Mutual assured destruction

Below are the complete comments I (or some guy called Christian Dunleavey) provided to the Bermuda Sun for last Friday's article on the coming bye-election:

The bye-election is interesting on a couple levels. As one of the PLP's safer seats they will need to produce a strong result. Turnout will presumably be low as most bye-elections are, however if it is unusually low that would presumably signal a message being sent of overall disenchantment with the PLP Government, particularly in a bye-election in a new Premier's honeymoon period which should provide some uplift.

There is little chance of the PLP not holding this seat, particularly with
the BDA and UBP potentially splitting the non-PLP vote.

On another, and perhaps more interesting level, as the first election
since the UBP split, what happens between the BDA and UBP is largely an
unknown. For the BDA they will surely see it as critical to beat the UBP
for second and use that as a launching pad for credibility, recruitment
and momentum.

The BDA's main weakness has been a lack of noteworthy PLP cross-over
support. It remains a party which has not distinguished itself from the
UBP particularly well or at all.

The UBP-BDA disagreement remains over viability not philosophy, and if the
BDA candidate is able to gain a larger vote than his UBP counterparty they
will be able to claim a small victory.

If however the BDA does not garner much voter support, then they will
surely have to re-assess and ask themselves where they go next.

Similarly, if the UBP does not manage to be the runner-up, it will be yet
another confirmation of their slow demise and their support will continue
to erode.

Not at my most eloquent, but hey, I was in a rush.

The more I think about it the more interesting and consequential this election is to the UBP-BDA dynamic. Primarily because with Brown gone it's tough to call for a protest vote against Brown, so the PLP should have little problem in winning, albeit it with much lower support.

It is clear to me that both Oppositions are well aware that they are on a path to mutual assured destruction if they go into a general election against each other. Single seat constituencies are a two party system, and with the Oppositions ideologically indistinguishable the result is surely the PLP taking a larger majority by slipping up the middle as the UBP and BDA cannibalise non-PLP votes.

The political reality of the split is that the BDA took the next generation of candidates and workers with them, leaving the UBP with a lack of a bench to go to. However, the BDA were unable to take with them any credible experienced senior Parliamentarians who give them immediate credibility as a Government in waiting.

Right now they're both screwed, particularly as the BDA have not had any high profile PLP crossover support.

Regardless the effect of the split has been positive in my view and I supported it (although I have nothing to do with either party); it has accelerated the realisation within the remnants of the UBP that it is not a viable electoral force.

So...as the first empirical test of voter reaction to a new party the results will have some impact into what I believe is the knowledge by both Oppositions that they need to come together in some form other than the UBP prior to the next general election.

The disagreement is at its core about viability and the vehicle, not policy or philosophy. Both are fiscal realists and social liberals. So competing against each other is counterproductive and perpetuates the PLP's dominance.

If the BDA manage to beat the UBP for second (especially if they draw away PLP support) they will gain vital leverage in any negotiations that may be going on between the two to gain concessions as the party of the future.

If the UBP are able to hold on for second they will be able to make the case that the public are not receptive to a 3rd party, and will be able to push for the leadership role in any new entity (which is inevitable in my view).

I have some further thoughts about how to resolve this which I am chewing on and will write in a subsequent post in the coming days.

But for now, I wanted to elaborate a bit on why the coming election is so consequential regardless of what happens. And both sides are well aware of this, with the UBP with the most to lose.

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