Constituency #33 – A two horse race

Simply PLP or OBA

Constituency 33 – Sandys South

Yesterday was nomination day for the Constituency #33 by-election, and as a result it is now confirmed that this by-election will be a straight-up two horse race, contested solely between the two political parties, the PLP and the OBA.

I’d hoped that an Independent would put their name forward, or that one of the various proposed 3rd parties being mooted in hushed conversations would take advantage of this opportunity to launch.  I’d even wondered if Terry Lister’s sudden retirement was actually a ruse for him launching the 3rd party he himself had proposed, and so give his defection from the PLP legitimacy.

As one of the Independent candidates in the 2012 election I was approached by a few constituents in #33 to run there, however I am not familiar enough with the constituency, nor in a position to put myself forward right now.  I did offer to assist them if one of them wanted to run – giving them advice from my experiences and perhaps even canvassing support, as well as platform help – but I didn’t hear back from them.

I believe both candidates are strong, and I’ve touched on this in an earlier post.

I believe the PLP will win this seat, but with a reduced majority – partly as a result of the OBA putting forward a strong candidate, partly due to the self-inflicted image problem the PLP candidate needs to overcome, partly due to by-elections having lower turn-outs than general elections.

And in that, I don’t think one can look at this by-election as a referendum on either the PLP or the OBA.  I don’t think there’s any lessons one will be able to draw from it for the next election, although I’m sure the parties will try to spin it this way or that all the same.

A strong Opposition leads to a better Government?

From a purely political perspective, and disregarding the personal pros and cons of the individual candidates, I think a PLP victory – reducing the overall majority of the Government – would be the healthier result for our democracy.  It would, by sheer force of numbers, force the Government to be more accountable and help hold their feet to the fire.

Will it make parliament somewhat unstable?  Perhaps.  However that also heightens the dynamics of parliament and should ensure that both parties are on their toes and on the ball.

It will lead to a strong Opposition and a Government that needs all its MPs to be present and operating at full caliber.

It may well mean that the Government cannot be complacent, but surely that’s a good thing?

For me, a stronger Opposition forces the Government to become better and more accountable.  And it may just force through the political reforms we need, like fixed-term elections, right-of-recall and campaign finance reform…

Negative Politics

As to the individual candidates themselves, and the negative campaigning that’s already going on, I think Beachlime captured that quite well.

Going by the online comments though, on Bernews and the RG, it is the PLP candidate who is the victim of personal attacks so far, be it on his character or his very appearance.  It’s all very kindergarten and disappointing – and it seems as if the OBA canvassers are also engaging in a degree of this too.

This is disappointing.

I would hope that the by-election would focus on both the needs of the constituents and on a positive reason for either strengthening the Opposition or the Government and helping overcome the negative and toxic politics that we’ve descended to.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not calling for some sort of political kumbaya.  I don’t believe in that, nor do I think it would be a particularly good thing to have.

What I would like to see though is a political discourse that focused more on policies and strengthening our democracy and its institutions, that revived what politics should be about at its best, a positive vision for our people, rather than retreating into juvenile personal attacks and political tribalism.

Abuse of Power?

Just this morning I wrote in a post that the OBA seem adept at self-inflicted scandal – in fact, their turn in Government so far has largely lurched from one scandal to another, with Jet Gate being by far the most serious and still largely unresolved one. Facepalm

I even wrote that it seemed just a matter of time before the OBA stumbled into yet another self-inflicted scandal.

And as if to prove me right, that’s exactly what seems to now be emerging with controversy surrounding Minister Pamplin-Gordon, Minister of Public Works.

The controversy stems from Gonzalo, where the Minister’s private house was damaged.

According to the Minister’s account as it currently is on Bernews:

  • Within 24 hours (by Saturday evening) ‘tarps were put on her roof’ ‘by one of the teams that was helping island-wide’.  It’s not clear who those teams were, but it seems likely the reference is to Regiment crews.
  • Those initial tarps didn’t hold ‘and she eventually experienced flooding in her house’.  It should be noted that it didn’t rain until mid-week, around Wednesday.
  • She ‘mentioned it to her PS, and W&E came to assess the situation on Thursday evening’.
  • On the Friday ‘W&E put plywood over a section of the hole in her roof’.
  • On the Sunday more of the ceiling collapsed ‘leading to the Fire Service putting tarps over the roof again’.

