Where UBP goes from here

RG Opinion (05 Oct. 2004)

Where UBP goes from here

The 2003 election offered the first real opportunity to measure the pulse of the community at a time when both parties had a record in government. What was the verdict?

The PLP, in just 5 years, had bled substantial support and was ravaged with internal strife and disunity. The party was able to hold on to a reduced majority and victory - the difference being 70 votes across 4 constituencies - in a new system that was supposed to guarantee them favourable results.

In the UBP’s case they’d made some inroads, although obviously not enough, and had begun to turn around what some thought - and others hoped - was irreversible. Most likely their performance was a combination of dissatisfaction with the PLP Government and some success at reinvention and rejuvenation. But the public wanted to see more, from both parties.

Finally, the third party option was confirmed as farther away today than it’s ever been. The NLP’s decision to support single seats was political suicide, although probably of little consequence. The removal of dual seats entrenched a two party system, and effectively ended the viability of independent or third party candidates. A better move for the NLP would have been advocating dual seats of equal size.

There’s nothing undemocratic about dual seat constituencies, it was the difference in voting size that was a problem. Voters were much more likely to split their votes and support a third party or independent candidate when they had two votes, than in the current setup.

Barring some implosion from either major party, which is unlikely, the PLP and UBP are here to stay. So where does the UBP go from here, in the face of a PLP in disarray and mired in debacle after debacle? What does the UBP team have to do to win over those disillusioned voters, who are open to a change but not yet convinced? How do they earn those 70 votes that separated them from an 18-18 deadlock and that decisive 19th seat?

One year on from the 2003 election, the UBP finds itself in a strong position, but with plenty of work to do. The party and its supporters can’t expect to win the next election, whenever that might be, by default. The Premier’s rapidly declining poll numbers, his party’s six year record of corruption and mismanagement, and increasing public hostility toward the PLP leadership alone isn’t enough - although they’ll help.

The United Bermuda Party need look no further than the first two words of the party’s name, both individually and combined. The focus has to be on building a United Bermuda, uniting a polarized public and returning the focus to Bermuda’s issues, not preoccupations with international sideshows and personal agendas. The last word – Party - should be ignored. Party, and I’m not talking of the cocktail variety, is the part people don’t like. The UBP must not attempt to convince people of their merits as a political organization. They must convince Bermudians to join them in their quest for a United Bermuda.

They must continue their effective criticism of this Government’s lack of vision, failure to execute, secrecy, corruption and disdain for accountability. Valid criticisms must be accompanied by a vision. The widespread dissatisfaction with politicians and the political process must be acknowledged. The UBP must commit to opening up Government and reconnecting it with the public.

Dr. Gibbons and his team should continue to deliver their message of optimism, inclusion and local solutions for local issues with visits to churches, clubs and community events. This has already started with the recent Labour Day speeches, the campaign of 2003 and a more aggressive and less restrained approach in holding the Government accountable.

Critical work to earn the public trust must take place between elections, both nationally and on the doorstep. Voters expect to be visited shortly before an election and hear grand promises for the future, but many people don’t believe it. We’re rightly cynical about promises made on the eve of an election. The UBP’s real work, work that will be accepted as genuine, must happen now.

An Opposition who wants to lead shouldn’t act like an opposition. They should present themselves as the next Government. Throne speeches, budget replies and house debates must speak to the core elements and values of a United Bermuda agenda, not just a critique of the Government’s plan – or lack of it. Perhaps most importantly, the Party must recommit to its core values and explain what they are and how they will be achieved.

Finally, the UBP cannot continue to allow itself to be defined by the PLP, wresting back their message, history and values from the Government’s attack machine. Every action, every word, every policy, must promote the party’s defining and distinguishing traits of diversity, opportunity, inclusion and accountability. That is what separates them from the PLP.

A track record established on these values will be the foundation for success at the polls and a refreshing alternative for a public disillusioned by 6 years of failures and inaction.

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