FDM appears to be of no real substance
Spoilers. Kingmakers. Or just another blip on the political radar? Despite the recent intrusion, infusion or insertion by others of the Free Democratic Movement into Bermuda's political mix, the General Election scheduled for October 1 is still the Progressive Labour Party's to lose. If run smartly, the PLP stands to win at least 27 seats at this election.
Notwithstanding the high-minded and platitudinal political wish list that is passing as a manifesto of this new party, the PLP strategically is faced with three stark choices after a proper assessment as to whether the FDM poses a very real threat to its political fortunes at the polls, or is simply just an untimely and inconvenient distraction.
The PLP, because of the potential threat to its political base, cannot choose to do nothing like ostriches with their heads in the sand. That was Paula Cox's mistake with the fledgeling One Bermuda Alliance in 2012. If, on the other hand, the FDM is a menacing threat by any unacceptable degree — winning the General Election or even two to three seats — then the PLP should embrace a few key members of this party with a promise to share a few political rewards such as ministerial portfolios, junior ministries and Senate seats upon winning government.
In return or exchange for this early involvement and recognition as a new force to reckon with, the PLP could prevail upon key FDM members to run in OBA marginals to thwart the chances of the Opposition, or independents, winning those seats and to run in constituencies generally, to upset the OBA's chances of winning those areas through a disgruntled or disaffected PLP traditional support voter base in those areas.
This approach is, at least in the euphoric short-run, a win-win for both the PLP and the FDM. Quid pro quo is the name of the game. Let's just face it. Like the OBA, the FDM are not by themselves going to be able to outright win the next GE and miraculously become the next government on Thursday, October 1, 2020.
Moreover, the political surveys so far are not showing that this coming GE is going to be a “tight” one, unless of course the advent of the FDM assists the OBA in making it such a “tight race”.
Under those circumstances winning two or three seats could, as it was with Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell when they became independents, put the FDM in the position of being “kingmakers”, thus giving them political influence over whichever party, the OBA or the PLP, the FDM wants to make the government of the day. Unless I am missing something, I do not see matters coming to that juncture at the moment.
The third option would be if after careful assessment the PLP do not believe that the FDM pose a serious threat to its winning the next GE and are just a “flash in the pan”. Then the PLP should swiftly plan to take them out completely “root and branch” and in their political cradles.
A virulent, targeted, and strategic “scorched earth” political and propaganda campaign would go a long way in accomplishing the ends the PLP needs to accomplish to test the mettle of these political newcomers in their infancy. To be clear, the FDM's manifesto, such as it is, when read closely, essentially says nothing new. At its core and base, it is an amalgam and hybrid of the policies and political positions, on the main topics, of the OBA and the PLP, of course with a few embellishments and flourishes here and there, to keep the unwary off balance.
But this is hardly surprising when the two main parties have been sliding back and forth along the political spectrum from slightly left of centre to 90 per cent to the right of centre for the past several years.
In a situation like that, there is no port for the FDM's political “wish list” to “dock itself”. The FDM's manifesto is long on aspirations but woefully short on practical delivery mechanisms. When thoughtfully considered, it is also quite contradictory in parts.
For example, given the huge inequitable “gaps” between the income levels of blacks and whites, and men and women in this country today, the FDM addresses this phenomenon with the cute political and sloganeering sound bite that it would not be “rewarding failures or punishing successes”.
Well hell, what does that mean for goodness sakes? Does this further translate into a conclusion that when those folks who in a vast number of cases and through no fault of their own, lose their jobs or have their homes foreclosed on by the very often unfair and unscrupulous behaviours of banks and other “successful” financial institutions or loan sharks etc, that they will have no redress from an FDM government?
I ask this because one of the principles of that government is that it doesn't want to “reward failures and punish success”. Well now, doesn't that sound a lot like a UBP or OBA administrative principle? How Trumpian is that? And in the case of people losing jobs and homes, how will, or will, the FDM government with its “limited government involvement” principle step in to protect their other principle of “ensuring the rights of individuals being respected”.
How will such action, if this FDM does take action under those circumstances, square, or not conflict with, their “subsidiary principle” of “ensuring authority resides at the lowest possible level”, whatever that means in reality?