Now, from my time in the Regiment, post-hurricane crews right after the passing of the hurricane are focused on clearing the roads.  They may provide tarp to people (and indeed, people could pick-up tarp from Warwick Camp, and later the Fire Station), but they generally only install tarps for vulnerable people – that is, senior citizens, the physically differently abled and people with young families.

Having said that, I’m personally not too fussed about a Regiment team being approached about getting help with an emergency tarp and helping out.  I can see that, and I don’t think there’s really any problem there.

Nor do I think there’s a problem too much with calling the fire service for assistance with the later further collapse of the ceiling.  I can see that constituting an emergency of sorts.

The issue that I think people have is with W&E crews being sent out, with public resources (both in terms of time/wages and material) to repair a private residence.

W&E crews are responsible for Government buildings.  Not private buildings.  In an emergency situation there is a case for them intervening on private property when there is a clear and present danger to public safety – such as a wall collapsing onto a public path/road.  That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

The Minister has stated that the services and materials she received regarding this were available to anyone.  I look forward to the news media investigating that aspect.  As I’ve stated above, W&E do not provide assistance for private residences in the manner they appear to have done here.

Is it a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of things?

Well, that depends on what you’re comparing it to, but it certainly does raise the question of an abuse of power.

And following on from the UBP/OBA’s heavy focus, when in Opposition, on similar things under the PLP, including things that there’s absolutely no evidence of yet (cedar beams anyone?), including the Minister herself being extremely critical of former Premier Dr Brown, is it any surprise that people, whipped up by the UBP/OBA’s previous focus on such things, are particularly sensitive to new incidents?

Is it any surprise people will look at the OBA and this particular Minister as hypocrites?

Is it any surprise that others who have been affected by Fay and Gonzalo but without the access to power that the Minister has will look at this incident with anger rather than sympathy?

I can get that the Minister acted innocently and may not have even been aware of her abuse of power until the Opposition PLP brought it to the public’s attention.  However, that doesn’t alter the optics much.

It’s a small thing, and nothing on par with Jet Gate and related unresolved issues that have beset the OBA.

But it does chip away some more at the OBA’s political capital and claim to be doing politics differently.  And it does serve to further distract the Government, with the blame landing squarely in its own lap.

It’s yet another self-inflicted own-goal that they could have easily avoided.

This also further damages the image of the particular Minister as a competent Minister, following on as it does from:

It may be a small thing, but to many it will resonate a lot with a growing feeling that the OBA cannot be trusted and says one thing only to do the opposite.  This is a key problem for the OBA that they need to address – they need to restore public trust in them.  And right now that looks like a steep task, which silly and avoidable things like this is only making harder.

 

 

Bermudian politics at a dead-end?

Truly beyond the crossroads now…

One of the first serious discussions of Bermudian politics and society that I ever read was the 1993 book by Barbara Harries Hunter ‘Beyond the Crossroads – The People of Bermuda’.

I’d be lying if I remember much about it now, although I believe it was discussing how Bermuda in the 1990s was at a political, social and economic crossroads, hence the name.

Today, Bermudian politics – and economics/society at that – no longer seems to be at a crossroads.  Rather, it seems to have gone down a dead-end and doesn’t know how to get out of it. dead-end-324170-m (1)

To me, we increasingly have two political parties which are unfit to govern at this moment in time.

The OBA has proven themselves to be incompetent at governing, embroiled in numerous scandals (Jet Gate being the biggest – and still not resolved) and suffering from a huge trust-deficit after reversing on key election promises.  The PLP continues to stumble on from the consequences of its 2012 defeat and, while likely to win an election if called now, doesn’t really seem to have shown that it has learned serious lessons from its defeat.

The PLP in crisis?

One curious aspect of last weeks Annual General Conference (AGC) that has generally escaped attention was that it revealed a party that appears to be in some form of crisis, albeit more of a smouldering crisis than anything else.

You see, in the official statement from the PLP on the leadership vote and the media reporting of the same, it is possible to get an idea of the PLP’s membership statistics.  This can be done by looking at how many votes were involved in deciding the elections of party officers.

