OBA marched out of office
“I sat there, during the Pathways to Status when we almost came to civil war in this country, and I saw and heard the mindset and the posture and the feelings towards Bermudians, the disrespect that was shown towards Bermudians. Until the OBA party and government addresses that issue, the issue that black Bermudians do not believe the party has their interests at heart ... if the people at the end of the day do not feel that you care about them, that is how they are going to vote”
— Shawn Crockwell, the former One Bermuda Alliance MP gives his final speech to the House of Assembly in 2017 and warns his old colleagues that they face General Election defeat
”They trusted us enough to get elected in the first place. The trust was clearly lost along the way. The irony is, we did do what we were elected to do, but in doing so we lost trust. I don’t have the answers”
— Bob Richards, the former Minister of Finance, reflects on the One Bermuda Alliance’s crushing defeat in 2017
The One Bermuda Alliance knew its honeymoon period would not last for ever, but it cannot have expected the divorce papers to arrive in the mailbox so quickly.
Jetgate, the installation of former United Bermuda Party leader Michael Dunkley as Premier, a drive to push Pathways to Status legislation through Parliament and an airport redevelopment deal dogged by controversy combined to create one of the most hostile environments Bermuda had endured in years.
Bitterness and anger was directed at OBA leaders as thousands of people took part in numerous marches between 2015 and 2017, reaching boiling point on an infamous day on December 2, 2016, when police pepper-sprayed protesters during confrontations outside the House of Assembly.
On that day, hundreds had responded to Progressive Labour Party leader David Burt’s call to gather outside Sessions House to demonstrate against plans to sign a contract with a Canadian agency over the airport, which the Opposition leader claimed would increase the annual budget deficit by at least $33 million.
They successfully prevented MPs entering Parliament by linking arms and chanting, prompting a heated altercation in which police attempted to disperse them with spray.
People who were sprayed were seen treating themselves in the street with water and cream, while police officers claimed also to have been attacked during the disturbance.
The airport legislation eventually passed, but one of the pepper-sprayed MPs, Lawrence Scott, pointed out that it was just one of many issues that had created a “powder keg” environment.
In March 2016, protesters staged a nine-hour blockade at Sessions House to prevent MPs from debating the controversial Pathways to Status Bill, which would have made it easier for long-term residents to gain both permanent residency and status.
The People’s Campaign, the PLP and unions led the protests amid fears that the Bill would create a wave of new OBA voters. Workers on ferries, buses and at the docks downed tools, while about 1,500 demonstrators took part in a protest that was largely peaceful but contained regular mutterings of angry rhetoric.
Protests continued for five days, with PLP MP Jamahl Simmons summing up the mood: “Our culture and what makes us unique is being eroded. What will a Bermudian mean in future?”
The OBA argued the Bill was not about diminishing birthrights, cultural identity or the power to vote, but, at the end of a highly charged fifth day, the Bill was withdrawn.
Even a successful attempt to secure the America’s Cup — one of the world’s top sporting showpieces and a huge boost to the economy — failed to stem the tide of resentment at the OBA, as it became dubbed an elite event, which would benefit only rich whites.
Shortly before his death, former OBA MP Shawn Crockwell predicted that, despite a strong economic performance, the party would lose the General Election because “black Bermudians do not believe that the One Bermuda Alliance has their interests at heart”.
Mr Crockwell was proved right as the PLP stormed to a landslide victory of 24 seats to 12.
Philip Perinchief, the former PLP Attorney-General turned political commentator, said it was not so much what the OBA did, as the way that it did it.
“Their error fundamentally lies in allowing themselves to be perceived as pushing through these initiatives in substitution for, or the neglect of, the delivery of jobs to the jobless, the economic advancement generally of the black middle-class and the underprivileged, and healthier and well-resourced public schools,” Mr Perinchief said.
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