Tuesday, 10 January 2012 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
Victory has many legs, but one face. Political campaign strategy constitutes a map of how to defeat your opponent. To get the best results, it involves the ability to manage interactions of internal forces and external trends.
A winning strategy is executed in an environment that is dynamic, acutely uncertain, and potentially explosive. The very nature of political strategy is that it changes all the time. An effective strategy is a fine-tuning dance with many variables within a constantly shifting landscape. If applied as a static formula or in a linear manner, it will fail.
Between now and 2014, a sea change could occur as the United Progressive Party (UPP) government and the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) competes for the hearts and minds of voters in Antigua and Barbuda.
Third parties are not yet organised to influence a major shift in political outcomes. If new thinking and behaviour aren’t injected into the present political system, chances for real social and economic advancement will be slim. Part I outlines the road to victory for the UPP. Part II will sketch the same for the ALP.
The decisive issue for the UPP is whether bread and butter survival will trump fear of the “Return to Lester Bird" mantra. The only way for PM Baldwin Spencer to defeat Opposition Leader Bird is to run on a platform of retiring after two years into a third term. But Spencer will have to concentrate on perceived electability. He will have to avoid specific issues.
Although the PM’s performance has collapsed, he can paint Bird as dated and ineffective. The prospect of an undefeated third term is enticing, and Spencer’s cohort of support is likely to encourage him to stay.
Since the PM’s greatest contribution to nation-building has lost it luster, a timely retirement could consolidate the UPP chances of keeping the government. With Spencer off the ticket, Finance Minister Harold Lovell is likely to hold his seat, depending on who turns out to be his opponent. The PM's top advisors may choose to go. This important exodus will pave the way for the UPP to instantly attract new candidates. It could also result in new action plans that could keep the ALP at bay.
If this U-turn plays out, several powerful financiers may be enticed to support the UPP again. One spinoff of added resources could benefit Senator Joanne Massiah. With intense party backing and lots of capital, she is likely to move MP Asot Michael’s status from “sure victory” to “too close to call".
Ultimately, Spencer’s departure would have to be strategic for the new leader (assuming it is Harold Lovell) to rebrand himself and the party. The new leader would need more than a year to establish a new vision with fresh ideas that rally domestic support and backing from the Diasporas.
Should Spencer decide to stay, he is likely to give the UPP a 51 percent victory, with Bird at the helm of the ALP. Spencer could do this by tapping into the national anti-Bird/pro-ALP feelings buried deep within a huge sector of the population. The hard facts on performance alone will not help the PM’s re-election campaign.
Spencer will have to draw on the commonsense social frames and subjective emotional structures through which people interpret political facts. These include: personal identification, sense of authenticity, similar values and the "trust" factor. Rather than campaign on what he delivered, Spencer will have to run against Bird as the alternative. Style is his biggest strength.
The UPP could exploit the "trust" frame that Spencer’s vices are much better than Bird’s virtues.
With this frame, people will ignore the performance facts or simply explain them away. The results could gain fewer votes for the UPP, but win it more seats to stay in government. However, this scenario may be too risky, particularly if the economy remains caught in a hellish inferno. To gain shockwave impact, Spencer’s departure is probably the best bet.
If the PM wishes to retire undefeated, he needs to call a meeting of key party movers and actively recruit their support for the chosen leader. Public confession, not private promise—is essential to give the new leader undivided loyalty. While in government, the UPP must be seen to manage a leadership transition process with mature delicacy and seamless finesse. Otherwise, a bloodbath will seal the UPP’s fate.
To rally the party behind him, the new leader will have to find out the power needs of each minister and potential candidate, and integrate those needs in a new administration model. If the new leader is not capable of unifying the party, and Spencer is seen as the sole unifier, this will narrow that leader’s chances of becoming the next prime minister.
For the UPP to win, it will have to make fundamental changes in outlook and outfit.
A clear path to development is needed. It must be grounded in solid ideas and turnaround programmes. An appeal to good governance and transparency in public office requires visible application. Carnival campaigning that focussed solely on catchy sloganeering is outdated. Only superior results will resonate.
Caution! The notion of locking up members of the ALP has been prolonged beyond its usefulness. With so many unresolved allegations of corruption against the UPP, there are strong reasons for believing that this strategy will invite social consequences far too costly for the UPP to enjoy.
Winning 2014 involves wooing back key supporters who are disillusioned by recurring leadership failures. The most important priority is to begin a sustainable job creation initiative. Without a comprehensive communication machinery to effectively change the UPP’s political misfortunes, multiplied scandals will paralyze the government. But it will take an immediate injection of healthy strategic decisions, with local results and international value, to pull the UPP back from sure defeat.
While the most recent radical electoral amendments favours the government, if not managed carefully, this could backfire. These changes are likely to create democratic hiccups in the long-run and political drama in the short-run. The UPP needs honest advisory, with the highest level of operational intelligence.
Ultimately, local solutions that decrease dire bread and butter pain can’t be ignored. If this strategy of restoration unfolds, the UPP may avoid regional trends of voters punishing sitting governments. It could shock the nation with a narrow victory.
Dr Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.