In the AGC, at least for the positions of Leader and Deputy Leader, those entitled to vote are the PLP MPs (not the Senators) and Branch Delegates.

By subtracting the known number of MPs one arrives at the total number of Branch Delegates.  And as Branch Delegates reflect the total membership of the party, fluctuations in numbers of Branch Delegates over the years reflects fluctuations in total membership.

The specific formula by which Branch Delegates reflect total PLP membership is set out in the PLP’s Constitution, specifically Clause Five, Section IV, Part B, which states that:

Each branch at the AGC shall have one delegate for the first twenty members (or fraction thereof) and one delegate for each additional twenty financial members (or fraction thereof) of such branch…”

One can also compare the 2014 numbers with the numbers immediately after the 2012 defeat when a special conference, using the same formula for working out voting numbers was used.

In the December 2012 conference there were 17 PLP MPs (Randy Horton and Terry Lister were still full PLP MPs at that time), and a total of 146 votes involved.  Subtract the known number, the 17 MPs, and you arrive at the number of Branch Delegates at the time – 129 Branch Delegates.

Compare that to last weeks AGC where there were 94 votes involved.  We know there were only 15 PLP MPs (as a result of Randy Horton taking up the Speaker position, and Terry Lister going Independent).  So 94 – 15 = 79.  There were only 79 Branch Delegates in October 2014.

There has been no change to the PLP’s constitution, at least regarding the formula for determining Branch Delegates, between December 2012 and October 2014, yet there has been a roughly 39% decline in Branch Delegates.  In as much as Branch Delegates reflect total membership, the implication here is that the PLP has seen a remarkable 39% decline (more or less) in its membership since 2012.

If that doesn’t constitute some sort of crisis for the PLP, then what does?

PLP Questions

This apparent 39% decline in PLP membership raises a number of questions:

  1. What is the cause of this decline?
  2. What is the consequences of this decline?
  3. What can be done to halt this decline?
  4. Can this decline be an opportunity for other political actors?
  5. Can this decline be an opportunity to accelerate reforms within the PLP?

To answer the first question, I imagine there’s no single explanation; rather it’ll be a combination of factors.  One factor may well dominate though.  Without interviewing both the current membership and those who have left about their reasons it’s almost impossible to say.  I imagine doing so should be a priority for the new Leadership.

Some will have left out of a loss to the connection to power.  These were ‘fair-weather members’ who were only interested in PLP membership as long as they could derive some benefit from it, and those benefits were tied to the PLP being in power.  Perhaps they thought membership would be useful for expediting their personal interests, or the PLP could serve as a vehicle for their own ambitions for power and influence.  They were opportunists encrusting the PLP and had no solid allegiance to the PLP’s principles and values.

Some will have left out of ideological reasons.  I certainly tick that box.  The PLP no longer represented the social democratic and socialist values I believe it should have, and I saw no realistic prospects of that changing, whether I was actively involved or not.  I’m sure others had similar concerns about the PLP’s direction (although not necessarily the same ideological concerns as I), and the loss just reinforced that.

Others may have left out of dismay with the post-election Leadership of the PLP, which has to be a concern for the new Leadership, and may well have contributed to the Leadership votes last week.  It seems obvious these disaffected members haven’t gone to the OBA, so there is a chance to recovering them.

As for consequences, this will be seen in the following areas:

  • A lack of internal vibrancy, which itself may herald further decline.
  • A lack of revenue, in as much as membership dues are a signficant revenue source for the PLP.
  • A lack of quality candidates for elections.
  • A lack of human capital for doing the more mundane, but critical, behind-the-scenes party work.

What can be done to halt the decline largely depends on the analysis of the cause of the decline.  As stated, this should be a priority for the new Leadership.

It seems clear that this missing 39% of members hasn’t joined the OBA – if anything OBA membership has also declined greatly, especially since Jet Gate and the resignation of Premier Cannonier and Chairman Hollis who appears to have been prevented from fully investigating issues within the OBA.

As such, there is an opportunity for a new political actor to emerge and capture these missing members, from both parties.  These missing members are a signficant resource and could provide the labour power and support base for a 3rd party.

