The OBA leadership
The One Bermuda Alliance has a new, permanent, leader and now must begin the hard work of positioning itself as a Government in waiting.
In choosing Senator Craig Cannonier over Shadow Finance Minister ET (Bob) Richards, albeit in a very close vote, the OBA voters made a break from the OBA’s United Bermuda Party roots, and this will do much to show that the OBA is indeed a different entity and not old wine in new bottles.
Nonetheless, Sen Cannonier and his team have a big task ahead of them.
The first job is to properly knit the elements of the UBP who joined the party in with the BDA and to persuade all to put egos aside. The fact that Michael Dunkley eventually decided not to contest the leadership in a vote he probably would have won shows that this can be done.
And there is the example of John Barritt to go by as well. Mr Barritt will now give up his Devonshire South seat to Sen Cannonier and Saturday’s vote marks the end of his long career, at least for now. An MP for 18 years, and in politics for more than that, this sacrifice is not his first he was forced to give up his partnership in law firm Applebys to remain in politics among other things but it may be his greatest.
The OBA should find a role for Mr Barritt of some kind; his experience and wide appeal is a great asset and he should not be left on the sidelines. And any role he does take should have political reform at its heart. No one has done more to drive reform and seen subsequent events justify his position than Mr Barritt. Bermuda needs more John Barritts not fewer.
His sacrifice should not be forgotten as the OBA goes about forging its identity, and Sen Cannonier’s big challenge will be to find the right blend of fresh faces and the experience necessary to succeed in parliament and in an election.
He has made several declarations about no seat being safe, but the reality is that he must retain some of the UBP’s old hands to ensure his party has credibility while bringing the enthusiasm of many of the newer OBA members into play as well.
Mr Cannonier also has much to prove personally. He has been in that fortunate position of being essentially a blank slate. An excellent speaker and his powerful speech at the OBA conference on Saturday may have swung the vote for him he needs now to walk the walk and show that he can craft the policies needed to bring the OBA to government.
Mr Cannonier’s speech focused on Bermuda’s need for change, and this may resonate with a great many people, but he needs to show how he intends to bring the change about. He’s right to say the OBA must confront the race issue head on, but he must now show how he intends to do that.
And he also needs to take a leaf out of Mr Richards’ book and put the party’s focus on the economy and how an OBA government would bring Bermuda out of the current economic crisis and set it on a more sustainable path.
Certainly, Mr Richards was right to make the point that the Progressive Labour Party is vulnerable on the economy and Sen Cannonier would be foolish not to have him continue in the shadow finance role. Mr Richards may have been unsuccessful in running for the leadership, but his financial and economic knowledge are big assets for the OBA heading into an election.
Sen Cannonier’s major task now is to rapidly build-up a party organisation and to find candidates for 36 constituencies for an election which will probably be held in December.
Policy development and candidate selection are the biggest tasks facing him, because the leader can and should have a great influence on who wants to run. Sen Cannonier, more than anyone else, can persuade people to join him, as Sir John Swan did for the UBP in the 1980s and the late Frederick Wade did for the PLP in the 1990s.
For the PLP, the selection of Sen Cannonier means the old wine bottle argument is harder to make. The fact almost 750 people signed up as party members and turned up to vote shows that the OBA has some traction. To be sure, many of them will have come from the UBP and the BDA, but there seems to be enthusiasm for a new party that is not shackled to the old ways of doing things.
Sen Cannonier has come from being a nobody in political terms not much more than a year ago to being the Leader of the Opposition as soon as the Devonshire South by-election can be held. But that meteoric rise pales in comparison to the task now ahead of him.