January 2011 Archives

I was having a conversation today with someone in the UBP where I raised an issue which got some attention on the Let's Talk Bermuda show on ZBM Channel 9 this evening (which again suffers from BBC's awful production values - muted audio levels, terrible picture quality to name the obvious), and is my primary critique of the UBP and BDA separately, and combined, by some of those involved.

Specifically it's the recurring phrase of late justifying a merger 'that Bermuda needs a strong opposition'.

Talk about setting the bar low. This sentiment lacks ambition. It is such a defeatist sentiment that it should never be uttered by anyone in Opposition, let alone those in leadership positions.

Bermuda does not need a strong Opposition, it needs an alternative Government. The goal of a merger, which is inevitable now that both sides - but in particular the BDA - have finally acknowledged that talks have been ongoing for some time now, is not to create a strong Opposition, it is to create a credible and viable group which can attract real support at the next election and articulates an ambitious vision for renewal.

It's ok to acknowledge the challenge of achieving this, but the individuals and organisation must have their eye on the real goal. Voters don't want to vote for an Opposition, they want to check next to a future Government.

This was one of the two fundamental missteps of the BDA launch and first year. Firstly they launched without anyone from the PLP, which gave a first impression of simply a UBP splinter group (which it turned out to be). Secondly, it quickly became apparent that they were fixated on the UBP as their primary opponent, not the governing party. It's difficult to energise people to work for second place.

If this lack of ambition persists into the launch of whatever the merged entity is they might as well not merge.

You saw this sentiment again today with UBP Chairperson Jeanne Atherdon implying that the merger talks should take a back seat to the Budget Reply:

"I think everybody is mindful of the fact that Bermuda needs to have one Opposition party," she said yesterday. "A divided Opposition is not as effective."

Sen Atherden said that while many in the public may be focused on the possible merger, the UBP still had to focus on the Budget, which will be delivered on February 11.

The 'strong Opposition' line is one the PLP use a lot, but it's not a compliment and not genuine in my view. It's condescending, with the underlying message that the UBP/BDA should be content as Opposition because that's their default/natural role, and the PLP has some sort of moral and perpetual claim to govern, and that their 3 decades in Opposition were an anomaly. The flip side is that it suggests the PLP see it as the Opposition's role to check them, not their own members role to check themselves when they overstep - their backbench is too weak.

Sen. Atherden's comment also highlights another criticism I've had of the UBP; they place too much emphasis on the day to day legislative tasks and too little on the bigger picture of positioning themselves to win. This isn't just incessant shallow campaigning, but keeping to your broad themes and reinforcing them in your actions and statements.

The UBP downplay the basic activities of an Opposition - which is to reconnect with voters, craft your agenda and sell your vision - and overplay tweaking legislation and making formal replies.

Legislation is not unimportant, particularly with a PLP who cares little for drafting quality legislation, but changing the Government is the best way to have an effect on public policy - particularly in an environment where the PLP essentially dismiss anything they say anyway and have much stronger internal discipline than the UBP.

The UBP, as recently and repeatedly demonstrated by Bob Richards in Finance, value being right over being persuasive. Bob, and his predecessor Shadows in Finance, have been dead on in predicting the consequences of the PLP's financial mismanagement, but he has not been particularly persuasive.

Another final point. While the BDA as a splinter group needed a PLP MP or two to cross over - at launch - to really make the kind of first impression they needed as a 'better way', the reality at this point is that PLP loyalty remains high, and that loyalty is boosted by being the Government.

As the UBP has seen years now of internal discord, so did the PLP as Opposition. It seems unlikely that the PLP will have the kind of public splits that the UBP in the late 90s did if they lacked the principle and convictions to make a strong stand against the misrule of their Premier Brown.

A new party, a merged entity, does not have to have high profile PLP cross-overs to be viable or credible. It would help, but it's not going to happen now with a new personally popular Premier. It's the PLP that has thrown Bermuda into this financial and social mess over the past 12 years, they clearly lack the answers, so why try to recruit over there? The PLP benches don't have any real talent that stands out. Paula Cox's decision that she didn't have anyone capable of handling the Finance portfolio when she took over as Premier should confirm that.

What I would argue is more important now is for a new entity to be able to activate the sideliners, those educated, skilled and successful Bermudians who have thus far opted out of politics. That is where the Opposition(s) should be looking to bolster their candidate lineup, and it's also up to these side-liners to step up and put themselves forward for public service as the problems facing Bermuda are too significant to be treated as a spectator sport.