There’s also an opportunity to expedite reforms within the PLP, but this has to be balanced by the loss of internal vibrancy and the risk of a smaller party being captured by special interests, especially if those special interests are able to offer financial resources to compensate for the decline in membership dues.  Ultimately it leads to a less democratic party.

The OBA

I don’t have space to go into detail about the OBA here, but I think it would be a grave error for OBAers to read the above problems of the PLP in a smug fashion.

They have no room for complacency, and have a whole host of problems of their own.

I’ve noted the apparent decline in their own membership – they didn’t reveal it in their own annual meeting, but the fact that their first leadership vote required booking out a large hall at Hamilton Princess while their Autumn vote was small enough to be held in their relatively small HQ should be an indication of their own membership decline.

They’ve already seen the resignations of one Premier and Leader, as well as the Minister of Justice and Chairman over Jet Gate, as well as ongoing questions about other issues which their former Chairman alluded to but was forced to resign before investigating them - and was seen to be hampered in his investigations that he was able to do.

And the lack of contest which saw Mr Dunkley simply coronated exposes a lack of internal democratic vibrancy for their party.

They also have a growing trust deficit having broken key election promises, such as term limits and a referendum on casino gambling, and seem adept at alienating both their opposition and supporters through lack of consultation and clarity.

It seems just a matter of time before the OBA stumbles into yet another scandal or controversy of their own making, and they seem as incompetent a Government as the PLP was thought to have become even in the worst caricatures of their governing.

Sadly, we seem in a dead-end politically with neither party appearing fit to govern at this moment in time, and our economic model continues to stall due to global changes and events.  How do we get out of this situation?

Musings on the by-election & PLP internal elections

Post-Gonzalo

While there was widespread damage from hurricane Gonzalo last week, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as what we experienced in Fabian 11 years ago.

There’s extensive damage to our vegetation, but that will recover or be replanted.  There’s an ongoing struggle to completely repair the power grid, but the majority of people now have power back, and roofs are on their way to being repaired.

On a whole, the island was ‘back to normal’ in a working sense by the Monday, more or less.

The storm will provide a short-term retail and employment boost for the local economy, which will be welcome, albeit brief.

I am hopeful though that it may lead to a more long-term boost, particularly for the green energy sector, with solar panels having weathered the storm relatively well, and many may choose – if they have the capital – to invest in them going forward.

Constituency 33 By-Election

With the surprise retirement of former PLP MP, and subsequently Independent MP Terry Lister, Constituency 33 is now in the midst of a by-election process, and both parties have announced their candidates.  No Independents have come forward at this time, although I think there’s still time for that possibility.

The parties didn’t select the people I was expecting to be honest.

I thought the OBA would either run a strong candidate from the 2012 election, such as Andrew Simmons who ran in 17, or someone ‘high profile’ from their Senate team.  In the end they went for the well known lawyer Georgia Marshall.

I don’t know Ms Marshall in a personal sense, although I know of her reputation as a formidable divorce lawyer, and I believe she’s a very strong candidate for the OBA, which will make this by-election less of an assured PLP victory as it may have been otherwise.

Having said that, despite a long-term erosion of PLP support in the constituency (due partly to boundary changes and partly due to incumbent apathy), I fully expect this seat to be won handily by the PLP.

I was expecting the PLP to field Senator Marc Daniels for this by-election.  He is from that general area, has proven himself as a more than capable Senator and winning this seat would have freed up a Senate position, allowing the PLP to develop ‘new blood’ for future electoral purposes.

However, for whatever reason, Senator Daniels is not the candidate, and former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons is.

For many this selection will be controversial due to the candidates history with the NLP and the UBP.  It makes him an easy target for being described as a ‘flip-flopper’ or ‘political opportunist’, just as now PLP MP Wayne Furbert – a former leader of the UBP – was/is.

This will be a hard one for Mr Simmons to shake, both from opponents and from internal PLP critics.  In his favour however is that he will be seen as having paid his dues and proven his commitment to the PLP since defecting from the UBP, and I think this will ultimately win over internal PLP critics at least.

More recently he has courted controversy with some Twitter comments.

