December 2012 Archives

The Royal Gazette
21 December 2012

As Bermudians finally relax into the holidays after a difficult 2012, capped by a famous and nail biting general election win for the young One Bermuda Alliance, we turn not just a new page but write a new chapter in our social, political and economic evolution.

The 2012 election result is as significant a step forward for Bermuda as the PLP's 1998 win. A definitive signal was sent that the public are done with the most defining dynamic of the past four decades: UBP versus PLP. The defeats of many of the PLP's class of 1998 put an emphatic explanation point on that.

For the first time in our history Bermuda feels like a proper, grown up democracy. Anyone can win and anyone can lose. No party can expect to govern in perpetuity. Racial identity politics is a losing game.

The campaign was a study in contrasts. It became apparent that the PLP had one trick, an obsessive fixation on the UBP which wasn't gaining traction. Whether the OBA would be successful in driving home their message of change over the din of the PLP noise machine was answered narrowly but definitively as they were competitive island-wide, including several traditional PLP strongholds.

The PLP's campaign felt desperate, and desperately out of touch. It lacked seriousness, at a serious point in our history which demanded just the opposite. Puppet shows, circus like rallies, road sign stealing, banner defacing and most notably 'the secret plan' - that was neither a secret nor a plan - amplified the PLP's lack of focus on the issues and singular focus on a defunct political enemy.

It was no longer good enough to ask the voter to simply vote against something, not for something. In fourteen years as Government the PLP never shed an Opposition mindset - they were a resistance movement - and brought that culture to Government. This was most catastrophic in their combative approach to Bermuda's economic engine of international business. The PLP's hostile anti-growth and by extension anti-Bermudian job creation policies abruptly closed the pipeline of Government tax revenue that funds social services by chasing away investment. It exacerbated a boom and bust cycle rather than smoothed out the troughs.

The OBA's campaign on the other hand was relevant and serious. There was a clear strategy: focus on the economy and connect on the doorstep. It was delivered with professionalism and struck the right tone for the times.

Craig Cannonier emerged as a confident leader; part family man, part street preacher and at one point part ultimate fighter with his abrupt ending of a press conference. We can debate whether that was the appropriate response, but it demonstrated that he was in charge and had no time for a stale, irrelevant, decades old political battle that he intended to transcend.

Boundary changes around the island certainly evened the playing field but that wasn't it. The OBA worked quietly for the better part of 18 months on the doorstep, connecting directly with voters at a personal level that clearly resonated.

Time will tell whether the PLP take the right lessons from an election defeat in a system that still heavily favours them at the constituency level. With only 46% of the vote they came within a few votes of a tie or their own 19-17 majority.

Blaming lower turnout misses the forest for the trees. The lowest turnout was in PLP safe seats that they still won with their biggest margins, not the seats that the OBA flipped. The 3 'white guys' that they targeted in their print ads all won with increased and large margins, one taking out the Premier.

The PLP's reliance on racial identity politics is a losing strategy for the 21st century. That is the lesson. The country has progressed. So must the PLP.

Their get out the base strategy abandoned the middle class, alienated professionals and attacked the business community. The act of disenfranchising students could haunt them for some time.

The OBA has a big task ahead. Government finances are clearly in a shambles, probably worse than has been revealed, and the economy is in a tailspin. By facilitating job creation, investing in Bermudians, returning confidence and governing with tolerance and humility they have a clear opportunity to redraw the political landscape.

The PLP on the other hand are at a fork in the road. They can embrace change and kick start the process of modernization and becoming relevant again to Bermudians, or they can double down on a dead end strategy of shadow boxing a non-existent political opponent, further marginalizing themselves.

If the PLP take the right lessons from this election they and Bermuda will be better for it. They were in denial. Their cloak of invincibility is gone. The OBA always knew that the electorate have them on a short leash; they have to be solution and results driven. So too will the PLP going forward if they want to be relevant.

Either way the ultimate winner on December 17th was Bermudians. A fifty year political battle is over.

On a final note, I'd like to wish the Editor of The Royal Gazette all the best in his future endeavours. Bill was kind enough to invite me to contribute as a columnist in 2004. The experience is interesting, challenging, sometimes contentious but always fun. I've made many new friends and hopefully contributed in my own little way to Bermuda's political evolution. For that I thank him and wish him well.

