Bousquet’s Bulletin: Last charge of St Lucia’s light brigade

0
536

By Earl Bousquet

The grand old Duke of York

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And marched them down again…

I grew up singing that song in infant and primary school and not until age 65 did I get to know the ‘hill’ referred to was Morne Fortune in Castries, Saint Lucia Britain suffered its greatest defeat in the Caribbean after the French Revolution.

It was just a few years after the French Revolution sparked rebellious ideas and actions among slaves in the French, English and Dutch-speaking European West Indian colonies.

A rebellion by slaves who took the island over as freedom fighters could not be tolerated by the scared European colonizers and France and Britain combined forces to land as many as 17,000 troops in Saint Lucia to recapture the island.

The invasion was not a walk in the park, as Neg Mawon (Freedom Fighters) put up stiff resistance at heavy costs in lives to the British and French.

Morne Fortune was strategically held by the freedom fighters, who successfully resisted the uphill efforts of the European invaders and the reason the ‘Grand Ole Duke of York’ marched his men up the hill and was forced to march them ‘down again’ was because even his ‘ten thousand men’ couldn’t overcome the runaway ex-slaves who’d taken the island over and established a free republic.

The 17,000 British and French troops later sent in would eventually overcome the freedom fighters, the surviving leaders enchained and shipped to England on a ship named ‘London’, most dying after it shipwrecked in a storm off the coast of Ilfracombe in Devon in 1796.

The historicity of that grand episode in Saint Lucia’s history is in the fact that this revolution by ex-slaves in Saint Lucia took place just a couple years after the 1789 French Revolution – and long before the Haitian Revolution in 1804.

This part of Saint Lucia’s history isn’t sufficiently researched and not yet taught in schools, but the shipwreck of the ‘London’ is part of ‘Unchained’, a FLOW TV series produced by Samuel L. Jackson that revisits the slave trade and traces the African origins of slaves and Caribbean-Africa connections.

So, what’s the point?

The results of the island’s general elections this past Monday, July 26 – a full 225 years after the ‘London’ sank with the re-enslaved Saint Lucian freedom fighters aboard – reminds of the ancient duke’s demise.

Predilection

The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) pummeling of the United Workers Party (UWP) may or may not have been an answer to most Saint Lucians’ prayers, far less a response to the headline of my Caribbean News Global (CNG) article on election day (July 26): #SOS Saint Lucia; will voters save or cave fair Helen?

But it was sure confirmation of my constant predictive predilection; that Saint Lucian voters have discovered a formula for punishing parties that don’t deliver on their campaign promises during the five-year term.

I’d been listened to with some interest – though somewhat distant – by some friendly academics and political scientists, professional peers and friends who agreed and disagreed.

My argument: Saint Lucian voters having voted for regime change three times in a row over 15 years is ‘a trend’. The naysayers: It was just an unrelated series of successive ‘coincidences.’

Lightning

Growing up learning that not even lightning strikes twice in the same place, I was not surprised that apologists for one side in the partisan war for 2021 election day votes refused to acknowledge that Saint Lucia’s electors had indeed struck their political lightning rod three-times-in-a-row – in the same place, at different times – with every indication there could be a fourth.

Instead, they insisted on first seeing – and feeling – the fourth strike. But, like with COVID, I continued following the numbers and the science – and sharing the stories they show and tell me.

Spit

I ended the recalled CNG’s article the way I answered the (like-a-million) people who asked for my prediction after the prime minister announced the election date on July 5, with a small 21-day window: ‘I don’t know who will win, but I strongly feel the UWP will lose.’

If public opinion was any reliable measure, only those who chose to blind and deafen themselves to the verdict from the virtual and veritable court of public opinion would look at the science, watch the numbers and still spit in the sky.

My response was crafted for them.

Light Brigade

The silly season (always between the announcement of an election date and election day) again doing in 2021 what it’s always done to Saint Lucians (18 times since 1951 and 11 times since independence), I’ve long immunized myself from being overly exposed to the flickering shadows generated by torchbearers during the 21-day; the last charge of the local Flambeau (Light) Brigade.

(The ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ was a failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854, in the Crimean War.)

But when a professional regional political technician and service provider who’s supposed to live and work by facts, figures and statistics chose to join the local torchbearers to pour cold water on my ‘trend’ argument without offering any factual reason, I almost pressed my brakes through the floor below.

Polls and Poles 

Peter Wickham heads the CADRES polling outfit that’s made a name for itself by being present in and at virtually every Caribbean election and has therefore cultivated an image of himself as the region’s virtual guru on election predictions.

CADRES teams are deployed to gather related elections data through private polls for parties or governments that choose to make use of their indigenous regional expertise.

Using a system originally developed by/with Wickham’s original cadre, the late Grenadian political scientist Pat Emmanuel, Wickham fingers his keyboard, enters, inputs and uploads the compiled elections data, downloads the computer’s findings and feeds scooped portions into his analyses and calculations.

Business

As a business selling a valuable service, CADRES also has to ensure its clients get what they pay for – and (understandably) not for ‘bad news’ or unhelpful analyses and conclusions.

