By-elections are notoriously poor indicators of General Elections and there is always a danger of reading too much into them. Nonetheless, there are several conclusions that can be drawn from Marc Bean's thumping victory in Warwick South Central on Wednesday night.
The first is that the Progressive Labour Party's grip on former Premier Dr Ewart Brown's old consituency is as strong as ever. Mr Bean took virtually the same share of the vote as Dr Brown in the 2007 general election. There was no protest vote against Premier Paula Cox's ascension to the Premiership and this can be seen as an early affirmation of her leadership. This is affirmation too for Mr Bean, who beat off some formidable challengers to secure his candidacy within the PLP and is well regarded by many in the party. Controversial past statements apparently did no harm on election night either.
The sub-plot of this by-election was whether the United Bermuda Party would hold onto its role as the main Opposition party or if the Bermuda Democratic Alliance would score a psychological victory by coming second. In the end, it was a split decision with almost 17 percent of the votes going to the UBP and slightly more than 15 percent going to the BDA. The BDA failed to pass the UBP, but the UBP failed to score a knockout blow either.
Together, they polled about the same number of votes as the UBP's Roderick Simons did in 2007, but they split the vote virtually down the middle the worst possible result for both. The danger for them is that this pattern will be repeated across the Island in a general election, which would in turn lead to a PLP rout, a repeat of Sir John Swan's 1985 landslide for the UBP, when the PLP were reduced to seven seats and the National Liberal Party to two. In that sense, this might hasten a reconciliation. The UBP has shown it still has life, while the BDA has not yet crafted a message that is convincing enough to build a new political coalition. Coming together might be the only means of survival.
This result will bolster the arguments in favour of Ms Cox calling an election in the summer of 2011. By that time, she should have had time to have some achievements on her record, to have set her tone for governance and she can argue that she needs her own mandate. By then, the Government will only have another year to go in its term, and should be considering election timing. A Government that leaves the decision too late eventually has the timing taken out of its hands.
Add to that the gift of a divided opposition, and there are strong reasons for Ms Cox to proceed. Against that, the main reasons not to call a summer election concern crime and the economy. If the economy is not recovering, voters will look hard at the alternatives. Similarly, if Government has not managed to reduce violent crime, then this will be a hot button issue in an election campaign.
Perhaps this is indeed reading too much into a by-election in which only 458 people voted. But what is certain is that this will be a confidence booster for the PLP and a worrying sign for the opposition parties.