Those particular comments, when seen in the context of his comments immediately before and after did not strike me as offensive, although at the time I did think they were unwise.  I understood him to have been partly quoting lyrics from a song and partly asking hypotheticals in an attempt to understand and express the feelings of alienation and hopelessness that a particular sub-group of our population experiences.

I saw the initial, and continued, controversy over his comments as being part misinterpretation (taking them in isolation and outside of context) and partly manufactured outrage for political purposes.

Neither of which should have come as a surprise to him, and which is why I personally was surprised he’d made them, knowing how they’ll be used by his political opponents.  However, he did the right thing and resigned his party position, and, to me, continued focus on them is now purely artificial, although still material in a political sense.

PLP Leadership Elections

Last night the PLP held elections for Leader and Deputy Leader, with Marc Bean retaining the Leadership in an emphatic win against Walton Brown, and David Burt winning over Michael Weeks for the Deputy position.

To me this contestation is a sign of a healthy and vibrant internal democracy for the PLP and helps give legitimacy to the positions, whereas a coronation would have signaled a stifling of internal democracy.  Which makes the coronation of Nicola Sturgeon as SNP Leader in Scotland, following the democratic reawakening of the Scottish independence referendum so surprising and concerning, but I digress…

Having a contested election forces a Party to have a conversation about what direction the Party should take, and helps bring collective legitimacy to whoever wins.  This is a strength.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

The failed challengers have thus done the PLP a favour, and it would be wise for the victors to not seek to punish them, as former Premier Jennifer Smith was seen to have done to Arthur Hodgson over a decade ago.  That only encourages factionalism and weakens the Party – in some ways the ‘palace coup’ of the 2003 general election may be seen as having resulted partly from the poor handling of this issue.

Both Mr Brown and Mr Weeks are valuable assets for the PLP and Mr Bean and Mr Burt would do well to use their respective strengths to the benefit of the PLP, both as an effective Opposition and a government-in-waiting.

Furthermore, although Mr Bean and Mr Burt won, they – and the Party – should not see it as a zero-sum game.  As I noted above, contested elections allow a party to have an internal conversation about the party itself and its direction.  In the process of a conversation ones positions evolve – that is the nature of a conversation, as opposed to an autocratic one-way directive.

While Mr Bean and Mr Burt may have won, they should take heed of the conversation that Mr Brown and Mr Weeks helped happen, and the PLP would be best served taking that into account.

Although not a member of the PLP, I would like to congratulate Mr Bean and Mr Burt on their elections, and also Mr Brown and Mr Weeks for ensuring a healthy internal democracy for their party.  There were also other PLP officer elections last night, and I congratulate the successful candidates in their victories.

Gonzalo

I’ll try and give the occasional update as much as I can…

0730, Friday, October 17th

Despite predictions of the island experiencing strong winds as of 2100hrs on Thursday, it only really began to get windy around 2300hrs, at least where I’m too.  It was very much still the proverbial calm-before-the-storm.  It was actually quite a clear evening – I could see the stars quite well at times.

This morning though, it’s definitely a lot windier and overcast, with stormy looking clouds zooming overhead.  It’s also been kind of a reddish dawn.  That kind of surreal morning light that often heralds a very stormy day.  I wouldn’t say the storm’s really upon us yet, but it’s definitely strong winds and threatening to rain.

Cleared the yard fully yesterday and did a quick check on the surrounding street.  Found, for some reason, a trash bag right in the middle of the pavement outside.  Didn’t seem like a great location for it in advance of a hurricane, so I moved it to a more sheltered location.  I don’t know who’s it is or what’s in it, but it shouldn’t cause any mess where it’s to now.

I imagine, by the sky, that we’ll not really be into tropical storm territory until around 1100hrs-ish.  And hurricane territory is still slated for this evening, 1900hrs-ish.

1050hrs, Friday, October 17th

Still nothing to write home about right now.  It’s windy out, but nothing dangerous.  I think we’re still very much in the calm-before-the-storm.  I understand the waves off south shore are beginging to kick up, but here in town it’s all pretty calm still.

I’ve been around the neighbourhood this morning, making sure things are alright.  There was some tupperware rather inexplicably on walls by the doctor and nursery, so I’ve tucked those behind the wall with a stone on top.  And for some reason there’s some trash bags here and there on the street.  I was worried they’d become missiles, so I’ve tucked them into the hedges.  Seemed better than nothing.