CADRES was (quietly) hired to provide paid services to an entity party to Saint Lucia’s 2021 election campaign and (perhaps in fulfilment of its contractual obligations) Wickham gave carefully-worded and politically-loaded analyses to select regional media mainstream and online media houses, based on appropriately selected findings of his paid research, to arrive at conclusions party to his client’s elections campaign.

You’d swear that since Wickham lives everywhere between the Caribbean and Europe, he was only able to offer long-distance analyses of Saint Lucia on the basis of the numbers churned out by his computer.

Or that sitting in Paris, he has no eyes or ears on the ground to actually (instead or virtually) see and hear how loud the new national outcry was against his paying client(s).

But pollsters are also expected to earn their bread by doing what it’ll take to please their paying clients first and foremost, so it would be unfair to expect that Wickham (even though he saw and heard himself) would have fed or factored the type of data into his computer that would have rendered his prescribed analyses useless or devaluate his Saint Lucia clients’ perception of the end product to be paid for.

Dripping

In the last week before the elections, some of Wickham’s main 2021 analyses and conclusions strayed far enough from the local reality to lower his (and CADRES) success rate tally.

But it would appear his natural preference for a crystal-clear, perfect reputation would not allow him to accept that not only are mistakes possible, but polls can also be inaccurate.

The last analysis I saw and heard through a regional online news outfit just hours before polls closed was a masterful example of how to used information technology to drip true but bad news slowly, if only to reduce the sliding audio effect on the holder(s) of the purse strings.

In effect, he said, it was a tough fight and both major parties had an equal chance to win, and the ruling party could win a second term – had it not been for COVID and other factors, including the outgoing prime minister not having been able to increase his party’s popularity ratings fast enough to matter, thus creating a possibility the ruling party could lose.

But, by that time, it was already pellucidly clear, even to the politically blind, that the national debate was not on whether the ruling party would lose, but how badly.

Fort Knox

CADRES’ client(s) opened up and drained their Fort Knox war chest and bought space from every media house available, ruling party candidates in danger dishing out cash ‘like money run out of style’ and every available political appointee in the prime minister’s office and all political operatives in the media were mobilized to try to give the news the right spin as much as possible, in the final week.

Money was spent like sand and spread like dirt and every conceivable means was employed by Wickham’s local paying clients to try to bend and turn minds, the ‘Bimshire Man’ even trying (amazingly hard) to pour barrels of cold water on the former prime minister and UWP leader Stephenson King’s revelation that he could prove that Cambridge Analytica (by whatever new name) was hired to work here in previous elections.

It had also been alleged during the campaign that the same mind-bending outfit had also been paid hefty sums through the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (a state-owned body) for its professional services.

But rather than allow the next government to accept King’s public offer by way of expressed willingness ‘to testify’ before any related inquiry, Wickham simply dismissed the former prime minister claims “like he was what the judicial process would call a vexatious litigant.”

Contempt

Never mind my silent fuming, I’d treated his claims as par for the usual election campaign course, until Wickham’s “dismissive” remark, perhaps suggesting King was either lying or didn’t know what he was saying.

Also growing up, careful of allowing familiarity to breed contempt, I was also put-off by Wickham’s first-name descriptions (that night and before) of former prime ministers King and Dr Kenny D. Anthony as ‘Stephenson’ and ‘Kenny’.

But the pin that pricked my cushion hardest was another patent and potent Wickham wrong: In all his paid efforts to paint the leader of the other side seemingly as badly as possible to achieve the desired political and business objective, he never even bothered to take time out to find out the possible next prime minister’s name is, rechristening him in his every yellow trumpet and online media blast as ‘Philip John-Pierre’.

Only on the night of July 26, after the votes cast in the election war that day were counted, did he learn – after being told on the very last night of the campaign and at the very end of his highly-paid professional service that the prime minister designate’s real name is Philip Joseph Pierre.

Yes, it was that bad!

Of Polls and Poles

All that said, one still holds that professional polling services can be necessary and helpful, but when (they are) only available to paying clients, it limits and colours the possibility and extent to which the public can benefit.

Wickham cannot have CADRES’ cake and eat it: If he chooses to use his right to choose what aspects of the findings of his paid research he wishes to share with the press and public, he should perhaps not cite clients’ copyright rights to refuse to share essential findings with members of the same national, regional and international public(s) in who his and his outfit’s reputation(s) are based.

Indeed, as someone who knows that elections polls depending on people telling ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ to people they don’t know about who they’ll vote for or against on election day, in a region where most people consider that as ‘my personal business’, are largely doomed to fail in Saint Lucia. I am therefore not at all surprised that Wickham and CADRES called so many right things wrong here.

After all, if what you put in is what you pull out, one cannot blame the computer for the figures churned out; if they end up sounding like a popular phrase by Mark Twain: ‘There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics…’

Not that CADRES or Wickham lied, they just fell short of certain truths, which reaffirmed my original hesitance about paid polls – and especially when the polling agency, presumably becomes part of the competition and party to a party that’s a party to the local conflict.

I wouldn’t call it a conflict of interest as businesses don’t usually measure their methods by ethical standards if and when the price is right.

As such, I’d hardly ever want to touch paid election polls, even with a ten-foot pole.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here