That luxury is gone. Bermuda needs pragmatic policies and a new vision. The PLP have not demonstrated any propensity for either and continue to maintain anti-Bermudian policies out of pride and face-saving.

| More

The PGA Grand Slam is back, which I'm pretty much ambivalent on. The economic value to the island is debatable although it is one of the more better targeted demographics of our event driven tourism.

What still puzzles me, is why St. George's Golf Course is still closed (or closed in the first place other than to give the impression of imminent construction)?

Open St. George's Golf Course. Now. Throw up a temporary club house, get the course open and generate some traffic and draw into St. George's which is seriously suffering.

Open the course. There is no point to keeping the St. George's Golf Course closed and derelict when it could be adding economic value, and St. George's desperately needs some life. Particularly as it's highly unlikely that the alleged Park Hyatt project is going to kick off any time soon in this economic and tourism environment.

The direct economic benefit to St. George's is arguably more effective than Government dropping a couple million on a two day event, however well it fits our tourism product.

| More

I've been trying to post a bit on the polls, which I still intend to do, but wanted to quickly focus on my hobby horse of the past few months that I've been quiet on lately, namely the increasing chatter (and denials and pseudo denials) of a UBP-BDA merger, re-unification or whatever you want to call it.

One of the most compelling aspects of the recent poll results is that they demonstrate that the split in the UBP and emergence of the BDA has been a net loss for both. The parts are worth less than their whole, and you can see that in the numbers. What the by-election in December also proved I think is that when the push comes to the shove the Opposition is almost split right down the middle, although with a better UBP candidate I think they would have performed better and will in a general election where voters won't roll the dice on an untested new party.

The by-election didn't show any gains by the PLP, or huge losses by the total of the Opposition vote. It pretty much showed the status quo, and I think the status quo is a result of uncertainty about an alternative to the PLP.

The poll party performance is also a bit fuzzy, in the sense that it is hard to quantify the explicit 'new leader bump', to separate some of the impact of a leadership change in the PLP from a toxic leader to one who holds extremely high positives (a component of that due in no small part to the rather low standard of not being her predecessor - virtually anyone was a material upgrade in most people's eyes, but Paula Cox does have her own individual cross-over appeal which seems to transcend - for now - her poor performance in Finance.)

So for me, the conclusion of the poll is that practically, dispassionately, pragmatically, an amalgamation has to occur for a) the UBP not to be reduced to only the safest of safe seats and b) the BDA to be obliterated.

I still am convinced that this will ultimately happen, hopefully sooner rather than later, but like corporate mergers it's not the business logic that gets messy, it's the social issues, and those social issues can sometimes inhibit execution after mergers and acquisitions as well.

Truthfully, I think the social issues between the UBP and BDA are minor and completely manageable because most of the individuals have all worked together previously, and philosophically the parties are aligned. I don't underestimate personality, ambition and ego, the influence of which has been the real eye-opener for me in participating and watching politics closely for some time now.

These kinds of negotiations and arrangements can be tough to navigate and delicate. I do think that time is running out, that Paula Cox would be nuts not to go to an election around the summer, with or without a unified Opposition. So if they're going to do this now is the time.

I'm going to return to the polls in a subsequent post, but I think that it is extremely likely that turnout will be depressed at the next election, and that hurts the PLP and helps the Opposition.

The PLP's strategy in 2007 was based on simply trying to keep turnout high and making the UBP toxic, so that if you can drag people - however reluctantly to the polls - they're not going to spoil their ballots in any large numbers and the stigma campaign against the UBP would cause undecideds to break heavily PLP (which I think is what occurred).

I'm not so sure at the next election the PLP can count on a similarly high turnout, other than appeals on the back of a popular Premier in a honeymoon period. The economic and social issues have exploded in the last few years and this has to suppress turnout somewhat.

So if turnout drops, and a unified Opposition party can hold and perhaps slightly build on that 47% from 2007, with new boundaries and more competitive constituencies, you could see some interesting results. Not necessarily the PLP losing, but a reduced majority I think is possible with a well executed campaign and credible candidates.

I find it hard to believe that the 47% who were not impressed with the PLP in 2007 are now suddenly impressed with them today, after such terrible mismanagement of the economy and escalating social dysfunction.

