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Political leadership and candidate selection processes are designed to be competitive. Wrangling is expected, encouraged. That's how you test candidates, test leaders, develop positions and policy.

Why it's so scandalous when the Opposition has it, just as every political party in the world does, is beyond me. This isn't news. It's normal.

I suppose that because the Opposition is multi-racial that these things are prescribed a racial component, but that speaks more to the prejudices and myopia of the critics than anything else.

In a broader sense I'm convinced that part of the problem of the past few years for both parties, but particularly the Opposition, has been too centralised a system of candidate selection.

The PLP's opening of seats to primaries is a good move. It creates some short term headaches and can be messy, but it ultimately produces stronger candidates who have been tested.

One of the issues which contributed to the problems the UBP had was a highly centralised candidate selection process that saw weak candidates, and in some cases political opportunists, parachuted into seats without putting in the work beforehand. Primaries were avoided as they can be contentious, but in the long run I'm convinced they are an important method to select and develop future candidates and leaders.

A robust leadership contest in the OBA is fun for reporters to write about as a soap opera, and fills column inches, but it's exactly what should happen. This is how parties evolve, peope evolve, positons evolve, and the country moves ahead.

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As the operator of an (alleged) pyramid scheme, politely called a multi-level marketing scheme, I understand how Wayne finds it plausible that (the completely fragmented Opposition) pulled off a highly orchestrated multi-year sham to defraud people, over 4 years, ending with a (not-at-all tidy) merger.

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The move today by 7 UBP MPs effectively short circuited any legal attempt to block the merger of the UBP and BDA and has ended, in every meaningful way the UBP.

It's a shame that the dissolution of the party descended into a farce courtesy of the actions of Kim Swan and a couple of others. Kim is a friend, and someone who loves Bermuda in the purest sense, but he did himself and the party a disservice with his actions of the past week.

There is so much to say about what happened, but this is a time to look forward not back. Bermuda been doing that for far too long.

I am energised by the emergence of the One Bermuda Alliance, and am convinced that despite the predictable attempts to try and re-UBP it that will come, this signals the closing of a chapter of Bermuda politics.

Bermuda's politics remains today largely structured, defined and constrained by the events of the 1960s and 70s. That time was one of huge significance and progress for Bermuda, but the Bermuda of today is not the Bermuda of yesterday. We need new leadership, around today's issues, with the next generation of Bermudians stepping up and claiming their place in shaping Bermuda's future.

I welcome the emergence of the One Bermuda Alliance and the change that it will bring, despite those who will feel threatened by it and try to brute force it back into the only box they know.

I also congratulate John Barritt on his imminent appointment as interim leader. John is someone who over the past decade or so I have grown to know well and respect immensely. Bermuda will be well served by John, even temporarily.

I fully intend to join the OBA after spending the better part of the past 5 years with no political affiliation and look forward to working again with so many of my friends. Of course there will be ups and downs, but I hope, I sincerely hope, that this can be the end of the debilitating and endless internal drama of the Opposition of the last decade.

This move tomorrow can be the beginning of a substantive change that is long overdue in Bermuda politics.

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I'm speechless with the news that a small group of UBP members/MPs have filed an injunction to prevent the winding up of the UBP.

This is lunacy. It's over. Let it go. Time to move on.

One of this year's National Heroes, Jack Tucker, knew when it was time to break with the past and chart a new course. This is another of those times.

Give it up guys. What are you trying to save? The UBP is over.

If these guys don't join up with the One BA, then all this merger effort, which has taken months, a year even, will be for nothing and you'll simply have another rump 3rd party that is no longer viable. This time it will be the UBP.

Let. It. Go. It's time. Past time actually.

(Ok, so I wasn't speechless.)

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The PLP website's extremely clumsy effort to work dismissive references about the One Bermuda Alliance into the title, beginning and end of a mundane article about the Premier's annual visit to the RIMS conference, on the back of yesterday's predictable and unimaginative put down of the merger, suggests that they're worried (and need better PR people).

Not to mention that the "same people, same backers, same policies" line is likely to backfire. That's much more applicable to the latest iteration of the PLP class of 1998 with the exact same people, same backers and same policies which broke Bermuda in twelve short years than it is anyone else.

