Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Political Year Ahead

This year will be a pivotal political period.  There almost certainly will be a general election in either the summer or early December, and this will provide an opportunity for our political parties to connect with residents—and voters in particular—as they each seek to present themselves as the only viable party to govern.  Each party, though, has its own electoral challenges, which if either ignored or mishandled, will cost it both support and seats at the polls.

Enjoying some twelve years in power, the Progressive Labour Party Is a formidable political force. Its current longevity, however, is less than half the amount of time it spent in opposition trying to win power.  The tides began to change for the opposition PLP under the leadership of Mr Frederick Wade in the 1990s when he actively courted middle class voters. It is this critical mass of middle class votes (almost all of whom are black) that represents the difference between the 49% of the vote the party received in 1993 and the 53% it received in its 1998 victory. The black middle class vote is cast where it sees its best interest; it is not ideologically driven; and it is not persuaded by the banality of racial rhetoric. The PLP’s electoral success will be determined by the actions of this group. Its base will be enhanced when it can extend its support to include significantly larger segments of white voters. This has not yet been a demonstrated priority. It needs to be.

For its part, the United Bermuda Party is a pale shadow of its former self. Stumbling under the weight of debilitating defections and what seems to some as a moribund political force, there have been orgasmic calls for the death knell to be rung. But a party which won almost half the votes in the last election remains a significant force to contend with. The challenge before the UBP is whether or not it can make those truly tough decisions to strengthen itself. Too many of them lately seem rooted in the politics of race and not because it’s the right thing to do. In essence, the UBP seek the support of the black middle class as the key to their electoral success, as do the PLP.  The UBP err in believing this segment can be won over by none too subtle racial overtures. 

There can be no doubt that the UBP—having governed for 34 years— is a reservoir of talent. The extent to which it can bring that talent to the forefront will determine viability in the months and years ahead.

Formed by the most junior members of the UBP, the Bermuda Democratic Alliance must first have an identity before it can expect to garner support. The sincerity so many of its members possess in opposing so much of what they see as done wrong by the PLP and UBP is insufficient. Unity in opposition does not represent a common front to move forward. As a third party their priority has to be to distinguish themselves from the two other parties, either due to ideology or with a fundamentally different set of political priorities. To date they have not done this. Where people have a firm opinion of what the two main parties stand for (rightly or wrongly) I doubt many can render such a view on the BDA. When National Liberal Party leader Mr Gilbert Darrell was asked in 1985 what distinguished his new party from the UBP and PLP, he conceded there was little difference and commented that his party’s appeal would could “from ourselves.” The NLP won two seats in 1985; at the 1989 polls they lost those two seats and never recovered.  

Politics is a game of chess for some, for most of us it is a necessary part of democracy and our collective quest for “the good life.” Political parties are one of the vehicles for taking us along that quest and each of us should know how they intend to accomplish this.

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