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Here’s the sword, Craig – fall on it

Psychologists have identified five stages to the grieving process. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

A week after the One Bermuda Alliance's catastrophic General Election defeat, its leaders are still stuck on denial.

The proof is in their own words. OBA leader Craig Cannonier released a statement on Tuesday affirming his party was still “a vibrant voice”, “is not going anywhere” and is “a strong committed team”.

Earlier, OBA MP Susan Jackson, in a possible leadership move, argued the OBA “has the diversity, the professionalism and a broad understanding of governance to create a sophisticated, forward-thinking and universally understood platform”.

That begs the question of why those elements were so glaringly absent in the platform it did produce in the campaign.

Ms Jackson did at least admit the OBA had suffered a grievous defeat, something Mr Cannonier has yet to publicly accept, so she may be farther along in the process than he is.

She added: “The next steps for the OBA, as with any post-election defeat, are to air frustrations, maybe bid farewell to members who've had enough, and rebuild. We'll examine what went wrong and what we got right. Our executive structure and internal framework will be reorganised and then work begins on a fresh start and a new platform.”

She is right to some extent, but the OBA surely has much farther to go. Certainly, it needs to accept that it was utterly defeated. It needs to figure out why it lost, and then it needs to come up with a new approach.

Alcoholics Anonymous and other organisations dedicated to helping people recover from their addictions use the 12 Steps process, which in some ways is an extension of the grieving process. For political purposes, there are three crucial steps to this — the first is to accept the problem, the second is to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”, and the third is to remove the shortcomings found in the course of the inventory.

The OBA failed to conduct a similar exercise after the 2017 election, and it is now more necessary than ever.

First, it needs to accept it was utterly defeated. It failed to field a full slate of candidates. It lost six of the seats it won in the 2017 General Election and now has the smallest parliamentary group in Bermuda political history. Most worryingly, a large segment of its base failed to go to the polls at all — an unprecedented act by much of its support.

It is inescapable, too, that many of these non-voters were white, who had previously stuck with the OBA and, before it the United Bermuda Party, through thick and thin.

Second, it needs to figure out why it lost — to carry out a searching and honest inventory of its failings.

Some of these failings are technical and in theory easily fixed. Since at least 2007, the Progressive Labour Party has had a markedly better election machine than the OBA or the UBP. Since then the gap has widened. The OBA now has almost no structure, and this was obvious in the recent campaign, and particularly in its abject failure to turn out its own supporters.

The OBA's unpreparedness and disorganisation is fundamentally a failure of leadership and for this failure alone, Mr Cannonier should resign. But the problems go deeper than that. Mr Cannonier said in his statement that the OBA stands for “fairness, equity, opportunities and good governance”.

That's worthy as far as it goes, although it would not set many hearts on fire. But most voters would question whether the OBA's record in Parliament over the past three years and its policies in its platform really applied those principles.

And if you asked most voters what they believe the OBA's core values are, they would be stuck for an answer. This contrasts with the PLP. Most people know what it believes in. Nor did the platform seriously address the island's economic crisis. There was very little in it that voters could grasp on to as a way of seeing their lives improve in the event the OBA would take power.

Political parties are essentially organisations of like-minded people who come together to win power. They use that power to enact the laws and implement the policies that reflect their own beliefs and which they fervently believe are in the best interests of the country.

The OBA first needs to decide what its core values and principles are. If it is a party that believes that free enterprise and encouraging entrepreneurialism, as well as encouraging foreign direct investment and being open to the outside world is the right way to go, then it should say so and it should devise policies that would advance these beliefs.

Similarly, if it believes that Bermuda does better when its racial groups are working in harmony, then it should explain how that will work — while also recognising the need to redress the imbalance in wealth and opportunity between whites and blacks.

It is not this newspaper's job to tell the OBA what its beliefs and values should be. But there is a desperate need for a right-of-centre party which can be an effective opposition to the overwhelming majority the PLP enjoys at present, and which can criticise and offer an alternative means of governing.

For now, the OBA is that opposition by default, but it risks being outflanked by the Free Democratic Movement if it does not conduct an honest self-appraisal of where it has gone wrong since winning the government in 2012 — and even before that.

There are encouraging lessons from history that can give hope to the dwindling band of OBA loyalists. In 1985, the PLP was reduced to seven seats while Sir John Swan's UBP had 31. There was a rival left-of-centre party, the National Liberal Party, which threatened to displace it as the official Opposition.

The PLP changed leaders and recognised that it had to move to the middle — without abandoning its core values — in order to be an effective opposition and government-in-waiting. Under the leadership of Frederick Wade it did this, at first slowly and later with growing confidence, and in 1998 it became the government for the first time.

The OBA can do the same thing, but it must take the first steps — move from denial to acceptance and then conduct a withering self-appraisal. Trying to parse this defeat into something less than it was will end in its demise.

Reality check: Craig Cannonier hears the election results confirmed at the OBA headquarters (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published October 09, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated October 09, 2020 at 9:06 am)

Here’s the sword, Craig – fall on it

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