A fifty year political battle is over

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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