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Leadership is a privilege – it is not a right

Dame Lois Browne-Evans

Leadership is a privilege; it is not a right. This is a truth that the leadership of the Progressive Labour Party seem to have forgotten. What is it about leadership and power that holds the fixation of humans?

No matter what part of history, there has always been a struggle over who is to have control. Even within the same family, if we look at the historical development of so-called royalty where brothers have been known to kill their own brother to gain control of the throne.

This brings me to the present struggle over leadership that is going on within the PLP, which has nothing to do with the interests of the people and is little more than a dogfight over who is going to take overall control in the party,

I have seen this before, having been involved with the party during the great division that led to the worst political setback that the PLP experienced since its foundation.

Before the split, the PLP stood on the threshold of gaining control of the Government with 18 seats versus the United Bermuda Party’s 22.

At the end of it, all what was gained was lost. It was the advent of this split that allowed the leader of the UBP, Sir John Swan, to call a snap election catching the PLP in its division and reducing its hold to seven seats.

I recall these events very well because I took sides, going against those who opposed the leadership of Dame Lois Browne Evans and accepting the idea that this was an attempt to change the identity of the PLP with its labour roots. I even wrote an article that laid out why this was so and why this must be opposed.

But I was later to come to the conclusion that, far from a struggle over the PLP’s ideology, it was really a dogfight over who was going to control the leadership of the party, which threatened to tear apart the long-term common unity in the black community of the black labour class and the small black business class, which had a common foe in the racial, political domination of the white community.

There was another factor in what was in many respects a personal leadership struggle of two people — Dame Lois Browne Evans and Gilbert Darrell — who had leadership ambitions. But Darrell’s ambitions were stalled by a common weakness affecting the PLP, which was the lack of strong branches except on the part of two or three — and those included Sandys, Pembroke, Devonshire and, in some respects, St George’s.

Dame Lois had the advantage of being supported by a strong branch in Devonshire North, while Darrell had the support of a smaller area and a smaller branch in Hamilton Parish. And, of course, he was not able to gain the support of other branches to mount a successful bid for the leadership.

Another factor about the upheaval in the PLP was this struggle: despite the intensity and political consequence, the struggle for the most part took place among politicians and not among the broad mass of PLP supporters. The result was confusion among supporters, which prompted many to stay at home during the election and thus allow the UBP to gain political inroads where it was never able to do so under other political circumstances.

Will this happen again? The circumstances surrounding this divide look very much the same. Right down to a struggle among politicians while most supporters are on the outside at a loss to what is at the root of the conflict.

Accusations flying among politicians quite frankly do not do a political party any good and, given the history of the PLP, it most certainly is not doing the party any good.

If there is a need for an internal debate about what the PLP is about, then by all means have that debate. But it must involve the members and, above all, the political support base of the PLP.

Anything else is a dogfight among politicians and has nothing to do with the true interests of the people.

You can be sure that behind the scenes within the One Bermuda Alliance, pressure is building to call an election to take advantage of this divide among PLP politicians.

The only thing that is holding them back is they have internal problems of their own and they are not sure how the people will react in the wake of the historical revolt when the people closed down Parliament.

One thing is for sure, the people of Bermuda cannot stand another term of this OBA government. They need and want a government that will act in their interests.

The upcoming delegates’ conference is probably going to be the most important in the PLP’s history because at this juncture, it could not be more important for the future of the people of Bermuda. A good starting point would be to remind the politicians that indeed leadership is a privilege. It is not a right.

•Alvin Williams is a long-time social commentator and former columnist of the Mid-Ocean News