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Ben Smith refuses to rule out OBA leadership bid

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A One Bermuda Alliance senator vying to return to the House of Assembly has not ruled out making a bid to lead the party, but said he would do so only at the request of his team.

Ben Smith will face a candidate from the Progressive Labour Party, to be announced today, at a by-election to represent Smith’s South (Constituency 8) on October 5.

The seat was vacated when former OBA leader Cole Simons retired from politics this month, stepping down after 25 years as an MP.

Deputy leader Jarion Richardson was sworn in as Leader of the Opposition on August 10.

He said later that dates related to election of the party’s leader — a different position but typically held by the same person — would become clearer as the by-election drew closer.

Leadership change: Cole Simons has stood down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance on his 71st birthday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

When asked yesterday if he would throw his hat in the ring for the OBA’s top job, Mr Smith said: “I’m not going to say ‘no’.

“Right now, that’s not the focus for me; the focus is to be able to become the representative for Constituency 8.”

A victory for Mr Smith, who previously represented Southampton West Central (Constituency 31) in the House of Assembly but lost the seat in the 2020 General Election, would mean the number of Opposition MPs remained at six.

As well as working to help the country, he said the aim would be to bring in more OBA members to the Lower House.

Mr Smith added: “If our team would like for me to put my name forward for leadership then that’s something I would discuss once we get past this first hurdle.”

He hailed the accomplishments of Mr Richardson and said his colleague was making people aware that the party operated in a spirit of “honesty, accountability and integrity”.

Mr Smith said: “Those are the things that we will be driving forward because in order for us to build Bermuda and to attract people in to our country and get our economy back on track, we are going to have to make sure that those are the pillars we are following.”

The politician added: “I support Jarion 100 per cent.

“That kind of leadership conversation is something that’s not a top priority, not something that I’m thinking about and it would be at the request of a team.

“At present, everybody is behind what Jarion is doing and the team that we’ve built is excited about where we are and where we’re going.”

Mr Smith said his legislative responsibilities and commitments as national swimming coach left few options in the calendar for a holiday; he was on holiday this week in Bulgaria, visiting his wife’s family and was expected to return to Bermuda tomorrow.

A Southampton resident, he noted that Smith’s South has never been his home but insisted that living on one part of the island did not prevent representation of another.

“The issues that we’ve been running into in Southampton are the same issues that we’ve been running into in Smith’s,” he said. “People are mostly talking about island-wide issues as opposed to constituency issues.”

While Mr Smith has been unable to doorstep in Constituency 8 as a by-election candidate, he said Mr Simons was still involved there, and that the top island-wide concerns to come up were about education and healthcare.

In terms of more local, constituency-based problems, he said: “People are complaining about the state of the roads and they’re also complaining about the tree overgrowth that’s coming out from the side of the roads, that are causing people to swerve and potentially cause other accidents.”

At the 2020 General Election, Mr Simons comfortably held the Smith’s South seat, seeing off the Progressive Labour Party’s Owen Darrell by 547 votes to 318.

His win was one of six for the OBA, compared with 30 for the PLP, and came after the Opposition put forward only 31 contenders for the 36 spots.

A continuing steady roll-out of a full slate of candidates is part of the OBA’s “wider strategic plan”, Mr Richardson said this month.

Mr Smith highlighted yesterday that much time was spent over the past three years to bring new people “into the room”.

“What we are building is a diverse team that looks more like Bermuda that gives us diverse thoughts,” he said.

He added: “This is not a country that just has old people, young people; it has everything — old, young, people that are business owners, people that work for somebody else.

“We wanted to make sure and we spent the time to do that, because I believe that until now the Progressive Labour Party has been moving things in one specific direction only and leaving parts of our population out.

“It’s important that we get the information from all parts of our country so that we can do what’s best for all of Bermuda.”

He believed the OBA’s earlier challenges were rooted in ineffective messaging.

Mr Smith said: “What we are going to do as a party is really start to have our voices be heard; that’s been the mistake in the past.

“What I have learnt through this process us we have to have our voices heard because that’s the only way that the electorate is going to look at us as a viable option.”

He said the opportunity to work with fellow OBA senators — Douglas De Couto, Robin Tucker and, earlier, Marcus Jones — was “amazing”.

Mr Smith added: “During that period we have been able to actually turn back some of the government Bills because they were poorly written, they were not devised the right way.

“To me, it shows that if you put your mind to it, work hard and try to get a consensus, people will follow that.”

He said: “There are really good people on both sides of the political divide.

“These are friends, these are family members. Bermuda is a small community and the more that we make things ugly, the harder it is for us to go about the business of helping our country.”

He said young people witnessed division “at the top” and added: “Our leadership needs to show a better example.”

Mr Smith hoped the upcoming by-election presented an opportunity to show that the OBA “has built some enthusiasm and that people are getting excited about what we are capable of doing”.

He said: “If that’s the result, it will show some momentum going in to the future, then any General Election we have, we will continue to build on that momentum going forward.

“That’s the plan and that’s what we’re working towards.”

PLP to announce by-election candidate

An announcement was expected from the Progressive Labour Party today about its candidate for the upcoming by-election.

Voters in Smith’s South will go to the polls on October 5, after the House of Assembly seat was vacated upon the retirement of the One Bermuda Alliance’s Cole Simons.

Members of the media were invited to a candidate announcement at Alaska Hall, Reginald A. Burrows Building — the PLP’s headquarters — at 11.45am today.

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Published August 31, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 01, 2023 at 8:17 am)

Ben Smith refuses to rule out OBA leadership bid

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