So on that basis there is an opportunity for some gains for the Opposition, but not if they go into an election separately. That's just a blood bath.

| More

On the heels of Aon's downgrade of Bermuda's political risk rating, the Premier dismissed it and Antigua has now called for a regional response.

A couple of things.

Firstly, Aon's assessment isn't intended for political consumption, it's intended to assess business risk for investors in these regions. Politicians wanting to coordinate a regional political response is pointless. Aon is supposed to be providing unfettered, dispassionate assessments to assist their clients and investors.

A parallel is the National Hurricane Center for example. Their mandate involves a life saving component, so their forecasts can be biased to population centers for early warning to evacuate. Insurers and reinsurers for example are interested in property damage and therefore tend to use other forecasters - in addition to the NHC - for a purely technical view.

If Aon were to amend their assessment because of political pressure their ratings aren't worth the paper they're written on. I'd suggest that rather than try and PR their way out of this, Bermuda and the other parties take on board the rather basic advice that heightened debt and non-diversified economies equals a worse political risk and reduce debt.

Secondly, and this is something I've thought for some time, one of the consequences of joining up with Caricom, which I maintain remains mostly a vanity project for Bermuda politicians, is that we have diluted Bermuda's brand, lost our uniqueness.

Bermuda certainly has cultural ties with Caricom nations that should be celebrated and tended, but economically we are best served just being us, unique, and not watering down our positives and assuming some of the negatives from a region that we do not have geographic or economic ties with in any real sense. Caricom is really about economic issues, and Bermuda's economic issues are very different than those of most Caricom nations, especially with tourism down to a virtually non-existent 4.5% of GDP.

Bermuda ends up a party to battles that aren't ours to fight and watering down Bermuda's brand which has always stood alone and benefited from that.

I think we're seeing that dynamic now with this call for a regional response. Bermuda's response should be Bermuda's response, not lumped in with everyone else's, and that we are, and have always been, different. That has served us well. One of the real negatives of the Caricom romance is that Bermuda's perception has changed. We're now just part of a broader region, a region that generally has very different economies than ours and attract attention that we don't need and don't deserve.

I know that this sentiment could be easy misrepresented for political mischief as anti-Caribbean elitism, which it is not. It's pro-Bermudian and based on our unique economic history and needs, benefits to our trading partners, geographic isolation and requires our own specific positioning globally; we have historically punched above our weight economically and politically because we were just ourselves.

Bermuda isn't economically or politically well served with an associate membership in an economic group that has different interests than us. Caricom's appeal is primarily vanity driven - politicians who long for a forum to profile in due to the lack of interest for independence and that prime spot at the UN.

I'd suggest we get out of Caricom and get in front of the people and places that count, just us, telling Bermuda's unique story.

| More

A reader writes on Government's inane land licensing policies:

We have several people in the office in a similar position and would note........

A Bermudian with a non Bermudian spouse can rent out the apartment but needs another license which is renewed annually.

A second property cannot be purchased by the same couple if they already have a license.

None of this really makes any sense to us.

None of this really makes any sense indeed.

| More

The number of businesses in Bermuda who do not return calls or emails is astounding. You can't buy Bermuda if they won't let you.

| More

Tthe widespread discussion in the public (although largely silent from the Government) about ways to reverse or slow the deepening recession in Bermuda has primarily focused on taxes and spending.

This is important, but the hard truth is that absent cuts to services it is going to be very difficult for Government to reduce spending by a material amount if they have ruled out job losses other than by attrition in the civil service.

It seems to me that missing from the discussion has been a focus on how to grow the economy, and attract - or re-attract - investment into Bermuda, both the local and the international business economy.

Government's policies such as term limits and land license restrictions are anti-investment - and by extension anti-growth policies. Their existence signals to Bermudians and international investors that there is significant regulatory risk in Bermuda and there is nothing like unpredictable policy and knee-jerk legislation to scare away capital.

Unless we can grow the economy - understanding that a 3rd wave of reinsurance capital is unlikely to come again post a shock event in the same size and manner (more insurance linked securities and side-cars which do not generate the same quality and quantity of jobs) - Bermuda's economy is going to be in a prolonged malaise.

Removing anti-investment/anti-growth policies such as these (that do nothing to protect and promote Bermuda or Bermudian interests) would be a step towards acknowledging that the world has changed.

