Dignified exit of the birthday boy
Never the most charismatic leader and highly unlikely to win a General Election, even against a ruling party that has dropped the ball more times than the St George’s Cup Match team, the writing was on the wall for Cole Simons the moment he proposed a rebirth of the dreaded Travel Authorisation fee.
That he managed to survive as Leader of the Opposition until a day of his choosing — August 8, 2023, his 71st birthday — is a credit to the man and the respect with which he is held within the corridors of the One Bermuda Alliance and from his political beginnings a quarter-century ago with the United Bermuda Party.
But, make no mistake, Nelson Hadley Cole Simons had to go.
If the OBA is to make any inroads into the seemingly impregnable advantage built by the Progressive Labour Party government, a total divorce in leadership from the UBP of the past is an absolute necessity.
That may seem unjustifiably harsh on the likes of Mr Simons and former premier Michael Dunkley, in particular, as the service they have given this country over an extended period compares favourably with anything and anyone in the opposite ranks. But a heaving mass of the Bermuda electorate is in a place right now where it is not trying to hear what has been unflatteringly termed the “UBP/OBA”.
That we have had only two organised protest marchs against this government in six years — over education reform and the Fairmont Southampton special development order — while chief rabble rouser the People’s Campaign has died and gone presumably to heaven, speaks incontrovertibly to the benefit of doubt the PLP has been given when compared with none afforded the OBA.
In his press conference yesterday, Mr Simons emphasised the need for fresh faces in the Opposition. Former party leader Jeanne Atherden and Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, committed as they were, ultimately understood that and got off the stage. So, too, Bob Richards, Grant Gibbons, Trevor Moniz, Leah Scott and Sylvan Richards.
The one anomaly was the comparatively youthful Jeff Baron, the former Minister of National Security, who quit as an MP not long in the wake of the 24-12 beating at the polls in July 2017 — which gave birth by dint of a by-election to Curtis Dickinson, whose career in politics has not aged particularly well.
Another by-election awaits within the next two months. And while the OBA should have little to be worried about, if historical voting preferences in Smith’s South are observed as a matter of course, how much closer Owen Darrell gets to the new incumbent — if as a sitting member of the legislature he is allowed to contest the vote without having first to resign his positions as Government Leader of the Senate and Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport — would be instructive.
If Mr Simons is to be believed, and new blood is flooding through 58 Reid Street by the day looking to reinvigorate the OBA membership, the Opposition can look forward to contesting all 36 seats at the call of the next election. Which may come soon, if the PLP’s recent propaganda assault is anything to go by.
Otherwise, those newbies who have been recently rolled out for constituencies they don’t have a prayer’s chance of winning — such is the PLP’s dominance in St George’s North, St George’s South, Pembroke Central, Pembroke South East and Devonshire North East — might be feeling a little buyer’s remorse that they didn’t hold out until the party leader’s announcement and fall into a “safe seat”.
Leaving as many as five seats uncontested at the last election in October 2020 was a psychological own goal and accounted as much as anything for the outrageous 30-6 final count, the voting public realising from the outset that this wasn’t a party in any way prepared to form the next government.
That has led to often farcical democracy, even worse political discourse — which Mr Simons touched on in a soft parting blow yesterday — and cannot be good for the country in the long run.
While he has authored a number of gaffes or “hurdles” as he rather oddly calls them — the biggest coming in February — Mr Simons is to be lauded for holding his party together and forming more of a credible Opposition with six MPs than was the case when there were 12.
But get off the stage he must, with the country’s immense gratitude for services rendered.
The OBA’s long road to redemption is paved with more potholes than Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch can shake a jackhammer at. Yesterday was a start, though, leaving the stage clear for the still relatively green deputy leader Jarion Richardson to assume the mantle.
There are other options for the leadership, yes; four of them.
Two fall into the category, sadly, of “been there, done that, T-shirt returned”; another exposes the country’s continual hang-ups on race in the absence of the Big Conversation; and the last is simply red rag to a bull, no matter the hue.
So over to you, Mr Richardson.