PLP's last chance for legitimacy

RG Opinion (Oct. 27, 2004)

PLP's last chance for legitimacy

Throne Speeches are always significant. This Friday however is make or break time. The viability of the PLP as a future Government, and their credibility as the current one, is at stake.

Premier Scott and his colleagues, after six years of inaction on the people’s issues but plenty of action on their own, have put all their eggs in the Social Agenda basket. That’s all they’ve talked about – in suspiciously vague terms – for the past few months.

We’re about to witness one of the greatest rescue attempts in Bermuda history, only one year after an election. This year’s speech will be an attempt to pump some life into a directionless Government and prevent them from becoming a footnote in history. This Social Agenda had better be good. It had better be really good.

Why the big deal? The PLP are six long years away from their first election victory, without tackling any of the serious issues facing Bermudians. That’s six years of a growing housing crisis, rising crime, struggles for our seniors, declining education standards, and on and on.

The Government’s record on these issues can only be summed up as neglect. The Premier admitted as much by declaring that his Government will now embark on a Social Agenda. Well, hallelujah!

It’s staggering that a party, which had thirty years to develop a social policy as an Opposition, took six more as a Government before realizing that social issues might need some attention. That’s thirty-six years for the self-described “People’s Government” to develop a “People’s Plan”.

Compounding that, we’ve been told that this agenda will take ten years to implement. Evidently social engineering takes two election cycles – how very convenient. Using the Berkeley structural engineering project as a precedent, we can therefore expect this ominous social engineering project to actually take twice as long planned – that’s twenty, not ten years.

Basic math suggests then that the incubation period for a PLP Social Agenda is fifty-six years: thirty-six years of planning (thirty as Opposition and six as Government) plus realistically another twenty years (double the announced timeframe) to reach fruition. A fifty-six year project had better be good. It had better be damn good. Anything less is failure, and the problems facing us all – either directly or indirectly – can’t tolerate more of that.

After an extended teaser campaign hyping the “Social Agenda” it’s reasonable to expect a whopper of a plan, or the PLP are done. The public, who very kindly delivered a second chance in 2003, have seen their goodwill stretched to the limit. The time to deliver results is now. No more promises, no more excuses, no more blaming the UBP for PLP failures. It’s time to take responsibility and deliver results. The Government will have to stand and deliver – in a big, big way – the biggest of all of their lives.

To set up their last stand, the PLP branded their Annual Conference as: “The Party that Delivers … A Stable Economy, Solid Education and Affordable Housing”. Surely that’s an attempt at humour? A more appropriate theme would be: “The Party that … Inherited A Strong Economy, Ignored Education, and Delivered Affordable Housing for Two Premiers.”

Humour aside, it does suggest that Cabinet knows that Friday is their last chance for legitimacy. So now that the Government has recognized that they can no longer govern by neglect, what should we look for in Friday’s main event? How will we know if they’ve changed their ways, come up with a real plan and will follow through?

Four critical questions must be resoundingly answered: What is going to be delivered, exactly how will it be accomplished, when will it be done by and why we should believe that they’ll actually get it done. With a six years track record of failure, the final and most critical point will take some work.

This speech can’t be another tired attempt to obscure a lack of ideas and chronic neglect with pomp, circumstance and grandiose language. A laundry list of the normal, mundane, day-to-day legislative items all Governments deal with dressed up as a plan is unacceptable. It can’t be the same old vague promises and long-winded self-congratulation we’ve come to expect. The people deserve detailed tangible policies and explicit solutions. The 2004 agenda has to be everything its predecessors were not.

The plan must be visionary but practical, ambitious but achievable, deliverable in a realistic timeframe and aggressively address the people’s issues. The 2004 speech has to be long on details and short on spin. It must be comprehensive, devoid of the meaningless platitudes and feel good sound bites of a Government hoping to buy more time, before trying to buy more time. Now is the time to deliver specifics.

It won’t be hard to tell if this Social Agenda is the genuine article, and not simply a grand distraction to get through the next election. Look for realistic, achievable proposals written in simple language with short declarative action statements and deadlines - solutions, not spin.

The most important thing to look for is a realistic timeframe for accomplishing the majority of the proposals, one within sight and in this term. A delivery date long past the next expected election date will indicate a plan designed to serve the interests of PLP politicians, not you. Alarm bells should go off island-wide warning that the Government delivered a “Survival Guide for the Politically Doomed” instead of a “Social Agenda”.

Ten years, as we’ve been warned this will take, is two more election cycles – on top of the first two. That’s three too many. A decade to deliver might work well for advancing the careers of ineffective politicians, but it’s unacceptable for the many struggling Bermudians who wonder why their Government has callously turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their concerns.

Friday isn’t any ordinary Throne Speech. It’s Judgment Day.

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