While Mr. Burch was apparently finding humour in the stagnant real estate market on the radio on Friday (rapidly plunging rents will be testing mortgagees ability to pay), I was reminded of a story someone recently told me about their land license experience.

The cost of the legal process to obtain the documents to apply for the license was $5,000, this for someone who is actually eligible for status but has yet to complete the process - partially their own fault I know but the example is illustrative nonetheless.

On top of that you can add the license fee of I believe $1,400 or thereabouts.

But here's the kicker. Immigration granted the license with the stipulation that the owners (a Bermudian with non-Bermudian spouse and Bermudian children) not rent the apartment attached to their house.

What is the point of that? That is a) irrational and b) hurting a Bermudian family financially c) reducing the supply of dwelling units and d) a disincentive to invest in real estate in Bermuda. This is not a second residence, or an investment property, this is their home.

It is ill-thought out reactionary policies such as these that are making Bermudians and non-Bermudians alike question the wisdom of investing in their country. They achieve nothing but engender ill-will and scare off investment.

| More

The Not the Um Um Byes have a youtube channel, and are uploading a lot of their old material. I was asked for a shameless plug, and I'm happy to oblige, particularly as they uploaded one of my favourites, the PWD 40 skit.

| More

An interesting TED talk by Jonathon Haidt on how moral psychology plays into political ideologies and allegiances.

| More

Maybe I'm just getting old, and setting aside the wisdom of using a property such as White's island as a youth rehabilitation centre, but calling an anti-gang group "Cartel" seems a bit ill-advised. No?

| More

With the terrible news that Newstead Belmont Hills is in receivership, the much hyped but never arrived Platinum Period is looking more like the Bronze Age.

(Full disclosure, I stole that line from a friend. It was better than the Platypus Period)

It's hard to see how Park Hyatt or Morgan's Point would pull the trigger in this environment, even if they could raise the funds which is highly unlikely.

| More

A few quick thoughts on the shifting party dynamics going on with all 3 parties:

  • The relative quiet from the UBP and BDA suggests to me that they're working quietly towards some sort of an amalgamation/new combined party and have dropped the back and forth.
  • The shifting party lines is accelerating due to the economic problems as people feel compelled to stop the rot and know the PLP lack the answers.
  • Maxwell going to the PLP isn't a big surprise, but I think the longer the UBP-BDA rationalisation takes the more likely sideliners are to look elsewhere for a way to get involved
  • The trickle of former UBPers into the PLP is good for them but not totally without downside - how long before the PLP are open to being called the PUP, ULP or something like that?

| More

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I've been a bit busy and it will probably persist until the end of the week.

| More

Below is a brief (edited to protect the innocent) exchange I had with a reader in response to my post on the new Royal Gazette website which raised some good points and clarified some of mine:

I disagree with you when you say the changes are branding mistake. From an online point of view I think that the changes make a lot of sense. The demographics of online readers will be quite different from those of newspaper subscribers (and the RG isn't going to be able to convert online readers to paying paper subscribers, with or without brand continuity). In order to thrive the RG needs to engage a different set of users than are buying their newspaper. Ewart Brown's push against 'the daily' has definitely turned a section of the public against "The Royal Gazette" by portraying them as the voice of the old white establishment. My wife pointed out that the new logo is probably an attempt to modernize and decolonialize the RG's image. "Royal" is de-emphasized and they ditched the 'Ye Olde England' gothic/medieval font.

My Reply:

I don't entirely disagree, and think that the logo etc is indeed an attempt to modernize the image, but I don't see having two separately branded properties as making much sense.

But to me, if you have an image/brand problem you fix it, not create two parallel ones. The existing will undermine the new. I'd say modernize the paper as well, which is why I am critical of disconnected branding. The NY Times has it right, as does the WSJ etc. although no-one has figured out the monetizing online content well - other than the Huffington Post and/or Politico who succeed at aggregating and monetizing other people's content.

I think that the Gazette is going in the direction you're suggesting, I just think they should take the paper there as well. Ultimately the demographics of online and paper readers will converge, so maintaining two brands doesn't make long term sense. I suspect alot of people read both the paper, and online, although no longer embargoing content until 10AM may change that.


You are right about the Gazette's need to change its paper image as well. I think a well thought out redesign would have been best but they probably wanted to hurry the online changes out. I agree that they need to change the paper as well, but the new online look might not be what they want.

| More