Hence Paula Cox's rapid plunge in the polls.

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With the latest installment of free was never free, and the PLP unwinding yet another of the PLP's election promises which never made sense in the first place, the One Bermuda Alliance Opposition should start broadening the response, and not keep them narrowly focused on each f-up.

The real kind of connections they should be helping the voter make is:

If the PLP can't deliver their 2007 election promises why should you believe the next set?

If the PLP can't fix a minor bus and ferry problem, surely no-one can believe that they can fix the economy they broke, the violent crime outbreak they denied, the tourism freefall they branded a turnaround and education that is not really an education?

If the PLP said tourism was turning around why is it at an all time low?

If the PLP said crime was declining why are we averaging one shooting murder a month in 2011?

These aren't isolated issues, they're all interconnected to a fundamentally flawed public policy, an inability to effectively run the most basic apparatus of Government, a glib willingness to campaign on knowingly empty and undeliverable promises, and a public sector infrastructure that is crumbling due to projects being built to achieve the goal of redistributing public sector wealth to a handful of insiders, not the greater public interest.

All that is happening now, transport cuts as tourism season kicks in (our 4% second economic 'pillar'), police cuts as violent crime spirals out of control and debt escalation are all because of those supposed victimless scandals of the BHC, the Berkeley overspend, the cruise ship terminal overspend and the TCD overspend to name a couple.

As the former BPSU head said, the PLP's screw ups were paid for by the UBP's sensible economic policies that carried them for ten years.

The corruption and waste of the past decade weren't victimless and without consequence. They just seemed that way because the UBP's economy was so robust.

The Bermuda Government should be sitting on several hundred million dollars of surpluses which they can use to hire more police officers, put on more buses, spend on the current account and stimulate with capital spending as revenues decline. Instead we're incurring expensive debt which could take more than 10 years to retire - and only if the hard sacrifices are made now to return Bermuda to sensible fiscal policy, which is not happening.

The UBP have tried to connect the dots in their budget replies over the years. But it was intangible because the effects of that mismanagement took years to metastasize. Now things are different. The critique has real examples and should be hammered home.

It's not enough to be right. The Opposition have to be persuasive. You can't drive change unless you win elections.

As the One BA emerges over the coming days (hopefully not weeks), one of the positives is that the Opposition can reboot the critique and start planting the seed in voters' heads of what I think their campaign should be.

Which would be something like:

Bermuda: They broke it. We'll fix it.

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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 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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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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I'm not sure what kind of numbers the PLP - outside of Cabinet - have in Parliament for this SDO for Tucker's Point. And regardless of how you feel about what essentially amounts to a Government bailout of a private corporation and HSBC's loan department, there is a lot going on here.

Firstly, and usually around election time, the PLP make a lot of noise about land being appropriated from black families by the Bermuda Government to create what is now Tucker's Town. So, with the SDO action they are demonstrating that when it comes to tourism they would have and will do the same, by handing over the same land for foreign ownership. They have now ceded that as an issue (not that they won't keep bringing it up when politically expedient and playing golf there with a clear conscience).

Secondly, if I were the Opposition, which I'm not, I'd be looking to apply some pressure here to force Government's hand (to the extent that they don't have the numbers themselves), and withhold any support for a re-zoning and additional sales of residential units to non-Bermudians until the Government:

  • abandons their discriminatory land license policy which prevents Bermudian families with one not yet Bermudian spouse from owning more than one property and disadvantages them in the real estate market.
  • reinstates the previous policy which allowed Bermudians with qualifying homes to sell those to non-Bermudians, which is what the Tucker's Point Special Development Order is designed to accomplish for a corporation.

Why should Bermudian individuals be treated as second class citizens while corporations, and foreign banks are given preferential treatment to prop up their bad business decisions?

I understand the value of a resort like Tucker's Point succeeding as being critical to Bermuda's tourism industry, but it's at least 50% a real estate sales model, and Government is demonstrating incredible hypocrisy and hostility to its own citizens - and undermining the local real estate sector of the economy - by treating Bermudian families as less important than corporations.

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So, the UBP - BDA merger, into clearly a new entity, is imminent.

