OBA on brink of ‘political suicide’
Sources within the One Bermuda Alliance fear that the party is on the brink of “political suicide” over its apparent disconnect with ordinary Bermudians.
Longstanding frustrations after the party's sizeable defeat in the Devonshire North Central by-election were vented in an internal communication, in which prominent OBA members warned of the political cost of inept public relations.
The margin in the February 4 by-election was “so large compared to 2012”, one member told colleagues, that “what should be very clear is that the One Bermuda Alliance has lost the swing vote”.
The OBA campaigned on helping average Bermudians, the e-mail continued, but “most Bermudians don't feel as if we represent them or their needs right now”.
“I have no doubt that we are the best party for the job, but we cannot continue to be disconnected.”
Voters in Constituency 13 turned out in greater numbers than they did for the General Election in 2012, with the Progressive Labour Party candidate Diallo Rabain securing a win with 461 votes to the 351 that went to Andrew Simons, the OBA contender.
Launching the controversial Pathways to Status immigration initiative the next day was branded “very poor optics”, the e-mail continued.
“It's things like this going forward that cannot be allowed to happen. It is committing political suicide. There should have been a contingency plan in place. We did a great job engaging the community in 2012, and I believe we need to get back there.”
The remarks came in response to an e-mail from Michael Dunkley to OBA members commending Mr Simons and his team for their campaign, and observing that by-elections “tend to go against the incumbent government”.
“Voters tend to use them as an opportunity to keep the pressure on government to fulfil its commitment to the people,” the Premier added.
However, a second member responded: “We are so far out of touch that it's ridiculous.”
Observing that the OBA was ardently pursuing the economic mandate promised in the election, the member said the party had nonetheless “lost the plot socially”, where it was losing ground badly to the PLP.
Announcing the Pathways to Status initiative as people worried about jobs was “adding and compounding the fear and frustration”, they said, adding: “Did that conference have to be held today?”
The OBA was said to be direly in need of a consultant, with “no message, no brand and no identity” — and reminiscent of the United Bermuda Party.
“We have lost the confidence of black people and the swing vote which won us the election in 2012,” the writer added.
Speaking with The Royal Gazette, a party source said frustration had grown among back benchers who felt marginalised by the older guard within the OBA.
Last Friday's House of Assembly notably came with a private member's bill from Sylvan Richards, the Junior Minister of Home Affairs, proposing a referendum on same-sex marriage in an open break from the party line of pursuing civil unions.
Meanwhile, Leah Scott, the Junior Minister of Education, responded to the backlash against Pathways to Status with a suggestion in this newspaper on February 11 that the Government move more cautiously on granting permanent residency and status.
“The critical thing for me is the timing of it in terms of the economy not being ready for it and the people not being ready for it,” Ms Scott said, calling for the OBA to “be more communicative and educate people more about the things that we are doing”.
John Faiella, a former adviser to the party, conceded that the OBA could be seen as “getting away from populist governing and becoming almost dictatorial — shoving things down people's throats, in a way”.
“But the OBA essentially knows the answer for Bermuda is jobs,” he added. “If people don't have jobs, we're screwed. The OBA has to do everything they possibly can to create them.
“There has been a fundamental shift. The party has decided they can't simply stop making the hard decisions for political reasons.”
Mr Faiella took a relaxed view of the ruling party's difficulties with public relations.
“I don't think that any party communicates as well as the supporters would like,” he said. “I do think they could be better served by a public relations management group.”