April 2011 Archives

And VSB News wins the party name lottery by reporting that the UBP-BDA merged entity will be called The One Bermuda Alliance or OBA (or perhaps One BDA?) (not the greatest ring to the short version) - but the name isn't really what's important in this merger exercise. For those wondering, it's an amalgamation of the UBP's "One Bermuda" slogan and the BDA's "Alliance".

If you needed confirmation do a WHOIS lookup at BermudaNIC for onebermudaalliance.bm and there it is in all it's glory, registered to my good BDA friend Mr. Branco.

On the plus side, current UBP leader Kim Swan will have a great nickname: OBA Wan Kim Swannee.

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Does anyone think that the party that can't keep buses or ferries running - the most basic of public services - should be allowed anywhere near healthcare reform? The very same crowd that in 2007 campaigned on free healthcare for seniors and immediately backtracked when in office - while denying they were backtracking (and transport, and college, and daycare by the way), none of which they could not deliver.

That BPSU protest march yesterday? That was the penny dropping in Bermuda, or perhaps better put, one hundred billion pennies dropping all at once.

All these cutback announcements should end with the following:

"This cutback paid for with $1B of debt brought to you by the PLP's reckless 2007 election campaign of unfunded and unplanned promises."

That is the stick the about-to-re-launch opposition should be beating the PLP over the head with now, before the start of the next campaign: Why should you believe the next set of promises when they can't deliver the last ones?

There is only one thing that parties in power respond to, and that's being voted out.

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Earned my Bermudian continuing education credits today down at Horseshoe Bay with 3 BDA kites (courtesy of the girls Uncle Ant).

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I've said a few times that the PLP are good at the politics and bad at policy in Bermuda, with the UBP the inverse.

There is however a glaring example of where the PLP, for whatever reason, are just terrible on the politics, and that is the continuing refusal of MPs to take a pay cut, even a symbolic one.

I guess it just comes down to dollars, which as we've learned in the past 12 years is where the PLP always seem on the wrong side of doing the right and prudent thing.

So, this statement in the speech tonight has the potential to distract from the rest of the message that the Premier was trying to push:

It takes grit and character to resist the temptation to indulge the politics of appeasement ... and to say ... there will be no symbolic cuts in Ministers' salaries. This ... in my view ... would be an empty gesture ... inappropriate for a Government ... or for any team ..14 facing the prospect of having to do more with less ... and having to do it in half the time ... under double the pressure.

Well, it does take grit to refuse to take a pay cut after rampant financial mismanagement. But it doesn't take character. Actually it demonstrates a lack of it.

The short version of this statement is "The country has to do more with less, but we Cabinet Ministers, individually, flat out refuse to do more with less when it comes to our personal renumeration."

There's some serious tone deafness in that. And self-serving platitudes. Regardless of how underpaid you might think you are.

It's really the line about having to do more with less that screams out. This slogan is the Premier's crutch for defending the need to now dramatically cut back funding for basic social services because of her previous spending sprees resulting in little of value to the public.

The fact that Ministers won't take a pay cut means that they are not willing themselves to do more with less. Not even a symbolic tiny little bit of less. Which is precisely the thing they're asking everyone else to do, but are just flat out refusing to even consider doing themselves.

It's amazing really that they're willing to dig in like this. I guess that just means that Ministers are willing to look like they're a) above sharing the pain they've inflicted on the island b) not walking the walk c) in it for the money and d) really out of touch and in need of spending some time back on those lower paid opposition benches.

I don't get this one. I really don't.

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Pretty clear from the speech that the Premier Cox is delivering right now, that on the back of her terrible poll results whoever is advising her has said that - as one politico predicted to me today - it's time to look like less of a cog and more like a leader.

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Well that didn't take long.

After 5 months as Premier Ms. Cox's approval rating has plunged to Ewart Brown territory at 29% (although he went lower), and the PLP's approval as Government down to an anemic 16%.

I'm a little surprised with the speed which the ratings have plunged, not that so many people disapprove, particularly because I thought the "anyone but Brown" bounce would last a bit longer than this. So much of Paula Cox's personal popularity over the past few years has been her being a blank slate and the light at the end of the Brown tunnel, but as she's come into office holding both the Premier's position and Finance, the reality of where Bermuda is and how she contributed to getting us there seems to have taken over.

I don't think there's too much interpretation to be done here, the ratings are bad because things are happening and being discussed in Bermuda that never were previously: Unemployment, foreclosures and a murder epidemic.

Never before has Bermuda experienced these things in a widespread way. Never.

I often ask people what the PLP would be doing and saying if the UBP had been in power for 12 years and was responsible for record unemployment, open discussion of foreclosures and a gun murder a month?

