As we end week one of the extended stay of the Freundel Stuart administration the average Barbadian would like a good clear look into the Prime Minister’s head to try to figure out what he is thinking.
Having allowed Parliament to automatically dissolve after rushing through a string of measures at the last minute, without naming an election date, Mr Stuart had demonstrated clearly that he dances to his own beat, sways to his own rhythm and moves in his own time.
For those who would take a sneak peek into his head, the questions abound. What is the plan? What is he trying to achieve? What is the election winning strategy that he has devised?
There are no obvious answers, and no one seems able to rationalize or analyze what he is trying to do to win the election.
If anything, the Prime Minister is clearly demonstrating that he sets his own timetable, dances to his own beat and moves in his own time. He has a record of being deliberate, somewhat like Claudius in the 1976 BBC television series I, Claudius, who in an exchange with senators who felt he was not fit to be emperor, asked, ‘Isn’t what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it?’
However, whatever Mr Stuart and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) might have to say, and however long it takes them to say it, there are certain realities they cannot escape.
This election will be held in a period of austerity that has drained the pockets of the working class, sapped the energies of the struggling poor, fuelled the anxieties of every Barbadian, possibly for quite some time and left people screaming with pain; and amidst a deficit that threatens to raid our children’s wallets.
It was just last Friday in lashing out at the Barbados Workers’ Union and the Barbados Private Sector Association over their criticism of the Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan that Government senator Reginald Hunte called for war.
“It is a time for war,” Hunte declared as he delivered the DLP’s luncheon lecture, saying war was needed to “save the souls of the people of this country” and “not allow them to befall into the hands of the private sector as they did 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, aided by a conservative party like the Barbados Labour Party”.
But, to a very large extent the election ground war has already begun, triggered by the impact of Government’s austerity on ordinary Barbadians. And, again as in I, Claudius, the poisons that lurk in the mud are beginning hatch out.
If the comments on social media are anything by which to judge, voters in their daily lives are animated by their economic and social conditions. They care little about Mr Hunte’s war and more about the cost of living. With Chief Executive Officer of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Dexter James announcing last week that there has been such a “phenomenal” rise in admissions from kidney failure that the hospital can no longer admit new haemodialysis patients unless someone undergoing treatment dies, the voter is concerned less about who is related to whom and more about the state of health care, less about theatre and more about south coast sewage.
As the economic squeeze continues to hurt, Mr Stuart has a major strategic judgement ahead of him: what policy he plans to present to the electorate – if they are still listening – that will adequately address the emotions that will drive their decisions when he finally calls the election.
And it ought not be, as Mr Hunte said on Friday and apostles and disciples of the DLP have been saying of late, that the administration tried to protect jobs, because the Opposition is sure to remind everyone of the promises made just prior to the 2013 election and the number of public servants who were sent home shortly after the DLP secured a second term.
It ought not involve attacks on the unions – whose members have not had a pay rise during the lives of consecutive DLP administrations – simply because they are no longer in hock and in thrall to the DLP, or wholly owned subsidiaries of the party.
Maybe this is the strategy that Mr Stuart is planning as each day of overtime goes by. If this is the case, he must quickly work his way to the same planet as us all, for the DLP’s voice is fading and is becoming muffled.
In the BBC television series, Claudius boldly stated: ‘What is said about us in our lives is not always what history says. And doubtless history will have its say, as it always does. And about that, I have done something. Oh, not something that need concern you, but something.’
Mr Stuart, as he holds the election date close to his chest, will be mindful of history and what it says about him.
He will also hope that life does not imitate art when the Barbadian electorate have the final word, and the script won’t end as it did in I, Claudius when the Sibyl said: ‘Farewell, Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, one-time Emperor of the Roman world. Farewell.’