Isn't this how the Conservatives and Republicans in the USA act with the gun lobby, Marc? How do these principles work in the real world? How will you reconcile these seemingly contradictory principles coherently? There is a patently distinct disconnect here somewhere that requires revisiting.
Let's be blunt. The FDM, as presently constituted and rolled out both in content and membership, appears to bring nothing of real substance or imagination to the political landscape. Well, possibly with one exception. Notably, it is early feelings that the FDM brings “seeds of disharmony”, confusion and further division among blacks striving for stability, clarity of vision and steady progress in an already stressful environment made more so with the presence of Covid-19.
This party is seen by some as an unnecessary and exacerbating distraction whose timing is exceedingly bad. Some hold the view that if the FDM had the real and wider interests of black people in general, and Bermuda at large at heart, or at the forefront of their minds, instead of narrow, self-centred and egotistical ambitions, the founders would have launched this party soon after the GE on October 1, 2020 and not before.
However, it is felt that the FDM's real intent seems to have been accelerated by the Premier calling a “snap” election and they wanted to be ready to make a showing at any such election whenever it was called. David Burt's election call, as with the OBA, caught them with their proverbial “political pants down knotted around their ankles”.
Given what I have said about the FDM's platform, lack of readiness and timing, it is inescapable that many voters, black and white, see this party as wittingly, or unwittingly, aligning themselves with, and an attempt at, resuscitating a dying OBA by damaging, without winning, the PLP's black voter base.
It's widely held that the OBA support base is highly unlikely to support the FDM, except of course where and when it would hurt the chances of the PLP at the polls or advance their own objectives. As such, the FDM are viewed as “spoilers” and could conceivably increase OBA seats or reduce PLP seats. Sorry FDM, but that's the perception I'm afraid.
As a result, strategically and tactically, it would be politically prudent for the OBA, the “political alliance and merger” specialists, to ally with the FDM to take out the PLP or severely reduce its majority in Parliament. Politics makes such strange bedfellows.
Again, when you read the FDM's manifesto closely, many parts of it have a close correlation with the OBA's philosophy and ideology of crass and cold capitalism, private over public rights, and a “make it on your own because you will get no hand from us” attitude. Further, for probably the same reasons as the two mainstream parties, there is no mention at all of independence or sovereignty for Bermuda. It's very much an airy-fairy, economic laissez-faire free-for-all affair, giving little if any consideration to whether you are well-to-do or not in Bermuda. To the voters who stand for real progress, I say be extremely leery and circumspect about placing your X against the name of any FDM candidates. Don't get caught up in the hype because of a current emotional disconnect or personal problem you may have from or against the PLP hierarchy.
Bury both the OBA and the FDM at the next GE, until a truly democratic working-class party comes along to evolve beyond or remove altogether the current PLP Administration.
If you believe that they are too slow to act or do not go far enough in their policies to fundamentally transform Bermuda into a sovereign, equitable and truly democratic country, then replace them after the next GE and after the OBA have been properly consigned to the dustbins of our political history.
In closing let me say, that yes, I do believe, since 1998 to be fair, that the current PLP Administration is not doing enough for the working class of Bermuda, and that they can and are in a position to do immensely better than they are currently doing.
I do also believe that a strong working-class element will grow up, out and through them soon to make this party truly a progressive and labour party. However, rightly or wrongly, they are the “pick of the litter” for now, the best of a politically sad situation in Bermuda presently, I might add.
But if we are going to even remotely approach the goals of equality, democracy and dare I say it, a sovereign and independent Bermuda in my lifetime, then the current PLP is it. The politics of Bermuda as a whole must improve exponentially in order for us to enter the 21st century.
Without these changes, Bermuda will continue to remain a political “backwater”, running in circles and wallowing in neocolonial lethargy and confusion. At the moment, the PLP remains our only real hope, to at least get us to the starting line of a relatively still long journey ahead to the 21st century of which I spoke earlier.
• Philip Perinchief, a former Cabinet minister, was the Attorney-General under the Progressive Labour Party government between October 2006 and December 2007