Level with the people

Elections, in whatever form, could not come at a more inopportune time for the country and particularly for the United Progressive Party (UPP).

This is a party which one year ago saw its parliamentary majority reduced by three. Between the time of the last election and now, the Antigua Labour Party never stopped campaigning, and by its own admission leading up to, during and after the Eighth Biennial Convention, a wide chasm developed between UPP the government and UPP the party.

Factor in the world global economic crisis from which this country is not immune, the fallout from the crash of the Stanford empire, and Antigua & Barbuda’s poor economic performance last year, and one can see that any government that is called upon to defend its crease at this point in time does so at its own peril.

Additionally, elections, in the best of times, are divisive and carry huge financial and social costs.

But for the ALP, this is the chance of a lifetime, and that party’s campaign and political strategists are up to the task. The ALP has already shown that it is going for the jugular, with Chairman Gaston Browne leading the public charge.

Given the climate, therefore, we cannot understand why the UPP, which is facing its sternest political challenge, is tiptoeing onto the campaign trail.

We understand fully that the party cannot be perceived to be in a state of panic, and we also understand that the UPP has to balance and be seen to be balancing governing the country and campaigning, but this is not the time for faux nonchalance.

We were somewhat befuddled yesterday morning when UPP PRO Senator Joanne Massiah went to great lengths to try to convince people that the timing of last night’s meeting in the prime minister’s Rural West constituency was merely coincidental with the timing of the judgment that voided the 2009 election of Spencer and two others from the UPP and the current political climate.

To the PRO’s point, the UPP might have had a plan coming out of its convention in late March to mount regular town hall meetings, but surely, it became an imperative to begin in Rural West, given the political climate.

The UPP would be well advised that the people, particularly its supporters, understand the times, and they fully expect the party to rally the troops.

The sort of timidity displayed by Senator Massiah and the UPP in entering the fray is the kind of timidity that the party has shown since it assumed governance – in areas such as justice – that has angered supporters.

Everybody knows that elections are possible. The ALP is campaigning, and the UPP has already learned that the court can come from the east when they are looking to the west. So what’s so wrong if the UPP is in campaign mode, especially when it’s entirely possible that either by-elections or general elections will be held soon.

The UPP had better guard against this misguided diplomacy and attempts to pretend to the people that all is well. The last thing the UPP trio needs is to play science now and pay the price later.

If they send mixed signals to the electorate that all is well, they might be surprised to find, if polling day arrives earlier than desired, that the people really take them at their word and stay away.

Yesterday Senator Massiah posited that the meeting at Greenbay Primary was just the first in what will be a series around the island as the UPP aims to continue consulting with the people.

We note that there have been several consultations since the UPP took office, including those on taxes, education, immigration and the economy, and never once was people encouraged, as the advertisement for last night’s event did, to “wear their blue and come.”

The moral of the story is, reason with the people and they will be reasonable with you. Try to bamboozle them and suffer the consequences.

The curious thing, though, was that the play-it-cool memo was late in arriving to UPP Mobilisation Officer Winston Williams.

Yesterday, while Massiah was playing down the meeting, he was playing it up with a plea to his listening audience to show “solidarity (and) support for the prime minister and duly elected representative by five-hundred-and-something votes, Dr the Honourable Winston Baldwin Spencer.”