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It's funny how it's the little things that stand-out for me.

While all the talk has been about a potential PLP MP in Cabinet, I was pleased to see Craig Cannonier at his swearing in not wearing a red tie, the colours of the OBA. Not that he can never wear red, but I found the PLP's insertion of their party green colour into official photos, the opening of Parliament, Budget Day etc. very unbecoming.

The OBA has somewhat adopted this trend in response, but it's something I hope they do away with for Government and Parliamentary events.

Bermuda could use a little less partisanship for awhile after the hyper partisanship of the past 14 years.

The OBA did make a conscious choice to signal this by not wearing OBA lapel pins but Bermuda flag pins, while the PLP's pins became comically big over the decade.

Not to mention that it was a pleasure to walk through the arrivals hall on Tuesday morning with no Premier and Deputy Premier photos hanging there after the election.

That's another thing I'd hope we can do away with. There's no need to have photos in every Government office, the airport arrivals hall etc.. It just felt very third world dictator, not something you routinely see in modern democracies.

Symbolism is important, particularly for a new administration making a first impression.

I think Craig is off to a good start, striking a conciliatory tone that couldn't be more at odds with Ewart Brown's 'whites need to be made uncomfortable' comment to BBC Caribbean after the 2007 election.

These kinds of things are easy wins and can make a big difference in bridging the gap and returning humility to our political leadership.

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A few comments as reported in The Royal Gazette today when they posed the question of political experience to me:

Political commentator Christian Dunleavy said that a scant background in politics wasn't a bad thing.

"On the question of his political experience, I think the idea that you have to be a politician to be in Government is misguided," he said.

"One of the things that's taken Bermuda off the rails in the last few years is people looking at politics itself as a career.

"Craig's got retail and management experience, which is good, and there's a lot from that which can be applied to government.

"People get hung up on political experience, but Bermuda's at the point where it needs a fresh take, and I'm not sure you can get that from someone who's embedded in the system."

Mr Dunleavy, himself a former political candidate, added: "I think the OBA ran a pretty good campaign.

"It wasn't perfect, but they had a plan and they stuck with it, which I think tells you that he's a pretty good manager.

"He is also team-oriented. He's confident, knows he can't do it all, and doesn't always have to be the frontman."

Despite that, he agreed that Mr Cannonier faced "a steep learning curve".

"One of the most interesting aspects of this last election was we saw some of the big names from the 1998 PLP losing out, people like Paula Cox and Dame Jennifer Smith. I think that shows voters want a new approach."

Mr Dunleavy said Government, by definition, moves more slowly than the private sector.

However, he added: "I do think Craig is right -- things need to move faster.

"One thing Craig does have a ton of energy and skills as a speaker and motivator, so I hope he can move things forward. But government is by design slower.

"(Former Premier) Ewart Brown liked to have a reputation as someone who got things done, but he saw himself as a presidential-style leader.

"He just did things. He had a decree-and-it-happens-tomorrow style."

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There's a few interesting role reversals going on in this campaign versus 2007.

Amid all the PLP's chest thumping about televised debates and a party leader debate, it's worth noting that in 2007 the PLP rejected a televised debate:

Dr. Brown told us: "It doesn't fit our strategy. We think that it could have some entertainment value, but very little political value. No I wouldn't do it." Mr. Dunkley said: "I have no problem with it if that's what the people want. Whatever people want, I'm game for it."

Parties have strategies. Generally the party that thinks it is ahead doesn't want to raise their opponent's profile and take the risk of a debate shifting the momentum because it's a less controlled environment, and the party that's behind usually wants one to try to change the dynamic. They want to protect their lead.

So, in 2012, it's the PLP professing to want debates, which indicates that they think they're losing.

I'd also point out that Paula Cox has been keeping an extremely low profile during this campaign, as Ewart Brown did in 2007. That suggests that like her predecessor the PLP know that Ms. Cox is unpopular and a political liability at this point, so they're relying on surrogates to get their message out instead.

That's poltiics 101.

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