If I was the Premier ...
The call for a General Election is weeks overdue. If I was the Premier, we would have been halfway through canvassing by now.
For any astute premier and politician, it makes good sense after scoring reasonable success at handling the Covid-19 pandemic. As a policy and political adviser, I would advocate making such a move at this time.
What does this mean for Bermuda?
In both the short and long run for Bermuda, this call is a form of political cleansing, clarification and a defining experience for the political parties. Both intended and unintended consequences will structurally shape and seismically shift our sociopolitical and, more gradually, economic landscape going forward.
Bermuda gets a chance or the opportunity for fundamental political evolution out of the staid and tired vintage politics of the “status quo”, fashioned and engineered by the former United Bermuda Party and practised assiduously, by the One Bermuda Alliance opposition and present Progressive Labour Party government.
Politics abhors a “vacuum”, as you will see. I don’t say for one moment that that is the reason I believe David Burt called the election for October 1, 2020. I say that because I wholeheartedly believe that that will be, as things stand and are generally trending, the inevitable, natural and impactful result of this call.
Why has the Premier called the election now?
This General Election will deliver the coup de grâce on an OBA I pronounced as “politically brain-dead and organisationally dismantled” from Day 1 after the disastrous consequences of the 2017 election.
From then until this day, and in a vegetative state, this party has lumbered, laboured and lurched forward in “Zombie New Orleans-style, death-march cadence” — a fashion that would make the producers and directors of Michael Jackson’s graveyard scene in Thriller, reel with laughter and redden with blushes.
I truly admire their fruitless will to live because, truthfully, any remote chance of political resurrection or resuscitation was dealt a double-death blow, when first Jeff Baron and then Nick Kempe bade the OBA farewell by saying to Craig Cannonier, “I don’t think so, sayonara, adios, goodbye”.
Upon their departure — Kempe to a new country altogether — the lid of the OBA’s coffin was securely nailed.
To its credit, the OBA has laudably managed through general political paralysis, even rigor mortis at times, to bleat a few audible but nevertheless throated utterances that caught the ear of the public as it ambles along inevitably to a mass gravesite and burial on October 1.
Mr Burt, mercifully I say in wishing to give the OBA a gentle nudge into this mass grave, has facilitatively in every sense of the word called a snap General Election.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that like Montezuma, and in the context of the political history and memory of the PLP’s “Alamo”, the Premier does not have it far from his mind that the “political turmoil, devastation and setback” caused to his party by Sir John Swan’s snap election can be avenged.
The tables having been turned; it is only right and fitting that the longstanding favour now be returned. No good deeds must go unpunished.
Moreover, Mr Burt is riding in on the crest of favourable reviews for the PLP’s superb handling of the Covid-19 pandemic response.
What Premier wouldn’t want to capitalise on those credits at this time?
And for the naysayers, this election could adopt the experiences learnt from the administration of the Covid-19 pandemic rules. For example, legislative amendments to these rules and the Parliamentary Election Act could provide for social-distancing, sanitising, etc, by voting for three days of the week, for example, alphabetical-name attendance, or in groups of 50 or 300 — in much the same way we handled, and are handling, attending grocery shops, pharmacies, sporting events and large gatherings.
What is the risk of holding an election now?
The risk for the OBA, I have already given. Specifically, the OBA is very much at risk of losing the seats of MPs Michael Dunkley and Leah Scott, for starters. These losses, coupled with the concomitant and further erosion of its fast-disappearing support base generally and youthful recruitment pool in particular leave you with the narrative I gave you earlier.
At a maximum, largely because of a lack of inertia, lethargy, clear direction, leadership and a succession plan, the OBA faces political annihilation and extinction, and will follow the route of their cohost, sponsor and support base, which is the UBP.
In the state the OBA is in, it is woefully unable in the five weeks left before October 1 to scramble and cobble together candidates of sufficient quality to look as though it could form a viable party, let alone a functioning government. Remember, this one-hit wonder came to power in 2012 as a result of disgruntled PLPers who thought that the PLP essentially had become complacent with their votes. That is not the situation today.
In 2020, there are no doubt “disgruntled PLPers”. However, they are so for fundamental reasons that can be resolved only by a party or parties who understand those systemic problems in the first place.
Unfortunately for them, the OBA is not one of those parties or groups today. In any event, in many people’s minds, even those of former OBA supporters, the Opposition committed some unforgivable and egregious missteps during its brief tenure in government. Unfortunately again, small communities have long memories and a second chance the OBA will not get. The risks to the PLP are of a different nature. In the very short run, those risks are minuscule or minimal, but in the long run, far more complex and evolutionary.
The Premier and PLP stand to strengthen their mandate, increase their seats in the House of Assembly, shake out the political deadwood within the ranks, and solidify those in the higher party and government echelons by ensconcing them in safe constituencies and ministerial portfolios come the next General Election and its immediate aftermath.
This will cement the Premier’s hegemony, and control over his party and government for years to come.
The risk or downside for the Premier, and the PLP as a party, is that with such a large back bench it will potentially have its very own “internal opposition” vying for validation, recognition and legitimacy as potential leaders themselves.
In the longer run, this “internal opposition”, coupled with “a burgeoning disgruntled support base”; could form a new party and successfully challenge at the next General Election. If that party is staffed and led by a more progressive wing or group than the existing group of conservatives and moderates, then they could form the next government in an election, say in 2025.
Bermuda will then have evolved as political societies in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Barbados and the body politic elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The issue then would be more about class rather than race in a socioeconomic clash between the haves and the have-nots — as the Black Beret Cadre predicted as far back as the 1970s.
Many PLP supporters see this present administration as paying only lip service to fundamental socioeconomic change as it constantly pander to and cowers from “big business”.
There are PLP supporters who do not appreciate the Premier’s seemingly dismissive attitude towards independence, a lack of diligence to institute legislation to lower residential and commercial interest rates — and generally the cost of living — and to effect fundamental change to an inequitable trickle-down, socioeconomic, centuries-old system.
Many, too, see the PLP as occupying an extreme right-of-centre political spectrum. So much so that it has crowded out the OBA in that regard and rendered it useless or nugatory. The PLP’s continued relationship with the left of the political spectrum is seen to be via the Bermuda Industrial Union, and to a lesser extent the Bermuda Public Services Union.
With the increasing restlessness of the BIU membership concerning its PLP ties, fissures may appear that could result in the formation over time of another, truly more labour and working-class party.
But that’s the long-term risk for the PLP, which has its genesis, and potential nemesis, in the pressing agendas of the Black Lives Matter Bermuda and Social Justice Bermuda movements that are afoot.
What does either party stand to gain from an election at this stage
The OBA? Nothing, given what has had already been written here. They may lose their deposits.
The PLP stands to gain much — particularly in the short run.
Let’s face it: Paula Cox is a very fine and gracious person, but she never possessed the grit and guts needed to be a political leader. In that regard she missed a supreme opportunity as Premier, despite being advised, to kill the OBA in its infancy.
Politics isn’t about being nice to your adversaries. It’s about taking them out completely when you can. There was real disgruntlement among PLP supporters at the time. She blinked. Ms Cox did not appreciate the full context and gravamen of what was happening in the field, and the OBA came to fruition to prolong the progress of particularly black Bermudians as a result. That, among other matters, may constitute a significant plank in her legacy. That behaviour comes at a price. In many ways, Ms Cox was the author of her own political demise, I’m afraid.
So, yes, I support the view of David Burt — then and today.
• Philip Perinchief, a former Cabinet minister, was the Attorney-General under the Progressive Labour Party government between October 2006 and December 2007
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