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Bermuda’s parties should follow the UK Labour Party’s example

Britain's Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer responds after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak give a statement to MPs in the House of Commons in London. Bermuda’s political parties should emulate how Labour elects its leaders. (Andy Bailey/UK Parliament via AP)

For anyone who thinks my calls for broader participation in political parties and wider voting to select party candidates and leaders is new, I have been on record since at least the early 1990s as an advocate.

Even before then, I advocated for 13 years as an independent with the expressed purpose of levelling the table at a primary stage to include the voices of all eligible people.

It may be useful to invite some comparisons. The UK Labour Party not only allows all of its 416,000 members to participate in party conference elections for leaders but also all dues-paying union members, which this year saw 713,000 participate. Until a rule change after the 2021 leadership run-off, non-party members who were just supporters also had an avenue to participate in these party elections.

In Bermuda, the Bermuda Industrial Union has been the bedrock of the PLP's support base from nearly the inception of the party, indeed, they are often described as the two wings of the labour movement.

Two of its past presidents, Ottiwell Simmons and Derek Burgess, were MPs for the labour party, the latter as a minister in at least two administrations. For years there has been virtually no daylight between the two organisations except for a recent spat over an employment rule affecting decertification. So why do the BIU members and its leadership settle for fewer rights than their fellow unionists in the UK?

We could ask the supporters the same question, except there is no structure or leadership that represents them but the same situation applies; they have fewer rights than the supporters, who up until 2021 voted for the Labour Party leadership in the UK. There should be no problem demanding those similar rights even if they are no longer available in the UK, for some reason, which I am sure will be contested if not laid at the peril of the UK Labour Party in future elections.

Some of the defenders of the delegate election process will argue that there are pros and cons under each construct. Maybe so, but there were also pros and cons for the property vote or having a monarchy and on the current global argument of whether democracy in this modern world is more sustainable than an autocracy. There are always pros and cons, some more credible than others.

Can we accept that most developed Western democracies have moved on over the years to something better and more inclusive? The real question that will always remain is: “Is it not better to have a continuous movement towards broadening the base and participatory structure than maintaining a narrow restrictive, and even elitist construct?” Hasn't the march of freedom over the centuries been one to open the doors for more participation of voters in the thinking process?

The UK is not unique in the approach of allowing broad membership participation, the labour movement in France is similar towards its members. If we went across the Caribbean to nearby central America, Costa Rica's leading party, the Citizen's Action Party, not only allows all of its members to vote in the party conference but all their supporters and others regardless of their party affiliation are allowed to as well.

Beginning with the American revolution, different countries have taken steps towards freeing mankind under a constitutionality that guaranteed everyone their freedom, liberty, and right to participate equally. It does not claim to be perfect but it is the biggest experiment on the planet to achieve a pure democracy. It is amazing when we question what the impetus was for them to develop such indignation as to fight for freedom with the chant "give me liberty or give me death".

Bermuda lags far behind in the march for human equality and freedom. In fact, that goal seems to be lost upon our leaders who prefer to concentrate on rule without regard to the rights of the citizenry. Can they or anyone explain how after the surge for the right to vote as far back as 1959 with the Progressive Group and then the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage, there has essentially been no further extension or progress with the Bermuda electorate?

Why is the leader of the Progressive Labour Party, given the comparison with other jurisdictions' political parties, intent on remaining as is, saying during the recent delegate's conference (paraphrased): “We don't need to change, all we need is to execute on our founding objectives."

But there is so much that needs to change yet, I have heard it said: ”It's up to the members if they want to change.“ But the question is why doesn't the leadership propose or have those changes in mind, particularly when there is no ”new thinking“ blood in the party?

On a wider note, why does the Bermuda electorate remain docile and complacent with their jurisdiction when other jurisdictions have moved with the global tide of democratisation? This question is particularly important to the PLP supporters because they supported this party to become the government. However, it is no less a call on the opposition who for the most part would have walked the same walk in denying the electorate the full right of participation. If they had the mission of democratising, they would have led the way or even called out the PLP on this deplorable state of democracy in Bermuda.

Both the union leadership and the PLP need to be examined and held accountable because both are complicit in denying their membership and supporters what should be their full rights to participate directly in the direction of their political organisations and not be taken for granted. If nothing else, they both have an example in the UK Labour Party, why don't they follow it? Or is this another reason why they need to be independent of Britain, a fear of a broader democracy and people having rights? So we prefer to trail in democratic inclusiveness like the other jurisdictions to the south of us.

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Published December 01, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated December 01, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Bermuda’s parties should follow the UK Labour Party’s example

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