There’s still quite a bit of debris, fallen branches and stuff, left over from Fay.  There’s nothing I can see to do with them now, but I’ve tucked some of them in with the rest hoping it’ll keep better in a pile than individual debris.  Fortunately the neighbourhood is quite sheltered, so I don’t think it’ll be that big a problem around here.

I’m expecting the rain to start now around 1pm.  It’s just overcast and gusting right now.

1320hrs, Friday, October 17th

The wind is definitely picking up now here in Town.  Still no rain, but it looks like it’s not long off now.  I’d say we’re approaching tropical storm conditions now – right now it’s more of a regular winter storm, minus the rain.  But it’s coming…

1500hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, we’re definitely now in the middle of a storm.  Strong winds and rain now.

We had our first ‘brown-out’ of flickering lights, here in town, about half an hour ago.  Getting all the dishes washed now, lol!

It’s still not that terrible.  I mean, it’s rather miserable, but more a winter storm at the moment.  But definitely going to get a lot stronger and I wouldn’t want to be outside right now.

I’m sure those in more exposed areas are feeling it a lot worse than we are at the moment.

1615hrs, Friday, October 17th

It’s definitely lashing down out there now.  Heavy rain and howling wind.  The trees outside are thrashing about pretty crazy.

No more brown-outs, and I’m hopeful we won’t lose power where we’re at (tempting fate, I know!), but we’re only really experiencing the early stages of this storm now, so, who knows?

High tide is in about an hour or so, so that’s gonna mean one heck of a storm surge in low-lying areas, especially the airport.  I know powers gone off in some neighbourhoods already, and I’m expecting more vegetation to go down around the island. From what I can see out the window though, no damages in my immediate vicinity right now.

1815hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, it’s a storm.  A full-on storm right now, and we’ve still got about two hours until we’re at closest point of approach.

I’ve still got power right now in town, but the lights are flickering quite a bit, much more frequently now, and I understand that quite a few of the neighbours on Woodbourne are out of power too.

The foliage is definitely getting a beating outside, though nothing down from what I can see from the windows.  Some of the nice lamposts going down the hill to Pitts Bay are swaying quite a bit too, but they’re holding up so far.

I understand the West has been hit more than other areas, but there’s a lot of people out of power.

I’ll check back in later – time for board games and dinner.

2030hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, we’re in the height of the storm now.  It’s fierce out there.  I think we’re one of the few, last 10% of households with power still.

It’s too dark to see much outside now.

With the possible exception of a major event, I’m pretty much shutting down the blog for now.  I can’t see that I’ll be able to report on anything.

2100hrs, Friday, October 17th

Eye of the storm.  Went out to just check the immediate property, everything’s fine here really.

A bit further down the street, at Woodbourne and Pitts Bay, there’s a big date palm crown pretty much blocking the junction, though I didn’t go down fully to inspect it.  A lot of sea-fog out there too

Looks like power out across the sound too.

Tropical Storm Fay

Surprised and Concerned

While I’m currently off-island, I doubt I’m the only one that’s been surprised at the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Fay to the island.

Bermuda would normally laugh off a tropical storm, and while some damage could indeed have been prevented if people had taken more serious preparations – like we usually do for hurricanes, but not always for tropical storms – the damage to vegetation around the island is testament to this storm having been far more powerful than initial expectations.

Remember Fabian? An AP file aerial photo of the Causeway after Fabian.

Remember Fabian? An AP file aerial photo of the Causeway after Fabian.

The PLP has raised the question about whether the Government was properly prepared for this storm.

While there will be many who will criticise the Opposition for – as they may see it – making politics out of this storm, I personally think they are acting as per their constitutional responsibilities, of holding the Government to account and hoping that their criticism will ensure better preparation going forward, especially with Gonzalo on the horizon.

Fay Questions

I do think questions need to be asked about the Government’s preparation regarding this storm.

