In a recent interview with Calistra Farrier, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) young political leader Dickon Mitchell said the elections will come down to a debate on policy and the electorate would vote for the party with the better set of policies.
However, politics is seldom a zero sum game and people vote for a party because of several different reasons. Some of these reasons are not even rational decision-making choices while some voters may choose to abstain from voting altogether rather than support one party over the other.
With that being said, NDC’s campaign must reflect this reality as it seeks to unseat the incumbent New National Party (NNP).
Though the debate on policy is central to any political campaign, cultural issues have a profound influence as well since deep cultural codes drive human behaviour and decision-making. In fact, some segments of the electorate such as the vulnerable poor working class are largely motivated to vote because of cultural issues and not rational decision-making on policy differences.
This accounts for the large amount of support NNP is able to attract from the vulnerable poor section of the working class. Engrained in the psyche of this group of voters is the notion of ‘provider’ that emerged from plantation slavery where ex-slaves were socialised in a relationship in which the plantation owner or overseer provided for them in return for their loyalty and gratitude.
A.W Singham in his book, ‘The Hero and the Crowd’ explained how local political leaders in the post-colonial era were socialised in that relationship which led to the emergence of Eric Gairy and his stranglehold on the working class in Grenada.
The aging NNP leader over the years has cultivated a similar relationship with elements of the working class using social programs such as SEED, Imani, and housing assistance to garner support and loyalty.
These voters are not driven by rational decision-making on policy differences, instead they are driven by cultural issues wrapped up in the notion of the provider as that is whom they perceive as being able to provide for them.
Except for the 2008 elections, NDC has largely failed to connect with this group of voters. The young political leader must connect with them and not make the mistake of previous NDC leaders. In making the connection, Dickon ought to reposition an NDC government as a provider that will continue with existing programs and deliver new ones to lift the poor out of poverty.
Dickon must let them know his government doesn’t intend to continue with the mantra, ‘keep them poor they will love you more,’ on the contrary he wants them to love him for taking them out of poverty.
He must also make the distinction between the level of misconduct and malfeasance that currently plague these programs and the transparent approach his government intends to take to make sure all who are in need do benefit.
To buttress his argument, Dickon should highlight some instances of contempt and scorn shown to the poor by government officials from the ‘beggars are not choosers’ comment made in relation to the Chinese gazebo near Grand Etang lake to the recent one by the candidate for St. Patrick East which suggests people will continue to suffer under the NNP.
He must expose the ill-treatment of Imani workers by supervisors and other government officials who are forced to work in a toxic environment being constantly spied on and questioned to determine their political allegiance.
The young political leader must point out the many instances where social assistance was denied to deserving persons, oftentimes a single mother with many children, a frail and sick elder or pensioner thrust into poverty only because they are perceived as not a supporter of the government.
Dickon must lay all of this against a backdrop of a country in social malaise, stagnated economically, void of astute leadership, with its moral fibre contaminated by the excesses and greed of the political elites and ask the incumbent leader, ‘wey he dey in all of this’.
The young brilliant, appealing political leader must use the Sunday mass rallies as a platform to educate and stir up the emotions of the poor and vulnerable, incorporating cultural politics, in much the same way as was done during the revolution.
Dickon must sharpen his messaging by use of the emotional argument to appeal to a wider audience that includes voters who have not voted in previous election cycles and undecided both at the venue and home.
For it is at these Sunday rallies the culture war between himself and the incumbent leader will be fought. He can’t relent now, instead Dickon must continue to counter punch against each attempt to define and malign him.
The young leader should use colloquial language himself to ask the question, ‘where he de dey when the Bandeirante aircraft, the pride of South/South went missing.
At every opportune time, at the beginning of the remaining Town Halls and during the mass rallies, Dickon must push back at attempts to sully his character.
Since cultural issues heavily influence how working class people vote, the Sunday mass rally must be properly choreographed with platform speeches coordinated to focus on a particular theme.
The atmosphere must be filled with music and excitement to give a feeling of good vibes to those in attendance and at home and to those in attendance and at home for the influence of culture on politics is profound.
The NDC has to create a surge by bringing out larger and larger crowds with greater excitement at each mass rally. Therefore, the party has to find the money to ramp up mobilisation for the Sunday event, hire more buses and get another Master of Ceremony capable of producing powerful punch lines to whip the crowd into a frenzy between speakers and during the entertainment segment similar to what was done in 2008.
Randal Robinson is not cutting it, he needs to step up his energy level. If people perceive the NDC as surging they will join in a herd mentality and vote for the party on Election Day because they like to be associated with winners.
The young dashing political leader and his team can’t drop the ball now – they have to up the ante.
That is why he needs to summon the four candidates in St. Andrew, Denis Cornwall in St. Patrick East, the one in St. George’s South East, and Carriacou and their campaign managers to an urgent meeting aimed at getting those constituency teams to step up the organisational work to finalise desk, field canvassing and Election Day get out the vote machinery by using the resource teams made available by the party to assist them.
Other candidates such as Ron Redhead, Kyrene James, Andy Williams, and Joseph Andall, who are within striking distance, must also be spoken to and made to double down on the final work to be done, stay focused on their constituency, continue to knock doors and sharpen their constituency specific messaging.
In other words, those candidates who are lagging and not sticking to the task must be read the riot act now since time is running out.
This brings me to the all-important area of messaging. At this stage of the campaign the Public Relations Officer and his team need not waste time on these testimonial type messages such as the Claudette Joseph public library ad.
What is required now is to zero in on emotional ads that are laser-focused on specific issues such as mistreatment of Imani, youth unemployment and hopelessness, state of health care, decline in agriculture, rising food prices and pensioners among others and being able to immediately respond to propaganda ads from the NNP such as the Henley and Partners ad while creating similar propaganda ads in turn to counter punch the other side.
This is the time for Orlando and his team to be strategic, smart and creative. This is the time for them to come up with a ‘Willie Horton’ type ad of the George Bush campaign, or the ‘ Love Actually’ campaign video clip vowing to get Brexit done by Boris Johnson that would conjure up many emotions and be a game changer in this closing stage of the campaign.
Orlando and his team need to step up to the plate and pitch up a winner now before time runs out.
In response to the title question, NDC is certainly on the right track if the party can continue to bring out larger and larger crowds each Sunday, strengthen its emotional messaging that would enable it to win the culture war against NNP, step up the organisational work on the ground to ensure candidates have the number of votes locked down to win their constituency.
If the Wednesday night Town Halls reach a wider television audience, if the young dashing political leader continues to take the fight to the aging incumbent leader, and if the closing argument messaging uses a cultural lens to stir emotions enough to create a massive swing of voters to the NDC, then the party is on the right track for June 23.
If all these things are done the answer to the question is NO, for the NDC will be well on the way to a shock election victory.