Recently, we declared that the campaign for the next general election had begun. The place and time was the newly refurbished cruise ship pier at the harbour, and it coincided with the arrival of the Odyssey class Anthem of the Seas.
In the shadow of that impressive cruise ship, the prime minister delivered what we described as round one of election campaign. In fact, we went further and said, “… if the strongest comeback that the opposition can muster, is ‘inappropriateness’ then round one goes to Prime Minister Browne.” Our assessment of the situation was not well received by the blue side, as they thought that we were giving the prime minister too much credit and instead, we should have chastised him for making the speech too political.
We understand their frustration at missing the obvious, but please, do not kill the messenger. They need to remember, we simply observe and comment as necessary. That said, if they needed any additional evidence that the campaigning has begun then they need only review the new year’s address delivered by Prime Minister Browne. It was a textbook example of campaigning. It reflected on the past, preached for unity and expressed continued hope for the future. And of course, the PM sought to point out how dreadful life was before the current administration grasped the reins of government. It was the classic “is your life better now or 2.5 years ago”? What it also gave us was a peek at the strategy that the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) will employ as it seeks a second term against the Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP).
Everyone will remember one of the key campaign strategies employed during the run-up to the 2014 general election was the shift from collective party campaigning to a more individual approach; similar to what obtains in the United States. It was no longer just the ABLP, it was ‘Gaston Browne and Team Labour’. Truth be told, it was a shrewd move. The focus became the new party leader and that signalled a new beginning for the party. It also distracted attention from the team and the individuals that made up that team – along with any baggage that they may be carrying. All eyes were on Gaston Browne.
To further solidify the shift to a more personality-based, presidential-type of campaigning, the ABLP went so far as to label the event at the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG), to celebrate their taking of the reins of government, as and “inauguration ceremony”. While there may be nothing grammatically or technically wrong with the use of “inauguration”, it certainly does conjure up thoughts of the United States’ presidential inauguration ceremony. (In case you need a refresher, make sure you tune in to American television on January 20, 2017 to see the US President Elect, Donald Trump, grab a hold of the mantle of leader of the free world”.)
It is now clear that the ABLP has decided that the strategy “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is also a good strategy and the PM’s new year’s address was evidence of that. In laying out a comparison of his administration’s relatively brief tenure versus the UPP’s 10 years, the PM makes the shift to personalities by referring to the previous administration as the “Harold Lovell/UPP administration.
Obviously, the thought by the ABLP is that the easier battle is a head-to-head battle: Browne versus Lovell. As well, the ABLP is attempting to place all of the ills of the UPP’s past on Senator Lovell’s head, rather than just the issues that may be related to his ministries. Is that a good move? Well, it really depends on your perspective.
We are fairly sure that both sides will tell you that their guy will win in a head-to-head competition, but the real question is whether the UPP will follow the ABLP’s lead? Will they adopt the strategy foisted upon them by their political rivals or will they forge ahead with their own strategy? For both sides, the stakes are high. Betting the political future on a single individual is always risky. Everyone sinks or swims based on that personality’s buoyancy with the voters. Any wrong move by the chosen one will bring defeat to the team. At the same time, we have recently seen in US politics how one person, with the ability to bond with voters, can make a difference in who votes and for whom.
No matter how this all turns out, it is going to be interesting and entertaining at the same time. Round two has seen the reigning title holder come out swinging. Before the bell sounds, we hope to see what the challenger’s response will be.
Settle in because this will be a long fight!