Excerpts from ‘Bdian Politics in Transition’ by Frank Manning, Ch. One

I was going through one of my old notebooks and came across some excerpts I’ld copied from the book ‘Bermudian Politics in Transition; Race, Voting and Public Opinion’ written by Professor Frank E. Manning, published in 1978. This work was written in the aftermath of the 1976 election, and is an in-depth analysis of that particular election and the political dynamics of that time.

It is an extremely difficult book to come across, being long out of print. One can occassionally find a copy at the Barn or in some of the used book stores, but they cost alot and are very rare. The Bermuda Library has one copy that you need to specially request; there is another copy in the Bermuda Archives, and I believe there is also one at the Bermuda College. I seriously reccommend anyone interested in Bermudian history, and wishing a better understanding of our past and how it relates to our present, especially in relation to social and political discourse, to try and get a copy to read.

What follows below is the excerpts that I copied out of the book that I think are of particular interest. Any errors in typing are entirely my own, and although I seem to have taken my notes rather cohesively, I advise readers to search out the book itself to get a better sense of context. I have attempted to provide some context in square brackets and bold type where I felt it necessary.

Chapter One: Bermudian Politics – A System in Transition

(p.23) In the aftermath of these events [Sir E. Richards as Premier; John swan as Paget East MP] and its second humiliating electoral defeat in 1972, the PLP was left exhausted and despairing. A few Party veterans quietly disengaged from politics to devote renewed attention to occupational careers. Others who remained active re-evaluated their views, generally coming to the conclusion that racial militancy and revolutionary socialism were, after all, unsuited to Bermuda. At the same time a group of culturally bourgeoisie professionals, mainly teachers, took enough interest in the Party to seek seats on the policy making Central Committee, while small businessmen became active on the branch level and groomed themselves as future candidates. through the growing influence of media and advertising people who introduced sophisticated public relations techniques, a new image was created. The PLP became respectable.

(p.24) Predictably, the Black Caucus [of the UBP] was viewed by many UBP Whites as a form of political extortion. They had supported UBP Blacks in two campaigns, submerging but not forgetting the realisation that a Party financed by White money, elected primarily through White votes, and representative of White political tradition, had been forced to tailor its platform to woo Black votes and to stifle the political ambitions of Whites in order to run enough black candidates to have a semblance of integration. Now Blacks not only belied the image of racial unity, but demanded further concessions as well.

(p.24) The most vocal reaction within the UBP came from Portuguese, expatriates and Whites of working class origins, groups who are the structural competition of Blacks but suffer the political liability of being White. As a rival ethnic identity was unavailable, the group instead framed their position around rightist concerns: the growing power of the Labour Unions, the rising cost of social services, the increase of crime, the breakdown of discipline in the schools and the summary theme of a drift towards socialism.

(p.24-25) As they attempted unsuccessfully in 1972, the White dissidents sought again in 1976 to increase their strength by going after Front Street incumbents in pre-election primaries. Three primary challenges were made, all of them a conservative critique against the centrist position of the Party mainstream as well as a class struggle between new and old money, between those who identified with a background of hardship and hard work and those whom they saw as unworthy heirs of power and privelege. Two of the primaries unseated incumbents, swelling the ranks and the confidence of the dissident Whites.

(p.25-26) With its position eroded [1976 electoral losses to the PLP], the UBP’s factionalism hardened. The Black Caucus report, stalled for a year and substantially diluted in Cabinet committee, had not been incorporated into campaigning policy. Moreover, UBP Blacks saw their PLP counterparts moving into lucrative client roles as the international business companies, Bermuda’s newest and best endowed patrons, began to hedge their bets on the islands’ political future. Whites outside of the aristocracy continued to press rightist positions, to vent the view that the Party hierrachy was isolating itself from the legitimate needs and grievances of Whites, and to insist that without widespread reform the UBP stood in danger of losing the next election.

(p.26-27) The ensuing struggle [following Premier Sharpe’s resignation] for succession came down to a clash between the ‘reformist’ (Black and White dissidents) and ‘establishment’ (Front Street) wings of the Party. Blacks, the most powerful group in the reformist bloc, got their choice as the reformist candidate: C. V. (Jim) Woolridge, a Black of West Indian ancestry. The establishment put up David Gibbons, a White businessman whoose family empire controls Bermuda’s largest conglomerate. The winner was Gibbons, but the vote of the parliamentary caucus was close and the mandate was clear: to integrate the Black and White reformists into a new, socially balanced coalition. His first Cabinet was a dramatic step in this direction, as he fired two Front Street aristocrats from the former Cabinet to make room for additional Blacks and Portuguese.

(p.27) In a sense, the political transition since World War Two has followed a logic of retribution. The aristocracy brought in West Indians as cheap labour, indentured Portuguese to perform Bermuda’s most menial work and to function as a buffer group between the races, accelerated White expatriate immigration as a countermeasure to universal sufferage, and excluded working class Whites from privelege while insisting that they keep separate from Blacks. Yet all these groups turned against the aristocracy when it no longer had the exclusive economic sanctions to hold them in check. Even Gibbons illustrates the retributive pattern. His Bermudian ancestry goes back only to the nineteenth century, and his father and uncle, founders of the family business empire, started from nothing and were at times crassly excluded from the sancturaries of social presitge. What Gibbons represents is the first successful challenge by an outsider against the economic hegemony of the aristocracy – the pattern that produced the diverse coalition that first became the UBP and later reformed it.

(p.27) Besides the pattern of partisan reversal and social retribution, the transitional process reveals the strategic advantages of holding a moderate position – a position that sustains the political economy of free enterprise capitalism. The UBP’s co-option of the centre elicits class dissension and left-wing radicalism from the PLP. The PLP’s cultivation of bourgeois respectability elicits racial dissension and right wing backlash from the UBP. The UBP’s reconstruction of a socially mixed but essentially conservative coalition prompts the PLP to renew its ties with Bermuda’s real ‘minority’ group – the poor and alienated from the back of town.

(p.27-28.) Thus the relative strengths of the combatants change, but the underlying structure of power persists. As long as the PLP poses a radical challenge to that structure, the solidarity and success of the UBP are assured. To fragment and weaken the UBP, the PLP must be seen as compatible with Bermuda’s dominant interests. The riots that punctuate the political process are ritualistic recognitions that the process at its deepest level does more to preserve the social order than to remodel it.

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4 thoughts on “Excerpts from ‘Bdian Politics in Transition’ by Frank Manning, Ch. One

  1. Yeah, I’m hoping to read it in full over the Christmas break. He also wrote another book on Black clubs in Bermuda, but I cannot remember its proper title right now.

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