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Not to be taken for granted

Excuse me, but my ears pricked up when I heard my name mentioned in a newscast that featured the announcement of a new election candidate.

Lindsay Simmons said that I was the last politician to visit her home in the constituency of Devonshire South Central, where she will be running for the Progressive Labour Party.

Ouch. I stepped aside now some nine years ago.

It got me to thinking about canvassing and its importance in an election campaign, made all the more challenging in this election with the constraints brought about by Covid-19.

First, an admission: I am a firm believer in canvassing, no matter how safe or tough the seat.

The great boxer Joe Louis once famously said of the battle within the ring: “You can run but you cannot hide.”

The same is true in politics in Bermuda, where all politics is local and personal. Constituents like to get “a feel” for you, especially if they don't know you or know of you.

However brief visits to a home may be, they all help. There is nothing worse, or more fatal, than a constituent who thinks that you think that they are not worth a visit, whether they are for or against.

There is no avoiding voters, either: one of the worst approaches to take. You are always bound to run into each other, whether on the street, in the supermarket, social events or sports games.

A good relationship can be vital, too, in times of controversial decisions. It is far better to have built up a bank of goodwill through constant canvassing when those difficult decisions are made, and they may be contrary to what a constituent believes or wishes. A wise politician looks to give respect and, hopefully, to receive respect in return.

As the late Freddie Wade also once advised me in the early days of my political career at a challenging time: if you ever feel you have lost your way or are unsure, go back to the people who helped put you there. You cannot go wrong. They will set you straight. Or words to that effect. It was good advice.

But with this election, the challenge to canvassing is harder. Much harder.

First, there are those who were caught unaware or unprepared for an early call: advantage to the Government; disadvantage to the Opposition and to those who are candidates for the first time.

At the time of writing, two weeks into the campaign, we were still awaiting full slates. Platforms were also MIA.

Second, social-distancing, face masks and hand sanitisers are de rigueur and make kitchen chats difficult, if not impossible. Drop notes and telephone calls are poor substitutes

None of this is ideal.

Meanwhile, the very recent introduction of a third “movement” — and at this late stage — complicates in adding a measure of choice that may be challenging to evaluate.

Much will turn on candidates and how they position the new party, Free Democratic Movement, between the PLP and One Bermuda Alliance. If the past is any indication, FDM has a tough road to hoe and time is against it.

Still, participation is stimulated and voter turnout may be stepped up as a result — a good thing.

The temperature will also be turned up in the coming weeks and the toxicity to electioneering will likely increase — that is if the early comments of those who troll and blog are any indication, hiding as they do behind various anonymous handles, party partisans masquerading as honest public opinion, struggling to be influencers.

Be entertained, sure, but ignore. I suspect most people do.

Instead, I am reminded of the Persian proverb: “Enhance your words. Lower your voice. Rain makes the flowers bloom, not thunder.”

Good luck with that.

David Burt in election mode (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 10, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 10, 2020 at 9:02 am)

Not to be taken for granted

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