Reviving the FNM brand

The Free National Movement (FNM) has been a gold-star brand in politics in The Bahamas for decades.

Aside from the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), it is the only political party since Majority Rule to form a government.

And it has also proven that it can win the government when not being led by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.

However, nothing is guaranteed to last forever.

In business, you can track how brand diminishes when sales and stock prices fall.

Previous market giants like Kodak cornered the film and photography market, but have now fallen so far behind that many people born less than 20 years have likely never heard of them.

Certainly, a political party is not a corporation, but the popularity of a party can be judged in diminishing returns at election time.

And as far a percentage of votes cast, the FNM hit what appears to be a 30-year low in the last general election, losing the government and now holding only seven out of 39 seats in Parliament, having captured 35 in the 2017 general election.

The FNM’s message in the last general election of “It’s the People’s Time” was wildly successful and despite a leader that didn’t electrify the electorate, the team of candidates assembled and the deep distrust of the Christie administration helped the party soar to heights not seen for 20 years.

But big brands fail and fade away all the time.

Former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis did significant damage to the FNM brand.

He so turned off voters that they did something in numbers they never did before in past elections – they stayed home.

The FNM should be deeply concerned even almost a year later.

When a single political term sees you go from 35 seats to seven, there is a need to critically assess your public image and the internal mechanisms that shape that image.

But down does not necessarily mean out.

The new leadership of the party has an uphill battle, but a golden opportunity, to help the brand rebuild its image and revive its relevance after it took such a tremendous licking.

When the FNM held a conclave earlier this year to analyze the reasons for its defeat, it concluded that the party’s loss was connected to its failure to move with urgency; the administration’s concentration of power in the hands of the competent authority; its lack of inclusive collaboration and decision-making with party members; the manner it interacted with stakeholders, particularly its combative relationship with the media; the failure to talk with rank and file party members; and the failure to address public service matters, among others.

For months now, it has had a chance to distinguish itself from Minnis, despite continually thrusting himself into the spotlight.

But the party simply does not appear to be resonating in a meaningful way.

Perhaps one of the party’s greatest mistakes has been the penchant for its MPs and leaders to go into attack mode with the PLP.

Some of the issues for which it appears desperate to score cheap political points – crime, political patronage, spending, transparency, debt and taxes – have been endemic throughout administrations.

A record murder count was recorded under the last FNM administration.

A massive tax hike was put upon the country under the last FNM administration.

Record borrowing and deficit spending took place under the last FNM administration, no matter the cause.

And the FNM was not shy about giving FNMs key positions and lucrative contracts under the last administration, even though much of that has been revealed since the last administration was booted out.

Ten months is simply too short a period of time to expect the public to view the FNM as credible in some of its criticisms of the PLP.

The lack of trust with so many of its current caucus having sat in the last Cabinet is too great a hurdle for it to overcome at this point.

Also, a sitting FNM member of the House of Assembly having been charged with a litany of corruption-related offenses represents an easy target for its political opponents.

The FNM also has sought to criticize the PLP on the Grand Bahama International Airport and the sale of the Grand Lucayan hotel, neither of which they were able to resolve.

An FNM that has a renewed vision for the country while it allows the PLP time to falter might be more attractive in the long run.

The FNM should change strategy or risk its brand suffering even more damage than it already has.

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