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OBA suffers for not knowing whether to stick or twist

A few weeks ago I undertook to proffer an opinion on the place the One Bermuda Alliance inhabits on the political spectrum.

You will recall I remarked that the Progressive Labour Party leadership is definitely not a strict labour political personality and is more of a populist party with ideas cobbled together based on the loudest voice; the loudest voice, which changes with the direction of the wind.

I also argued that its social stances are far closer to a political party on the side farther to the Right than a centre-right party — perhaps closer to the nationalistic Republican Tea Party? Meanwhile, its economic stances have many times amounted to economic liberalism rather than typical labour economic policy.

So, what of the OBA?

Like the PLP, the OBA also lacks an absolute, political, ideological conviction. But at least the name “Alliance” gives an excuse for such lack of clarity. The OBA's overall political ideology is similar to conservatives in a liberal style, perhaps like conservative US Democrats or the liberal-conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany led by Angela Merkel.

I say this since the OBA generally espouses a limited intervention in the economy, a smaller central government, business-friendly policies through immigration liberalisation, encouragement of direct foreign-capital investment and increased entrepreneurship through reduced government expenditure, which ultimately aims to balance the budget.

It is difficult to call the OBA a strict conservative party because of immigration-friendly desires, support for publicly funded education, relatively centralised healthcare — see the latest blame on the OBA for lowering healthcare costs — and public services generally; albeit not in as dogmatic a fashion as the PLP.

A true conservative party is typically far less interested in centralised healthcare, is generally anti-immigration, and a central tenant of its economic policy would be to slash the civil and public service. Despite PLP howls that the OBA did the latter while in government, the record shows that Civil Service reductions occurred because of hiring freezes and attrition. Not layoffs.

For example, how can a supposedly conservative party offer massive incentives for tourism projects by way of the Tourism Investment Act, a conservative economic policy ultimately endorsed and passed by the PLP, while at the same time pass legislation to reduce entrepreneurship in the medical sector, thereby centralising certain medical services at the hospital — a typical labour-type economic policy? How can a conservative party encourage liberalisation of immigration while investing heavily in a regulatory authority to regulate consumer prices in certain sectors?

As a matter of strict political philosophy, these policies are diametrically opposed in that some are certainly far more left of centre and some are more right of centre. In other words, it would be difficult genuinely to say that the OBA is just a “business party”. Rather, it is closer to a true centrist party without being tied to a specific political ideology at all times.

Perhaps the central tenet of the OBA is that it avoids extremist points of view. The downside, however, of lacking a specific and identifiable ideology at all times is that it leads to governing by consensus, trying to please the Left and the Right, which ultimately pleases no one. This has always been part of the OBA's problem. The OBA does not suffer from multiple political personality disorder like the PLP; rather, the OBA suffers from political inertia disorder caused by the need to please all and sundry — an inability to make the toughest of decisions at all times because of the necessity to build a consensus on absolutely everything.

So where does that leave Bermuda in respect of being served politically? Ultimately, it leaves us in a very bleak place. Of the two political parties, the PLP is a populist party with protectionist ideals borne out of socialist roots and the OBA is a centrist party with a number of underlying conservative ideals.

Nevertheless, both entities are still relatively close together on the political ideological spectrum. Since there is often little between each party — demonstrated by most legislation being agreed to — the OBA and PLP are forced to differentiate between each other by playing to the most basic emotions, including fear, and this is where the PLP is without a doubt superior.

While the OBA as an entity is a party that governs and leads by consensus, the PLP does nothing of the sort. It leads by demonising anyone who dares to speak up or stand up against its policies. It leads using Trump-like methodologies. Facts are ignored and hypocrisy is rife. The base of the PLP, many of whom actually are from the Left side of the political spectrum, are deployed to shout down the naysayers — online, on the radio, and at rallies and marches. The left-wing loyalists are given just enough of a carrot to keep them on board, despite many of the PLP initiatives not being in their ultimate best interest. It is a masterful bit of political magic — a case of look at my left hand while my right hand does the very things we spoke so vehemently against while in Opposition.

The OBA is incapable of this political zeal. It is incapable of holding mass rallies. OBA supporters are in many instances afraid of being identified and are frightened of commenting online. Many are terrified of being vilified by friends and family. Many are closet supporters and would not dream of being seen to openly support the OBA. Overall, the OBA does have a more positive political philosophy and certainly should, at least on paper, appeal to socially progressive but economically conservative Bermudian voters. The PLP should, on paper, appeal to working-class, socially conservative Bermudians with a more left-of-centre economic mindset.

Let's face it, if we engaged in politics on a typically ideological level, it is patently absurd that any successful business person should support the PLP and it is equally absurd that a working-class person should support the OBA. In other words, true conservative versus true labour.

The only way to change this unhappy situation is to remove the “fear”-based racial prejudices from the political equation. Only then will real political progress be made in Bermuda. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. But one can dream.

• Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government

Way forward: new One Bermuda Alliance leader Jeanne Atherden has to refocus the party after its heavy General Election defeat (File photograph)

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Published February 06, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 06, 2018 at 2:02 pm)

OBA suffers for not knowing whether to stick or twist

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