The answer is self-evident. They would be absolutely hammering them, and rightly so. We'd see marches, resignation demands, huge drumming up of public outrage - all that stuff that the PLP excel at. What they don't excel at it is governing and making the hard choices of public policy. The bad news for the Premier is that her ratings have fallen on the back of what I would describe as a dishonest budget that was supposed to prop up her popularity briefly - an election budget - that doesn't begin to make the inevitable choices that the Premier would make after an election (civil service job cuts, tax increases, slashing of services).

The UBP is pretty much the complete inverse of the PLP; good at public policy and managing but awful at the politics - although they have played the long game on finance and I think are seeing some dividends as their warnings are playing out.

The answer for a successful party and country is finding that sweet spot in the middle of reality based politics with reality based public policy.

What's also interesting is that this disapproval of the PLP and Premier is not translating in any real sense into support for the Opposition. Or Oppositions.

And that is the issue.

From a purely political perspective the environment is as hostile to an incumbent party and favourable for change as it can ever be. This is about as good as it gets from the Opposition perspective, but there has to be a viable alternative.

It is telling that the UBP and BDA's combined support in the poll exceeds the PLP (even after the BDA's support has been cut in half). I wouldn't read too much into that, but it is relevant.

It suggests that people are looking at their options, but don't see the UBPBDA as an option.

And who can blame them. The length of time that this merger has taken to get done - and it will get done, and is on the verge of getting done as I understand it - is lost time.

Once the new entity is announced and launched, they have to work double time.

The UBP tend to expend a lot of energy on things that the voters don't care about. Like fine tuning the party constitution and getting lost in internal procedural minutiae. Voters don't care about that, and the marginal return is very, very marginal - arguably negative. Those things are important over the mid to long term, but now the focus has to be on putting together the basic framework, putting candidates in place and getting out in front of the public.

I was hoping that this would have been done in December. The first 3 months of the year could have been spent introducing the entity and defining its priorities and identity on their own terms (as much as is possible with someone counter branding you). April, May and June would be all out communication/campaign mode, driving and reinforcing a tight message on the economy, crime and education in anticipation of a summer election.

Voters have to be receptive to an alternative after the PLP's policies and politics have been exposed as incompatible with Bermuda's prosperity and social stability, but a lot of that goodwill might have been squandered in an overly long merger exercise.

Of course the Budget debate dropped in the middle was part of that, where the UBP (and a subset of that) do the heavy lifting of the Official Opposition. But that time can't be recovered and it's time to keep moving forward.

The poll results today would perhaps give the Premier second thoughts about going to an election in June or July. August is just too damn hot (as is July for that matter) and I don't think too many people want another Christmas election. The vitriol just kills the holiday fun!

The Premier would probably not want to go into an election in this environment with her poll numbers low and not much good news on the horizon absent a disorganized and fragmented Opposition. Waiting gives a new Opposition time to get more organized and time to reconnect with a newly accessible voting public.

Her options aren't great, but nor are they as bad as they should be. What I suspect could happen is that the Premier will keep her options open with a view to a summer election. If the environment continues to worsen, and the Opposition look better positioned, she might wait for any minor uptick in support or good news to quickly pull the trigger and capitalise on it.

In many ways that was where the UBP were in 1998, aware that the environment was against them but waiting for a bit of good news and respite to go to the polls and hope to eek it out, or at least minimize the losses.

The big difference is that unlike the UBPBDA the Opposition PLP was very well organised - a known and newly moderate entity in a state of constant campaign readiness - and the public felt it was their time.

The message for the Opposition(s) couldn't be clear to me.

The BDA signed their death warrant by acknowledging that they were talking to the UBP about a merger early this year. The UBP, even their most loyalist supporters, know that the party has run its course. Both Oppositions are aware that Bermuda is best served by the UBP and BDA coming back together as a new entity, taking the best of both worlds and asking the voters: "Do you want more of the same or positive change and a reversal of Bermuda's PLP driven decline?"

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2 Dockyard cruise ships in. Ferry unloading in town with boatloads of passengers. Hamilton shops closed.

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Well, turns out the election strategy of the PLP in 2007 of "everything for free" didn't really mean free after all.

Today Government "justifies ferry cutbacks" by saying that "Premier Cox has tasked the entire Government to do more with less".

Well, this would be less with less actually, not more with less.

The honest justification can only be something like this:

"For the past decade we've been doing less with more. And a handful of people have benefited handsomely. Not surprisingly the Bermuda taxpayer now has to fund their Government's decade of excess, a Government which is now essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of HSBC's loan department."

