Burt and the challenges from within
In a perverse sort of way, on Monday night at Devonshire Recreation Club, Marc Bean was given the greatest vote of confidence as Leader of the Opposition since his crushing defeat of Walton Brown in the leadership challenge in October 2014.
Then, he was voted in by an astounding delegates count of 85-9, which in another time might have warranted Brown’s questioning of his own future in politics.
Bean said after his most triumphant moment in the political arena that the Progressive Labour Party is “the party that has become the most effective Opposition in decades in this country, and it’s because of the team spirit that has been cultivated”.
That team spirit has taken a battering over the past 12 months, with no shortage of stories citing division, insurgence, infighting.
Where there is smoke there must be fire, and embers could be found in the resignations of Brown, Zane DeSilva, Derrick Burgess, Rolfe Commissiong, Wayne Furbert and Kim Wilson from the shadow cabinet, and the retirement altogether of Glenn Blakeney.
Bean has had run-ins with Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House, and has sometimes not seen eye-to-eye with Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union and one third of the power structure behind the bizarrely influential People’s Campaign.
He has also been at odds with Ewart Brown, the former premier, who was once said to be Bean’s mentor before Bean himself refuted the notion in typically effusive manner.
Then came the health scare. Stroke? Heart attack?
Whatever the official line, it meant months out of the limelight for the main driver for the Opposition before he made a first public appearance in support of the taxi drivers who took to the House of Assembly in protest against proposed legislation to do with minicars — Senator Michael Fahy, again, the Government’s lightning rod for controversy, and a second very public sit-in in four months, but this time in a new ministry. Who knew?
And, finally, 2½ weeks ago, Burt became the eighth shadow minister to quit his position inside a year, leaving the leader well and truly exposed.
Yet, still, even then, with more than a hint of trepidation about the state of Bean’s leadership, and the man himself removed from the equation, Burt won by only four votes on Monday over a rival who would not have been on too many lips at the time of the shadow cabinet reshuffle last December.
What say the missing 20 delegates? Will they belatedly want their say at the delegates conference next month?
Otherwise, the fallout has been immediate, with Marc Daniels, the Opposition leader in the Senate, taking his leave with the riposte that senior members in the PLP have acted with deceit in bringing about the end of Bean.
Team spirit gone awry, for sure.
Perhaps more disconcerting is the uncertain future of Coy Millett, the bright young media officer who is said to be teetering on the precipice of resignation, so disillusioned is he with the leadership vote; less so the departure of Makai Dickerson, the firebrand and now former branch chairman of Constituency 34 whose political life force is so dependent on Bean ... and more Bean.
The immediate task at hand for Burt is to unify the party — not where you want to be as an Opposition less than 12 months out from a General Election, if you have genuine ambitions of forming the next government.
The PLP has had four years to unify the party after losing the election to Craig Cannonier and his upstart group — the mischievous among us will say “renamed” group, but we’re not going to go there.
The quick fix now required puts the Opposition on the back foot at a time when it should be seriously challenging the Government as we approach the finish line of the OBA’s first five years in power.
So not for the first time Michael Dunkley and his advisers might toy with the idea of calling a snap election to catch the PLP at its weakest — if only there was not such resistance to immigration reform, the airport redevelopment and, oddly enough, the America’s Cup.
It would be disingenuous of us to say we saw this coming in July when eliciting a tell-all from Burt in the wake of Bean removing himself from office temporarily on medical leave. Pressed as he was on possible plans to challenge Bean for the leadership, Burt played a straight bat, saying categorically that there will be no challenge for the leadership.
He was correct. Monday showed that he could never have won — not against Bean, a man who splits opinion nationally but who retains backing at the heart of the party that is strong enough to see off all available alternatives.
One of Burt’s first official acts will be the Reply to the Throne Speech. But the hard work, the work that is essential to be effected in quick time if the PLP is to run the OBA close in late 2017, has to be done within.
Because in old-school parlance, no matter the protestations of the most one-eyed hardliner, the state of affairs in the house that Lois and Freddie built ain’t pretty.