Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What's In a Name?

As Juliet said to her dear Romeo:  "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." 

Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers longed for a permanent union despite the bloody family rivalry that set them apart. Bermuda’s opposition parties seem set for a reunion and renaming although their rivalry has been far less sanguinary. But Juliet’s question remains relevant for our discussion and must be answered.

Assuming the media reports are all correct, the following will happen imminently: the three defecting UBP MPs, Shawn Crockwell, Mark Pettingell and Donte Hunt, will rejoin the group of MPs they left 18 months ago. This group, comprised entirely of members elected under the UBP banner in 2007, will sit in Parliament under a new political party name: One Bermuda Alliance. This rose remains the same.

What explains the formation of a new party with great fanfare and great expectations only to have it disbanded before even contesting a single general election? One view, first articulated by Bermuda Broadcasting’s Gary Moreno in 2009, is that the UBP breakaway faction was all part of a plan devised by a UBP consultant to stimulate energy and interest in the party when they rejoined and changed the party name.  Mr Moreno reports he has seen this report. If any of this is true it would take contempt for voters to a new low.

Another view is that the BDA did not see the level of support from the electorate they had hoped to see by now and therefore sought out a new alliance. This view could only be based on the December by-election in Warwick, in a PLP seated vacated by a departing PLP Premier, where the BDA secured half of the traditional UBP vote.  This by-election, though, was a poor tool to measure the effectiveness of the BDA as a party. The only real measure is a general election, where a larger slate of candidates, along with a platform of ideas and policies could be assessed by the public. To simply slide into a re-packaged UBP mould reflects a lack of stamina. 

If the demise of the BDA does in fact come about as a result of this renaming, Bermuda will have yet another segment of the population as disaffected voters who may well abandon the electoral process altogether. One member of the BDA told me he expected to take a few years to build the party and was prepared to put in that effort because he genuinely believed Bermuda needs an alternative voice to the two main parties. He has now accepted with regret that this change will take place and he is done with politics. More may follow him.

The BDA started something very important for Bermuda. It gave a voice to voters who have grown weary of the sometimes unthinkingly partisan nature of our political discourse; it gave a voice to many whose first focus is fixing our problems rather than the robotic party first postulation.  Its weakness is that it has not yet articulated an alternative vision for reforming Bermuda. That could have come with time.

Messrs Crockwell, Pettingill and Hunt will have to answer how their principled decision to leave the UBP has led them on a path to rejoin that same group of men and women. In the absence of any explanations, it would seem that a principled positioned has been jettisoned by the reality of electoral politics and self-preservation: power is rarely relinquished voluntarily and these gentlemen knew they could not win re-election, having won their seats under the UBP banner. 

We will soon have confirmation of any agreements reached and decisions made between the BDA and UBP. It will then be up to voters to assess what this all means. Will it be more of the same, in more modern wrapping or will we have a fundamentally new political force in our midst?

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