This had nothing to do with policy

The Royal Gazette
Opinion (19 Dec. 2007)

Election 2007 is now in the history books and most of us will be at least pleased that this campaign is behind us and that we can look towards the holidays.

1998 was for all intents and purposes a two-term victory for the PLP.

Yesterday was the first real measure of political sensibilities in the new Bermuda.

While 2003 was close, something would have had to have gone terribly wrong for the electorate to vote out the PLP then.

For most observers then, and I include many in the PLP in this, this election result is a bit of a surprise.

With all of the talk in the press — both attributed and un-attributed — to the style and substance of Dr. Brown's leadership, continuing un-resolved scandals and his closed style of governance, it is surprising that there was no erosion of support for the PLP in this election.

It is apparent that there was nothing that the UBP as a party could have done, said or promised in this campaign which would have created a national move toward them.

They ran a good clean campaign focused on the issues. But this election had nothing to do with policy, nothing to do with debate.

It has sent a clear message that party affiliation reigns supreme and that Government reform, openness and accountability is not an issue for a portion of the electorate.

What it came down to in the end was what separates the two parties in Bermuda, and that's not policy. On policy there are differences, but this was about something else.

The UBP is a political party. That might seem like a dumb statement because the PLP is a political party as well.

Right? Technically yes. But ultimately the PLP sees itself and presents itself as a movement; mobilising that movement at election time is something they are very effective at.

The ability to tug on the heartstrings of that movement at election time is incredibly powerful.

Dr. Brown's campaign was effective at convincing his party's core support to come home and vote party despite the rancour of the past few years.

This strategy was not a secret; Dr. Brown said as much at his party's final rally when he urged the party faithful to "forget how you feel about personalities" and vote PLP at yesterday's General Election.

Dr. Brown's campaign was actually quite simple, driven by a few core messages of a vast white and media conspiracy designed to take him in particular down, and by extension all black Bermudians, while touting his party's accomplishments and attempting to portray the alternative as a return to slavery, as one of his candidates put it.

Boiled down, the strategy was to hide Dr. Brown and his inner-circle, destroy Michael Dunkley, hype minor achievements and race, race, race. The PLP stayed religiously on message.

This political campaign presented two distinctly different choices, as evidenced by the way they conducted their campaigns.

The UBP ran a conventional issue oriented campaign which stuck doggedly to their governing philosophy and platform proposals, the PLP on the other hand adopted an intensive North American negative campaign.

As ugly as negative campaigning is, it can be very effective and undoubtedly contributed heavily to the atmosphere on the island during the past seven weeks.

The tone was incredibly shrill and the willingness to dissemble and distort was remarkable as well as engage in some extremely distasteful racial baiting and stereotyping.

There was no way that the UBP could have conducted a similar campaign.

What was created was a climate which was very hostile to open political discussion but drove people back to their relevant party allegiances.

Race continues to dominate our political scene, and party loyalty trumps performance.

Bermuda remains polarised and there is a segment of the community which wants only one thing from their vote.

Dr. Brown's strategy was to amplify that polarisation, and he succeeded.

Combine that with boundaries which are unfavourable to the UBP, as evidenced by a second election with significant disparities between seat allocation and popular vote distribution and you have a formula which will be very difficult to overcome in the near-term.

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