Going solely by the RG articles in the immediate aftermath of the storm the impression given was that:

  • Both the Premier and Deputy Premier were off island immediately before and after the storm.
  • The Acting Premier, Minister Moniz (the AG) indicated that the Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO) was not embodied in advance of the storm and for the duration of the storm – indeed, the reports indicate the EMO was only convened on Sunday afternoon, delaying a full-scale organised response to the storm.
  • It’s not clear to what degree the Regiment was involved in the initial preparation for the storm – although they were eventually partially embodied following the EMO meeting on Sunday afternoon, it’s not clear to what degree the Regiment had emergency response teams in place before and during the storm.
  • A full embodiment of the Regiment still does not appear to be in place, despite ongoing concerns about debris post-storm and in preparation for a potential hit by Gonzalo in the next few days.

Fabian Expectations

I think that after Fabian, most of us expected that the following was now the situation in the event of Bermuda having a strong probability of being impacted by tropical weather:

  • The EMO to be set up 24 hours in advance of the storm event, and in place for the entire duration of the storm, until the EMO deciding that a state of relative normality has returned.
  • The Regiment to be partially embodied (100-200 soldiers) in advance (24 hours) of the storm event, with squads based mainly at Warwick Camp, but also at the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre in the East End, and somewhere in the West End (say Port Royal Fire Station or Dockyard).  Another unit could, arguably, be based at the Botanical Gardens in order to facilitate access to the hospital immediately.  This would allow a more rapid deployment of forces (as well as emergency assistance during the storm), ensuring quicker clearing up operations – and facilitating a full deployment if warranted.

It’s hard to knock the Government here, as it was a tropical storm and not a hurricane, and, of course, the priority right now is on post-storm operations and preparations for Gonzalo.

However, a post-mortem of how Fay was handled should be done – and I’d expect such to be standard – in order to learn from it and improve for the future.  The PLP is right to raise issues along those lines, and the Government, once the immediate situation (and Gonzalo) are over, the post-mortem should be transparent and public.

Other Fay Notes

There’s a few additional thoughts that I think this storm has raised:

  • This storm has been a catastrophe for our already struggling agricultural sector.  As such, it helps highlights the challenges to this sector in Bermuda, which has importance far beyond the simple provision of food.  Local agriculture impacts the ‘Bermuda image’ (important both for tourism and our quality of life), labour (an alternative to tourism and IB), biodiversity (key ecological niches), self-sufficiency, reducing the flow of money out of Bermuda (for food imports) and reducing carbon footprints (from imports) – and no doubt additional issues.  Bermuda needs a national agricultural plan (I believe such was proposed, but I haven’t heard much since), seeking to improve and expand local agriculture.  This will need to include such issues (among others) as organic standards/certification, bulk purchasing, local agricultural research, agricultural apprenticeships and scholarships, rehabilitation of derelict agricultural land, stronger planning protection of agricultural land and greater protection for local produce (such as a carbon tax on imported produce to subsidise the cost of local produce), etc.
  • There remains the need for a new crossing to replace the Causeway.  Work was started on this after Fabian, but put on hold with the advent of the economic crisis in 2008.  With Fay, and now potentially Gonzalo, this needs to be revisited.  The Causeway being destroyed again like in 2003 would be catastrophic for the island.
  • It’s likely this storm will have an impact in the debates relating to ending conscription.  I support the complete demilitarisation of Bermuda (and the disbanding of the Regiment – as proud as I am of my own time as a soldier), provided we put into place something else, some kind of national service, that is able to continue the post-hurricane role for which the Regiment currently really finds its purpose, beyond ceremonial pomp and circumstance.
  • The airport has yet again been severely impacted by a tropical weather event, particularly as regards flooding to the ground floors.  Recently there was a competition for designing a new airport – I hope considerations are made to ensure any new terminal is more robust in this regard.
  • It wasn’t that long ago that heavy rain caused delays to waste collection.  One can easily imagine the impact of Fay and, possibly, Gonzalo, having a similar domino impact in the weeks ahead.  There are also questions that need to be asked about improving our overall waste-collection system, and with memories of the ‘fires of Pembroke’ not that long ago, the sudden increase of organic waste (fallen trees, etc) risk similar problems developing at the Pembroke Dump site.  I’ve suggested a few policies in the past regarding this, such as in-vessel composting there (quicker composting and uses a smaller land area), neighbourhood communal composting programmes and a bottle bill to improve collection of beverage containers.
  • There’s now a risk of public health issues arising from this storm, primarily in terms of mosquitoes and rats – appropriate measures will have to be taken to reduce this.
  • We need to seriously look at a national green infrastructure plan here.  And by that I mean the planting of endemic and natives along roadsides and around critical infrastructure.  These trees are less susceptible (not invincible, just better) to storm damage, and as such could (in the long-term) reduce the impact of these storm events on our transport and critical infrastructures.  Even a linear mangrove planting [pdf] along the Causeway and airport could greatly reduce the impact of storm surges and storm waves on these key infrastructures.

