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Leaders blamed for voter unrest

Poll reaction: former Premier Ewart Brown says the OBA won through a campaign of “vilification and demonisation”

Veteran political figures have faulted the leadership of both parties for electoral disillusionment exposed this week in a poll by The Royal Gazette.

Disgruntled voters from “right across the spectrum” regularly voice dissatisfaction to a lunch group of former MPs that includes Progressive Labour Party veteran Reginald Burrows.

Meanwhile, David Saul, the former Premier, pointed to a fatal slippage in support for the governing One Bermuda Alliance, even as members of both sides publicly air frustrations with their teams.

Ewart Brown, the former Premier, likened the years of struggle between the OBA and the PLP to “the Western movies where two combatants engage in a knock-down, drag-out fight and are found hours later in a stupor, having forgotten their original missions”.

None were surprised at the figures in Monday’s edition, in which more than half of registered voters said both parties had too much internal strife to run the country.

“People from all walks of life come over to say they wish we were back in Parliament; you would be surprised,” Mr Burrows said. “They are not happy with their representatives.” Many looked back on times of a more civil atmosphere when rival MPs generally got on well, he said, even outside Parliament.

“I’m not sure that still happens,” Mr Burrows added.

Voter frustration came as no surprise to Dr Saul, who laid the responsibility squarely on leadership.

“The leader’s job is to put everyone on an even keel. By definition, everyone in the population feels comfortable.”

However, Dr Saul did not place blame on discontent lingering from the One Bermuda Alliance’s narrow win in the 2012 General Election.

“If it’s close-fought, those in the Opposition start to slowly lose support — assuming that those in the Government are doing a satisfactory job, you will find people who will drift the other way. But that isn’t happening in this case. The Government are losing their own supporters. That is not a good thing.”

Dr Brown called himself “not shocked or even surprised by the results of the poll”.

“Both political parties have never recovered from the last election,” he said.

“The OBA won almost four years ago through a multiyear campaign of vilification and demonisation.

“They have reaped the whirlwind, and now find themselves scrambling to maintain a majority in the House.”

Asked if he envisaged any sort of workable alternative to the often antagonistic Westminster system, Dr Saul replied: “No; that’s not at all possible. It’s even more of a problem in a small country like Bermuda. I doubt the average person could see us going back to the old days where everyone ran as an independent.”

Mr Burrows echoed that view, saying he saw no other system of government that could serve the island much better.

“People are not happy with either one of them; the system doesn’t make that much difference,” he said, pointing to the unpalatable presidential contenders now facing United States voters.

Warning that “the electorate gets disgusted very easily”, Mr Burrows said yet another election could get decided based on whose supporters stay at home.

While the OBA seemed better at presenting a unified front, “when they were in Opposition they criticised the PLP for so many things and are now doing the same things, which makes matters even worse”. “Sometimes the PLP were wrong. But two wrongs never made a right.”

Dr Brown said his own party had assumed “the unusual posture of apologising incessantly for the PLP record over 14 years”.

“In our present state of uncertainty, we are not showing voters that we are the party to lead Bermuda out of its current paralysis.”

And Dr Saul cautioned that, in the political arena, “public perception is reality”. “As soon as one election is up, you start preparing for the next one. You keep your team spirit up.

“The man in the street wants to know that the people in charge are a team working together — thrashing things out and then coming out as a team. Anything that makes the average person think there is dissatisfaction in the ranks is bad.

“The leaders should be seen as one; then the rest of the party feels confident.”