Representative of this denialism or delusion were the statements repeatedly made on last night's Let's Talk with Gary Moreno by Walton Brown and Cordell Riley that Bermuda's finances are struggling because of the "Global Recession", and that this administration has only been in power for 5 months.

Nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.

Bermuda's finances are struggling because this Finance Minister and her colleagues blew hundreds of millions of dollars in un-budgeted surpluses collected through the past decade - a period of huge economic expansion in Bermuda - that could have been set aside for counter cyclical fiscal policy - ie. deploying those surpluses to inject capital spending and maintain government services during a downturn.

As if that's not enough, Government is beginning to put Bermuda down a path that most Governments are now trying to extricate themselves from - overspending funded by expensive debt.

Secondly, this administration has been in power for 12 years, not 5 months. Twelve years. This Finance Minister has been in place for the better part of a decade and is completely, absolutely and indisputably responsible for mismanaging Bermuda's strong financial position (which her party inherited from the UBP) and enabled and condoned massive overspending which the Auditor General has said cannot be matched with the value of the assets.

This is not some sort of unavoidable consequence of globalisation for which the party in power is a victim. This is the consequence of poor fiscal policy, a lack of leadership, principles, vision and values.

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So the authorities can find a couple of joints on the cruise ship in this guy's room, and he ends up paying an extra $3,000 for a holiday in Bermuda, but a band of 30 raving lunatics on the same ship - in fluorescent yellow shirts declaring Judgment Day - somehow elude them to harass the Bermudian public?

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The Education Minister today reminded parents that their children must be toilet trained before entering school.

This announcement confirmed what many already suspected:

It's only acceptable for politicians to be full of s#!t.

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The surprise resignation of David Burch has dominated the headlines and provided the foundation for Gary Moreno's Let's Talk Bermuda show Monday night (that has become a good TV interview show with serious questions and follow-ups in a calm atmosphere).

There remains a lot of speculation about Mr. Burch's reasons, but it seemed to me that the Premier was quite upfront in his reasons for resigning - perhaps because the cat was out of the bag: being excluded from a meeting with the Police Commissioner .

My personal feeling is that if you accept the strengths some people thought Mr. Burch had (spoke his mind, got things done, was hard working) all of that was out-weighed primarily by his lack of a filter, tendency to fail to accept any nuance - at least publicly - and tendency to offend huge sections of the population for no real reason other than because he could and seemed to enjoy friction.

Again if you accept these supposed attributes, I would say that they were also negated by his propensity to generate solutions looking for problems. The land licensing is one, term limits another - although he wasn't alone in these. Neither really resolved the supposed problems they were said to fix - fronting and too many nasty expats. In both instances the unintended consequences were greater than any benefit they could possibly achieve by bogging down and driving up the cost in the real estate market, legislating discrimination against mixed status families and causing international companies to explore alternatives and begin moving jobs to competing jurisdictions - creating stronger competitors and jump-starting markets that were chasing Bermuda's success.

But I think, as has been alluded to in the news yesterday and today, the Police Commissioner meeting probably wasn't the only issue. Mr. Burch was probably increasingly at odds as a hard liner over some of Government's most controversial - and counterproductive - policies which I still suspect the PLP under Paula Cox are looking to walk back quietly as they are causing real damage to the country.

We saw some of that with the announcement that 500 condos reverted to their previous designation as available for sale to non-Bermudians, and I think some signals that things like term limits, and land licensing etc. are being reviewed.

In the wake of the Gazette's article and editorial on the topic of an Immigration review, Mr. Burch went on a bit of a rant in Parliament two weeks ago that I listened to, saying that he doesn't know where the Gazette gets this stuff - and in short said 'over my dead body' and that there was no support in the PLP for reversing these.

Interestingly Senator Wilson whose purview work permits falls under remained silent and didn't affirm his rant.

So I would say that a by-product of this resignation, if it indeed was over a perceived slight by the Premier, is that Mr. Burch was probably an impediment to rationalising and reforming the PLP's most ill thought out and heavy handed policies which have directly contributed to a weakening of the economy and alienation of many Bermudians, and business owners local and international alike.

I don't think anyone expects the PLP to roll these policies back with a big public "Oops, those were really dumb ideas", as evidenced by the lack of press release about the condo re-designation.

It's also worth acknowledging that as some of these policies are an article of faith to the radical non-realist base of the PLP, they can probably leave them in place for a few more months until after a likely summer election and then reverse course (and probably come up with an honest budget that makes a few of the hard but unavoidable choices) in the event that they are returned as Government.

So while the headlines will be a little less colourful without Mr. Burch's antics and outbursts, my sense is that it's a definite positive for more nuanced and realistic policy over time - done in a face saving manner.

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Signs an election is coming number 1: PLP.bm just got a makeover.

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