Final Comments!

Apart from all that, check on your neighbours, especially the elderly and those with young children.  Make sure they’re both recovering from Fay and prepared for Gonzalo.

Make sure you’re prepared for Gonzalo itself – consider Fay a friendly reminder on hurricane preparedness.

Stay safe – Bermuda will recover; we can rebuild or replace property and plant new trees.  We can’t replace you.

For me, I’m hoping to return to the island imminently, however Gonzalo risks affecting that plan…  

Half a Million Milestone

Sometime over the last two weeks my blog hit a key milestone, and I only just realised…

The blog has now hit a total number of views of over 500,000, that is half a million.

500k+ Milestone!

500k+ Milestone!

That probably doesn’t sound like much compared to some other sites, and I have no idea how it compares with the other Bermudian blogs, historical or current, specifically the more politics-focused ones.  However, to me, it’s still quite a milestone, and one that I’m fairly chuffed about.

When I started this blog I wasn’t sure what it would amount to, and there’s been times when I almost let it go dormant and die.

As anyone who’s actually tried their hand at blogging – and I mean real blogging, writing articles regularly, rather than simple posting quick comments on this or that site – it’s a lot harder than one might initially think.

I’ve learned a lot over the eight years that I’ve operated this blog.

I’ve learned or improved on some key skills of editing, writing, presentation, formatting and meeting deadlines.  I know there’s a lot I still have to learn, but for something I started rather naively, and outside my comfort zone (I use computers, but I’m no IT guru!), I feel I’ve come a long way.

It’s also forced me to learn about issues I wouldn’t otherwise have looked into – it’s challenged me, as have commentators or readers who prefer to give me private feedback.

I think the quality of writing, and overall general presentation of the site, has improved greatly from my rather clumsy start, and I’ve found that many of the skills, especially the improvements to my writing skills, has been transferable outside of the blog.

True, the viewership has suffered due to the neglect it suffered at times, as I gave priority to other things in my life, like my decision to go back to school as a mature student in the hope of coming out of the economic crisis with new skills that can be put to the service of Bermuda.

In my first year I came close to 20,000 views, but the second year reached 142k, and the third year hit 186k.

The fourth year saw the begin of the decline as I left to return to school, only seeing 86k views, year five saw 20k, and years six and seven were both in the 13,000s.

This year, the eighth, has seen an increase, currently at around 23k, and I believe it’s possible to begin recovering to my previous viewership should I choose to put the time and effort into it.

Of course, there’s now the added competition of Facebook and even Twitter.  The bulk of online discussion, of the nature that the core Bermudian blogs once dominated, has shifted to these new forms of social media.

This has made it harder to find the motivation to keep a blog like this one running – it’s easy to instead get sucked into the whirlpool of instant conversation that these other social media offer, and lose the motivation to post a proper blog post. social media

Nonetheless, I think that blogs still have a key role to play in the ecology of our political discourse.  They may be dinosaurs, relatively, but they have a role to play, complementary to both the traditional media (newspapers, news-sites) and new social media (Facebook).

After all, one can only formulate so much of an argument in the forms common to the new social media formats or in the to and fro of FB conversations.

Blogs like these allow for a more detailed argument and opinion to be formulated and can serve as a foundation for FB conversations.  They can be more than that too, even if only to help the blogger themselves clarify and articulate their ideas, including being able to go back and reflect on earlier positions.  That’s something that I think is harder to do on FB.

My initial milestone was 100k; then 250k.  Having reached 500k I’m not sure what that means for this blog.  I feel it’s at a bit of a crossroads to be honest.