This is a very positive development that bodes well for both entities and puts months, or years of uncertainty and anxiety to bed. The leadership of the new group will surely be a mix of leadership from both and a mix in the Senate lineup as well which is a win for the BDA.

The social issues can be overcome, I just really hope that this marks the end of infighting, public spats and back-biting, and a renewed energy among the Opposition. The UBP has been fighting since the mid 90s, and the public, and themselves I suspect have had enough.

The BDA have managed to create a group of relatively inexperienced but energised Bermudians genuinely interested in moving the island forward, while the UBP still possess significant experience and credibility on the economic front which is paramount in people's minds, and Parliamentary skills.

If the new group can succeed in melding the best of each entity, and remaining focused on the ultimate goal of success at the polls, Bermuda will be well served.

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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.

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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?

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I have acquired a good old fashioned cold, and can't promise much activity until I can think straight, unless inspiration strikes.

Meanwhile the UBP BDA dance continues, but as someone said to me a couple of days takes two to tango. The UBP continue to be absorbing some shots, but have so far have not responded in kind.

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Interesting little dance, or skirmish in the paper today between the UBP and BDA.

The UBP's Kim Swan:

"As far as the BDA is concerned, they set themselves up this past year as a separate party and I do not think they are of a mind to join with the UBP.

"Indeed their leader a few weeks ago said the UBP should 'turn out the lights'. That's hardly an overture to some form of coalition. So the ball is in their court.

"As far as we in the UBP are concerned, we recognise Bermuda's best interest does not lie in a divided Opposition. People who cannot support the performance of this Government and there are many are frustrated because they do not see a viable way to replace them in the current situation. It's not healthy.

"The fact is that Bermuda needs the strongest possible Opposition today because the Government is failing in the three most important areas of island life: the economy, education and public safety.

"It is unfortunate that the BDA chooses to focus its political guns on the UBP."

The BDA's Kathy Michelmore repsonded:

Dr Michelmore responded: "It is our belief that the UBP has been floundering as an Opposition party, and it is clear that this impression galvanised the BDA founders to step forward to offer an alternative.

"Sadly for the UBP, despite many capable and effective MPs, the UBP has become enmeshed in its negative historical legacy and as it currently exists cannot offer Bermuda a viable alternative.

"Kim Swan has criticised us for being of this opinion, but that is because it is a message the UBP leadership does not want to hear but many have said.

"Ultimately the BDA wishes to change the Government, and is prepared to work with those who recognise that real change is essential and are willing to recognise the obvious.

"We have not gunned for the UBP as Mr Swan is saying, but there must be severe disappointment in the UBP that 40-odd years gets you eight extra votes over a one-year-old entity.

"Nevertheless it is important that the Government is held to account and that the Country is given a strong Opposition. We will work towards that goal. Given the large numbers that did not vote, political parties have lots to do to enfranchise every voter."

I think they're talking across each other, and for the BDA simply splitting the UBP's vote wasn't an was a given.

If the hangup is over the letters "UBP" that's easy to resolve, and I don't see that as a hurdle to an amalgamation. An amalgamation can be more than that though, taking the best of the BDA and the best of the UBP and walking the walk (and the constituencies) until the next election.

Otherwise, the BDA gets wiped out and hands the PLP an inflated majority at the next election.

I don't agree with much Jamahl Simmons says nowadays, but he's bang on with his assessment (other than the untrustworthy jab):

Former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons, now a PLP member, said yesterday: "After a year of existence and several weeks of targeting this constituency, the BDA has failed to distinguish itself as anything more than an alternative to the UBP for UBP supporters.

"The issues they choose to prioritise, the values they espouse, the language they use, their very approach, echoes the UBP. So to a swing voter or a traditional PLP supporter they are likely to be seen to be as untrustworthy, out of touch and unappealing as the UBP."

Mr Simmons said an alliance between the two could stave off a PLP landslide at the next General Election, adding: "As it stands the BDA have virtually no chance of retaining any of their seats and the UBP almost no chance at forming the Government.

"I suspect that as an election draws nearer, the traditional base of the UBP will begin to solidify behind the party that looks most likely to have the best shot of preventing a PLP landslide. The money, manpower and resources will begin to flow to one entity and it will probably be the UBP."

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