of the Central Library!) let it be noted that I was highly impressed with the strategy that in the last few weeks of the campaign removed him from the targeted spotlight. By which I mean the election’s center stage, as well as the front page of his party’s manifesto. Alas, even if Kenny Anthony had stayed put and larger than life, even if he had resisted the seemingly outrageous idea of an unrecognizable plant as his stand-in on his manifesto’s front cover and dominated his televised party promotions, it would have done the UWP little good. For finally the effect of their uncoordinated, directionless assaults were, as the British Labour MP Dennis Skinner once had reason to say, equal to being savaged by dead sheep.
As for the now leader of the opposition, it is to be hoped he will discover the courage to revisit his experiences since becoming prime minister and demitting office and make the necessary adjustments, both to himself and to his party. An on-going post-mortem already has brought into sharp focus the sorry fact that the United Workers Party never recovered from the beating it took in 1996, that there was never a serious effort at restoring the organization to its 70s glory days, and that its election to office in
2006 was a miracle dimensionally equal to that of John’s “five loaves and two fish.” If
in the heyday of Compton and Giraudy the party had successfully operated as an election machine, perhaps that was only because the Labour Party, notorious for its historic leadership wars until the advent of Julian Hunte and Kenny Anthony, was at election time seldom positioned to field a full slate of candidates.
Quite obviously, times have changed. Henry Giraudy, for one, is no longer with us, and Compton, in his own turn, had proved not nearly as effective a party leader as he had a prime minister. Vaughan Lewis? Let us be kind and say only that when it came to leading, whether his party or the government handed him on a platter, Lewis was always woefully inadequate. Besides, the current Labour Party is an insatiable tiger determined to stay hungry however bloated its belly.
I dare to say the UWP existed over the last five years as a ragtag group come together for an election they never expected to win. It is also true to say that upon taking office, the King government had concentrated its efforts on surviving the bulldozing, inexorably threatening Kenny Anthony-led opposition.
Focused as they were on personal survival, the government never gave much thought to their party. And nature took its course, in more ways than one. The UWP’s front men, as ancient in body as in mind, seemed absolutely disconnected from the day’s political realities. The party contested the elections as individuals, unmanaged, answerable only to themselves, doing their respective thing and hoping for the best. Little did they keep in mind that what was best for one candidate in his particular circumstances might not necessarily prove good enough to return them collectively to office. (Might the presence of strong and aggressive party support at the recount have served Ezechiel better than on his own he served himself?)
No surprise that having lost what the party never really earned in 2006, the disappointed candidates are now running around like headless chickens in search of a scapegoat for their incredibly inertia. Some (surprise! surprise!) have blamed Haitian voodoo that required the sacrifice of a busload of innocent souls, most of them children. (Can we expect another obeah calypso?) Others lay the blame on Richard Frederick and on Stephenson King who “embraced him when he should’ve given Richard the boot.”So, now, what do you think, dear patient reader? Did Lenard Montoute, who lost by seven ballots, and Ezechiel Joseph by two, pay the price for King’s misplaced loyalty? Did Rufus Bousquet? Why did voters in north and central Castries stand by King and Frederick? (While the persistently bombarded Frederick suffered losses, King drew the best poll of his career!) Did supporters of Montoute and Ezechiel let down their MPs, or was it the other way around? I cannot help wondering whether Montoute and Joseph might be in a better place today had they taken their campaigns half as seriously as had every single member of the Kenny Anthony team, including campaign managers. Did both Montoute and Ezechiel underestimate their powdered-up opponents en rouge?
For his own and his party’s sake, Stephenson King must now take a long look at himself and at the dried-up debris upon which the UWP has stood these last several years. He must decide now whether he has what it will take to lift his party out of the rising mud of depression, whether he has the courage to make the difficult but necessary adjustments. The thousands who dutifully supported his lost cause regardless deserve nothing less. Indeed, our country deserves nothing less. To sit back and allow things further to deteriorate will be to return to the 1996-2006 period when Saint Lucia was effectively a one-party state.
As I write, the new prime minister is back in parliament delivering his address at the official swearing-in of his Cabinet ministers. “In determining and crafting the configuration of my Cabinet,” he says, “I have been minded by the size of our majority, our razor-thin majorities in two constituencies, the likelihood that one of our own would have to be sacrificed as deputy Speaker, the skills of our elected members and, crucially, the development imperatives that are facing our country and the domestic and external spaces in which we will have to operate.”
Additionally, he wanted to “fashion a Cabinet that had the capacity and the competence to be agile and efficient and able to respond to changes in the domestic and external environments.” He had not permitted himself to be “stuck in the old paradigms or alignments.” Rather, he had “made use of initiatives in the past I thought were useful.”
He took a long hard look at what was needed to address “the problems currently confronting us and those we are likely to face in the future.” He was guided by the words of “the famous scientist Albert Einstein who once said, and I quote: ‘We cannot solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’ unquote.”
Despite that the essence of what the legendary physicist had said is contained in Kenny Anthony’s recollection, following are Einstein’s exact words: ”Problems cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” Several times over the last six months or so, I had myself echoed the message for the purposes of my on-going campaign against all-too-accommodating lesser-evilists.
The new prime minister cited Einstein just before introducing his virgin crew. Conceivably, he sought to blame only the Stephenson King administration for all the problems today facing our nation, its several inheritances from previous administrations notwithstanding. If so, then is this not the precise problematic thinking Einstein warned about?
Will we ever learn?