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Opposition parties need to get busy

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Last week's poll gave the Progressive Labour Party a commanding lead for the forthcoming General Election.

Fifty per cent of the Global Research poll respondents said they would vote for the PLP while just 17 per cent said they would vote for the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance. Eight per cent said they would vote for the fledgeling Free Democratic Movement, which is encouraging for a party that did not publicly exist just weeks ago.

For David Burt, the poll will justify his decision to call an election two years early. Without having released its platform when the survey was carried out, capturing 50 per cent of the electorate is a major achievement, reflecting both public support for the Government's handling of Covid-19 and the Government's general management since 2017.

The poll — and it is important to note that polls are simply a snapshot of a moment in time — would suggest that the Premier should keep doing what he is doing since it seems to be working. He has been able to frame the terms of the election to a very great extent and the benefit of being able to set the date of the election means that the party was able to launch its campaign slickly and seamlessly.

For Craig Cannonier and the OBA, the outlook is much worse. Time is running out for the party to change the election's momentum. Part of the reason for the PLP's high standing in the polls is the weakness of the Opposition, which has not been able to hold to account since its defeat in 2017.

Mr Cannonier rightly supported the Government in the Covid-19 crisis and it must be galling to now see his opposite number using that national unity to his party's advantage. This is not the first time Mr Cannonier has been outmanoeuvred and it is critical that he differentiate his party from the PLP.

This is not now about winning the General Election, which is probably beyond the OBA, but about ensuring it has sufficient seats and popular support to be an effective opposition. To achieve even that limited goal, the OBA will need to roll out an impressive platform which goes beyond platitudes.

The OBA also needs to blunt the presidential nature of the PLP's campaign in which an outsider would be forgiven for thinking that the PLP in fact only has one member, or that Mr Burt has managed the Covid-19 crisis single-handedly, given the lack of exposure his Cabinet and candidates have received. Indeed, the PLP's platform webpage has five images of Mr Burt. Among other candidates, Deputy Premier Walter Roban and minister Lovitta Foggo are each featured once and that's it. It would be no surprise if the masked medical professional on the screen turned out to be Mr Burt as well, such is his ubiquity and such is the void where the rest of the PLP team should be.

To counter that, Mr Cannonier needs to present his team as just that — a diverse and varied team where all MPs and leading candidates have something to contribute — and that it is not the David Burt ego trip.

It also needs to take the gloves off and become much tougher in its approach; politics, as the late Dame Lois Browne-Evans said, is not kindergarten, and she might have added that nice guys finish last.

The truth is that the PLP's record over the last three years is less robust than it would like people to think, and its platform released on Tuesday night — again in a one-man show — underlined this since much of it consisted of reheated promises from 2017.

Its two major reform initiatives in health and education remain unfinished, and while it can blame the Covid-19 crisis for some of the delay, that ignores the fact that there was no need to call an election when major election promises remained undone.

Similarly, the Government's promises on a swath of other issues remain just that. The platform promises to return the airport to Bermudian ownership within five years, but it has already failed in its promise to rewrite the contract with Skyport — if it could not amend key terms in the agreement, how does it think it can simply tear it up without finding itself in court with no defence?

There's another repeat promise to get the gaming industry up and running and yet, three years after the last election, it is no closer to achieving this goal than it was on the day it was elected.

As for the economy, the key issue in this campaign, the record is pretty dismal. Even before Covid-19, economic growth was moribund while what job creation there was had occurred in the public sector. Mr Burt claims that financial technology has created 60 jobs, but is it difficult to see where they are. And now the situation is worse. The shutdown of the island, while necessary, has caused unprecedented mass unemployment and the PLP's solutions are a little thin.

This means that the OBA and the FDM have room, even at this juncture, to mount effective counter-attacks on the PLP's record and plans. But time is running out and they run the risk of splitting the opposition vote where they are both fielding candidates. It may be that Bermuda will see tactical voting where one party or the other has the stronger candidates, not necessarily because they have similar views — there is a wide divergence — but because of the need for some form of opposition to hold the Government to account for the next five years.

The poll suggests that around one in four voters have yet to make up their minds, and it also suggests that much of this vote lies among those who would previously have voted for the OBA. This gives both opposition parties the opportunity to narrow the PLP's leads and they should target the undecideds, if only because that is an easier task than someone who has already indicated a voting preference.

With less than one week to go before election day, the opposition parties need to decisively up their games and take hold of the agenda. If they don't, they will only have themselves to blame for a potentially crushing defeat on October 1.

Not long now: has David Burt, the Premier, done enough to win the General Election or can any of the opposition parties still make some moves to make a difference by next Thursday? (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 25, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated September 25, 2020 at 1:46 pm)

Opposition parties need to get busy

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