LETTER: UPP’s Political Engine Stuck In Neutral

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

Dear Editor,

In previous letters concerning the United Progressive Party (UPP), I have made certain salient points, including the party’s lack of a philosophy or policy, its lack of quality political and technical advisors and a political campaign manager; all of which are vital and necessary if the neophyte and unqualified team of candidates are to have any chance of winning seats in the coming general elections. To suggest that the UPP, as presently constituted, could win an election is simply “whistling in the dark.”. It just cannot and will not happen.

It cannot be denied that the UPP as of now, today, has failed to craft a political strategy for its campaign, neither has it put a coherent economic policy for consideration by the voters. Its policy is guided by a hatred of Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party and is fuelled by its humiliating defeats in the last two elections, winning three (3) seats in 2014 and one (1) seat in 2018.

As to its campaign strategy this is based on whatever aggravation appears to be upsetting the party’s base; the lowest of the “low hanging fruit,” a great deal of political noise by the candidates (who for the most part are unemployed or under employed with lots of time on their hands); exaggerated and false claims about the performance of the economy; unproven allegations of corruption, a refusal to realize and to recognize the positive successes of the incumbent ABLP. In the face of these successes, they state with a straight face “that this government has done nothing for Antigua and Barbuda and Antiguans and Barbudans”. Add to this, persistent and easily debunked lies spewed on Crusader, Observer and ZDK radios. And lastly hyping their base supporters to a frenzy with the claim that it will win the next general election and the belief that a worn out and mentally exhausted Harold Lovell will lead them to a victory at the polls. Harold Lovell, a proven failure, will wave a magic wand and solve all the complex crises affecting Antigua and Barbuda and the world. We are all living on the same planet Earth and we are all interconnected. We have very little control over many of the problems we face except to use our brain and innovation to manoeuvre through these difficult times.

Those of us, other than the UPP party faithful, do not share this rosy view held by the blues. The UPP has given us no reason to believe that they are on the way to victory. To the contrary, a poll conducted by respected pollster and political analyst, Peter Wickham has indicated that the UPP is only marginally ahead in three seats….. and bear in mind that while the UPP has been campaigning for nearly a year, the BIG RED MACHINE has not yet cranked up.

The UPP candidates, activists and supporters need to comprehend that a party can only gauge its strength and popularity in two ways.

Conducting a poll by a professional pollster which will give a clear indication by the questions posed and answered, whether the polled party is in the pole position and in which constituency. This nonsense spewed by Senator Tabor and others that in-house polls have indicated UPP winning, cannot be believed; and the results of any push poll by Linley Winter is hilarious, especially since his polls in 2014 and 2018 predicted a UPP win by healthy margins. The idea that the UPP is giving weight to in-house polls and a push poll, highlights the ignorance and inexperience of the party’s hierarchy and membership.
The holding of a series of public meetings throughout the 16 constituencies in Antigua. This is a time-honoured way of political parties testing their strength and flexing their political muscle. A series of meetings will also indicate whether or not the party is gaining or losing strength. Political pundits and voters will recall that during the State of Emergency, the UPP accused the government of declaring the State of Emergency in order to prevent it from holding political meetings. The State of Emergency has been lifted since December, 2021. It is now October 2022and the UPP is yet to hold even one general public meeting.

Once the State of Emergency was lifted and life returned to normal, the UPP came to the realization that much of the complaining and bitching had stopped and much of the criticism of the government had subsided and was replaced by optimism and a feeling that the government had handled the Covid pandemic exceedingly well. So rather than have general public meetings, the UPP decided instead to test the waters by having meetings to present its candidates to the public. The turnout at these mini-meetings was not encouraging. Only one was described as having a modest turnout while the rest were disappointing and sparsely attended. Add to the above the UPP’s poor showing at the Labour Day march where they joined with the ABWU.

I recall looking at Harold Lovell as he stood in front of the Union’s headquarters and his disappointment was palpable. In contrast, the ABLP’s march easily outnumbered the UPP/ABWU by 4 to 1, as estimated by independent observers.

On 10th July, 2022 the ABLP held a Special Convention for among other things, to chose its representative for the constituency of St. Peter. The Convention was held at the Party’s new headquarters at Nugent Avenue with a seating capacity of 500 persons. The room was filled to capacity with standing room only. It was easily one of the largest conventions I have ever seen in Antigua. However, more to the point was the enthusiasm and energy displayed by the delegates. The atmosphere was electrically charged with the delegates displaying their love and support of the Prime Minister in particular and the leadership in general. It was clear that that party was in full election mode and ready to hit the campaign trail. The Party exuded dynamism, strength and total commitment.

The Labour Day activity and the Convention put the UPP in a quandary. They feared and/or refused to hold a campaign rally, for after all, their political picketing had failed miserably; the abuse and denigration of Gaston Browne, the unsubstantiated and false accusations of corruption; the lies and the hatred directed at ABLP supporters, were clearly not yielding positive results and its main support emanated from its un-informed supporters on social media. Something had to be done, so, the gimmick of the “Small business pull-up” was created.

I, like many, have pondered and guessed as to the identity of the ‘political genius’ who created this really foolish and useless idea. My best guess is Franz De Freitas, who is considered a political moron and who appears to be leading the ‘pull up.’ I know I am not alone in being puzzled as to the political purpose of this exercise in futility, to have a group of 10 – 13 persons, mostly candidates, going into each other’s constituency and stopping at various shops and bars, giving mini political speeches and each spending $5 to $10. This makes absolutely no sense and does nothing for the business. From a $10 sale, the business may realise a $1 profit. It is just a ploy to keep the UPP’s fading face before voters, as the whole farcical performance is filmed and uploaded to Facebook.

In the meantime, Gaston Browne and the ABLP are methodically ‘putting their ducks in a row’, delivering on promises made, some of which had been delayed due to 2 years of Covid. Non-UPP supporters and fair-minded independents are well aware of the strides the government has made and is making in the economy, health, education, water infrastructure, housing, tourism and other areas. Jolly Beach workers are to be paid and work has started on the re-building and expansion at Halcyon.

While progress in the country continues apace, the noise one hears from the UPP is that of a sputtering political machine that is stuck in neutral and at a standstill, mired in political hopelessness.