Not enough to be nice and honest
So Cole Simons resigns as Leader of the Opposition and retires from politics. Let me first commend him for his many years of service to Parliament. Cole is a remnant, I dare say, and not the last of those who were drafted into a machinery where they otherwise would never have risen based on their own efforts or even inclinations.
It would be completely wrong to say he was of no use because, as a very honest person who I could say is almost incapable of lying, I have seen him stand at times where no others would. Yet we have all learnt that being a nice guy and honest isn’t enough to be an Opposition leader who needs to win back a government.
Maybe some would say, “we would rather have nice than crooked”, but then others would respond, “I would rather hold my nose with a little crooked that actually is taking us somewhere that’s forward and not backward”.
Nevertheless, to be known as nice or honest is not enough to be leader of a political party, let alone as a person persuasive enough to be the future leader of a country that is facing wide-ranging challenges.
What does his resignation mean to the One Bermuda Alliance and more so to a country that is so obviously wanting a viable alternative — not just a Loyal Opposition? I guess for the OBA, it means selecting who will be its next leader and for that there are not too many clear or credible options. I won’t waste the readers’ time making comparisons; I will instead state the obvious.
Craig Cannonier stands out as the most logical choice, if for no other reason than he has won the government before. Yes, it was the Progressive Labour Party that defeated itself in that 2012 election, but any other contender as leader of the OBA would have lost.
We can point to a number persons from the old guard who would be an assured loss for the OBA. The younger ones that have recently joined in the past few years are simply out of the question — they are too green and seen a neophytes; nor have they been seen to have accomplished anything of political or social notoriety.
That said, Jarion Richardson was just appointed Leader of the Opposition at Government House. Make of it what you will.
However, the real question is whether a leadership change makes any difference at all to the outcome to the next General Election, automatically catapulting the OBA to leadership contention and to be a government-in-waiting.
What about everyone stepping down to allow a complete reformation of an opposition vehicle that if filled with credible persons may through their sheer innocence have a real chance at convincing a majority to support them at the polls?
You see, in this contest it is winners and losers, and the only thing that truly matters is winning. If one loses by only two seats, it is not proportional representation or power sharing. It’s winner takes all. To have increased the Opposition seats is for what ends?
If one strategy doesn’t work in this type of game, one needs to consider another. If the above option doesn’t work, how would parachuting a new leader into position accomplish the aim? On that note, it will be interesting who takes Cole Simons’s seat in Smith’s South. What’s the prerequisite as a qualifier? Will it just be a Black critic of the PLP or someone of political consequence? Or would it be a tool for a merger?
Is it possible for things to be worse? The answer there is, absolutely yes. Worse than the PLP has said to become? Yes. How could that be possible? And, if so, could the devil you know be better than the unknown?
Although far away, we saw what happened with the Arab Spring, where getting rid of the dictators was the goal. Well, it did not turn out so good for those who expected life would be better. In fact, things got much worse when there was a void in leadership, resulting in disorder and chaos.
Leadership has to be wise, dynamic and magnanimous, but also directional — it should not be dreamy-eyed and wild. When people are accustomed to orderliness, any sign of not knowing what to do or which direction to take can lead very quickly to tyranny. It is much better when leadership is respected than when they demand respect because they are leaders. That happens too often when leadership decides to demand respect when it is not freely forthcoming.
Bermuda has not developed a tradition of being democratic; people have been ruled rather authoritatively where authoritarianism is the tradition. It is a vicious cycle to break; therefore the tendency is to replicate what has been an acquired learning.
A new leadership would have to tolerate the growth pains of learning how to be a democratic society, where participation and criticism are virtues and not treated as attacks, and where the art of power is in building consensus through dialogue and communication. Where openness is the process and not leading by ambush and surprise.
It is an almighty challenge to change from what we have come to expect from our leaders, but begin we must.