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PLP ceasing to be relevant

Progressive Labour Party headquarters Alaska Hall (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

In keeping with what may now be a new era of writing started by Vic Ball, an approved candidate of the One Bermuda Alliance whose his article titled “Why can’t the PLP government get anything right?” was published on February 15. Mr Ball had appeared on the radio talk show Motion to Adjourn whose topic was Politics 101, co-hosted by Christopher Famous, also a columnist, and Dwayne Robinson, of the OBA.

I was invited by Mr Famous to appear as a guest on the show, which took place on February 16. Unfortunately, Mr. Famous was at the eleventh hour unable to appear because of other matters. It was left to Mr Robinson to interview me. Right away, sighting his young age of 29, it was very apparent to me that aside from reading my columns this young person had no real knowledge of me. Most of my living activism and business happened before he was born.

It showed in his initial question because his description of me was prefaced by his acknowledging me solely as an avid columnist and asking me to introduce myself. A month or so when first asked to appear, I thought of a whole series of political subject matter that I wanted to talk about — such as the era of enlightenment, the evolution of political thought from Thomas Hobbes to John Locke, and the ideals of Jean Jacques Rousseau. But learning the show was only 50 minutes and interrupted by commercials and TV station news briefs, I realised that the time would not be sufficient for such dialogue and therefore decided instead I would have a conversation with Mr Robinson on whatever he chose as the mode of discourse for the show.

Given that premise, I did not have a prearranged speech or any pattern for what the conversation on the show would be, leaving it entirely in the host's hands. My talk as a result was a monologue and basically a stream of consciousness that began with telling the story of the first acknowledgement of my activism as a writer, dating back to 1967 when one of my writings posted on Vernon Temple AME Church’s bulletin board was selected and memorialised by the Socratic Society.

However, the thrust of my dialogue was about the history, critique and appraisal of the overall effect of the Progressive Labour Party as a political party on the Bermuda Black population. To condense what was said and to extract what the message should convey or ask of our minds would be the question of what was the overall benefit of the PLP to the Black socioeconomic experience between 1960 and 2023.

If we were rational and took a detached academic approach looking at where the Black population was in 1960 comprehensively and comparing it to 2023, what would we observe? Further, if we were to look at what the community of 1960 needed considering its subjugated past, what would have been the optimum formula to succeed and have growth compared to what was experienced by the intervention of the PLP?

I said during this interview that in 1963 with the original six PLP members, there was hope but by August 1964 that hope was lost when a splinter happened at central committee level that began the ousting of its “merchant class” leadership. I also said it was no coincidence that the United Bermuda Party was formed in the same month of August 1964 and at the precise same time as the split in the PLP. That split was actually orchestrated in part by Jack Tucker, the founder of the UBP, from his office.

I posited through confessions to me by Mr Tucker that he and Kit Astwood used Wilfred “Mose” Allen to target Arnold Francis, and how they were successful in that strategy, which led to an argument at Central Committee between Mr Allen and Mr Francis, resulting in five members including Mr Francis walking out of that meeting and subsequently being expelled. Dame Lois Browne-Evans in her own autobiography admitted to this event and was advised by Lynden Pindling to expel them.

I spoke of the original emphasis to create a broad consensus of support by building branches filled with people with the philosophy that to be equal, every member of society needs to be equidistant from the flag or sovereign. I added this was the philosophy, words and mode of the first leader, Arnold Francis, and for that reason, he declared himself only as the “provisional” leader of the party until such time that the branches were full enough to ratify him or whomever the leader was to be.

This idea of a broad-based political construct was to change by 1965 after an effective coup changed the leadership and direction of the party, favouring an era romanticised by socialist dogma. The new ideals of the party became anti-capitalist, translating into anti-business, including Black merchants. The divide in the PLP helped the UBP to form because before 1965 and before the split, most of the Black intellectuals were considering their fates and options in alignment with the PLP. I included in that group persons such as Gloria McPhee, and a number of later prominent UBP persons. After that split, there was no other home or hope for the Black merchant and middle class except the outstretched hands of the UBP promise.

I made no mention of the UBP’s failure or the smokescreen it represented as a promise, but only the fact that by 1990 what was once a thriving potential for Black entrepreneurship and economic development in the 1960s was diminished to near oblivion. That reality lay also at the feet of the PLP, and when asked about whether the PLP was better as an opposition, my response was that it failed the community as an opposition, too. The PLP ideologically let down the economic opportunity, causing the entire Black hope to miss an important evolutionary step.

I mentioned that the political construct compounded the problem because both parties’ format was based on the preservation of special interest groups. The UBP had a narrow interest in preserving the status quo, and the PLP had a narrow interest to maintain an agenda based on the socialist model. Therefore, neither could open themselves to the broadest use of their constituent base.

I said there is a huge difference between an organisation of “comrades” and an organisation built on the “brotherhood of man” where the former requires discipline to achieve an agenda and the latter a format on the rights and consent of people. I said the reason for the PLP having delegates and narrow branch participation, rather than a direct democracy open to all, is because it is based on an agenda and requires loyalty to that cause unlike a democracy open to the will of the people.

Further, I talked about the OBA as a residual of the original agenda of the UBP, which was in reverse, but nevertheless similar in construct because it was an agenda to maintain the status quo. In such a case, neither party could afford to have direct democracy with the people of Bermuda because both were based originally on specific agendas.

In summary, I concluded that the PLP not only is failing as a government, but it is as a protectorate also failed as an opposition. If we consider the war as not about winning seats in Parliament but improving the lives of people, should we compare where we stood in 1960 to 1998 or to 2023? The Black population suffered a failure and it is a logical question to ask whether or not the Black population would have been better if there was never a PLP.

I said if I had a say I would be pulling it up from its roots because it was a maladjustment to the needs of the Black Bermudian population. I made the point that the needs within each location were different. What Nova Scotia needed was different from Bermuda, and Bermuda’s needs were different from Jamaica’s and those of the United States. Each location had its own specific needs; there was no one size fits all. And in that respect, the PLP’s radical ideal from its inception — that is to say, after 1965 — was a complete misfit. History and the Black psyche would do well to acknowledge it as a failure. That is not to say that there has been nothing achieved over the past 60 years because there was — we have free public education, workers’ rights, etc, but in the grand scheme, workers’ rights were not the “war”. The war was about being a thriving, self-sustaining community.

In the 1960s, we were a nearly 100 per cent self-sustaining society; we only needed to become a thriving one. Today it is our very existence that is threatened and, saddest of all, it is only our leaders who have a guaranteed future. The leaders wish to remind everyone how they won the battle over wages and the right to vote, but do not wish to accept that they lost the war, that the Black middle class was destroyed in the war, and that the people they presume to have represented are now fleeing the country.

Future historians will answer the question of whether the PLP helped the cause for the Black community to achieve full parity and growth — and, by extension, for the entire community — or whether the PLP’s intervention was the cause of the failure of the Black community. I take the view it was the latter.

Natural logic as a conclusion is that like the UBP, the PLP as an entity has missed its purpose and has exhausted its relevance.

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Published February 22, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated February 21, 2023 at 3:09 pm)

PLP ceasing to be relevant

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