With the One Bermuda Alliance having now elected a new leader and a slate of officers, Bermuda is poised to enter the next election cycle with a new look party challenging the PLP’s 13-year record of governance. This will be an election fought perhaps with greater vigour than previously as alternative views about how best to address the needs of the people will be debated against the backdrop of the most challenging economic times in living memory for most of us.
As this debate escalates and evolves there are some important aspects of Bermuda’s current political terrain I think we all need to be mindful of.
Firstly, the group that supported the UBP in the last election (some 47 percent of voters) has largely transferred their support to the OBA. Whether the OBA creation was part of a strategy based on a leaked UBP consultant’s report or whether it was the spontaneous creation of disgruntled politicians and voters is less relevant now. The party is with us and it is a credible political force. That two former Premiers, Gibbons and Swan, lent their support to the OBA almost immediately after formation no doubt sent a strong message to the former UBP supporters.
Secondly, race regrettably remains a key factor in our electoral politics. While black voters have always split their votes across the parties, white voters always voted virtually in unison for the UBP. Given the old UBP support being transferred to the OBA, whites are almost certainly to vote en masse for the OBA. This white voting pattern remained during the 1990s when the PLP deliberately eschewed invoking anything based on a racially positioned strategy. This pattern remains during the tenure of the PLP government when there has not been a single law enacted or policy adopted based on any form of racial discrimination. We will make progress when whites are less racial in their voting pattern. It is certainly true that there is a small minority PLP members who inflame racial sentiment with provocative commentary and this needs to cease; but their rhetoric alone cannot explain the minuscule white electoral support given over the decades.
Thirdly, when the economy is in trouble, the government gets blamed. We seem to reject the conventional wisdom contained in the adage, “When American sneezes, Bermuda gets a cold.” It is without question that the global economic crisis has more significantly weakened our economy than anything done locally by this government. It does not take an economics degree to know this; just look at what most countries in the world are now experiencing. Could we do a better job repositioning tourism? Without question. Could we have better controlled the public purse on capital projects? Indeed. Those who speak of the PLP government as if it has destroyed our economy are continuing a story begun in the 1970s, when the PLP first showed electoral growth. The line then, as it is now, is that the PLP cannot run the country and certainly not the economy. Former Legislative Council President Arnott Jackson wondered out loud if this really was a non too subtle attack on black people (Royal Gazette, December 4, 1979).
Finally, disrespect for voters will almost always come at a price. We need to respect the voting decisions made by our electorate. Calling the support for one party “emotional” devalues a decision made by a voter who is voting in their best interest as they see it. Parties are required to work to win the support of voters and should take none of them for granted. Regrettably, the OBA’s first electoral step seems set to do precisely this: In Mr John Barritt agreeing to resign his seat and “handing it over” to Mr Cannnonier there is the clear (some might say, arrogant) assumption that the voters of Devonshire South Central will merely follow the lead and endorse the new OBA leader. Given that Mr Barritt won 85 percent of the vote in the 2007 election, voting turnout and party support in the upcoming by-election there will be a barometer of how voters feel about being taken for granted.