Why the PLP is in grave danger?
Phil Perinchief, the former Progressive Labour Party Attorney-General, answered questions from The Royal Gazette to share his thoughts on Bermuda's political landscape at the end of 2015.
How do you consider the PLP's current position as an Opposition party? What do Bermuda's people need from the Opposition party and what, if anything, does the PLP need to do now to achieve that?
The current PLP, as an effective opposition party, is in grave danger, as warned as far back as 1998 when the PLP won government for the first time. The PLP's current difficulties stem from an historical unwillingness to move past the cult of individualistic “hero worship” to collective, informed and respectful leadership.
It's a matter of evolving to political maturity to deal with today's problems using the best selection of yesterday's lessons. Factionalised cliques, further exacerbated by misguided egos, anti-intellectualism and class divisions, have from as early as Dame Lois and Freddie Wade plagued the PLP. The glue that kept them together, however, was the respect and tolerance that existed between the older or more seasoned members of the party and the younger, more energetic members in the matter of succession to the higher echelons of the organisation.
Unfortunately, that succession process was first severed and got progressively worse from as early as the Smith administration through to its zenith under the failed Cox administration.
To be fair, the current woes of the PLP were sowed under the Brown administration, which fast-tracked and elevated younger and far less experienced PLP members over older and vastly more seasoned and capable members, thus fragmenting the fundamental tenets and structural bedrock of natural progression. Not surprisingly, frustrated, insulted, seasoned and experienced PLP members have simply walked away from the PLP, thus leaving the PLP in a precarious state.
Accordingly, what the people of Bermuda need from the current PLP is a complete and measured revamping. The PLP needs to put Bermuda and the party first and ahead of all egos. If that means plucking from both warring factions of the PLP the most seasoned, experienced, bright and talented young and older members and joining these members with experienced, seasoned “non axe-grinding” members from the wider ranks of the PLP family from whom they should pick a leader to form a formidable party, then they should do so post haste. Unlike the OBA, they do not have to amalgamate two parties. The PLP has to simply disabuse itself of wrong perceptions of entitlement of some members and craft an enduring five, ten, 20-year vision for Bermuda and its supporters. They also have to bring on board the correct blend of youth and experience, clear succession plans and mentorship, in order to energise and gradually move the PLP to being viewed as a party that can govern again. Once that process has been completed the older members have to exit leaving the stage to the younger but now very much more experienced members. There are clear signs of de-alignment of support, particularly among seniors and young professional blacks. For the sake of the PLP that haemorrhaging must be arrested.
What does the current state of the PLP mean for the OBA?
On the face of it, the current state of the PLP appears to be a boon for the OBA. However, I disagree with former MP Reginald Burrows in his assessment of there being an inevitable split in the PLP and a good chance for the OBA to call a snap election. Despite any fractious activity within the PLP, there is nothing more that will focus the collective mind of the PLP then the galvanising effect of a snap election. All hands would be on deck, even from those who are not ardent supporters, because many abhor even today, the UBP's John Swan tactics of yesteryear and would view such a move as an attempt to push back any gains blacks or the working class may have made thus far.
What comparisons can be made from today's political situation to any in the past?
The only clear comparison is that if the OBA continue to pursue policies that clearly advantage the well-to-do and foreigners, if they continue to depend on a trickle-down economy to distribute wealth or sustenance to the rest of the Bermudian population, then they must assuredly expect a worse reaction than that experienced in the 60s, 70s and the 80s.
In the light of the fact that for 14 years the PLP had a taste of governing, their splits in the 60s and 80s are not complete comparisons. The PLP know that there is far too much at stake in 2015 and beyond. They've learnt that much and they will rally and reconcile before they split. Nevertheless, they can learn from the UBP split in 2009. They must fundamentally revamp, rank and file, administratively and among their political group, top to bottom, or suffer the fate of the 2009 UBP.
When would be the best time for Michael Dunkley, the Premier, to call an election?
To be frank, the best time for Premier Dunkley to call an election is when he has substantially delivered on his 2012 election promises and Throne Speech initiatives and has reduced unemployment significantly. He still has time to do that and should get a boost from the America Cup's activities and an economy which is slowly turning around. This, in my view, would be the most propitious time for him to call an election.
Do you think a third party or Independent candidates could ever succeed in Bermuda?
Under the present polarity of the first-past-the-post electoral system, coupled with the undemocratic nature of safe seats for both parties, no I don't think a third political party is viable. A third party would dip into the pools of voters of the existing parties, but only enough to assist the winning party and not win the election for itself outright. However, a third party could be a spoiler or a kingmaker. For example, three successful Independents, or candidates of a third party, could conceivably form a government with either the PLP or OBA if those two parties won 17 and 16 seats each out of the 36-seat House. The current method of choosing a Speaker of the House makes this eventuality even more of a reality.