It was curious reading and watching the latest rumblings of discontent from that political relic that is the UBP, with Mr. Wayne Furbert blasting the Party he used to lead and Mr. Kim Swan attempting to defend it. This of course was capped off with the return of Mr. Jahmal Simmons’ critique of the Party’s underlying racial problems, complete with a truly pathetic attempt by UBP Deputy Leader Cole Simons to rebuff him.
Before I write anything in depth I would just like to reiterate that I have nothing personal against Wayne, Kim or Jahmal.
To a degree I really do find myself agreeing with Christians’ take on Mr. Furbert’s latest comments. Quite frankly I thought Mr. Furbert had already washed his hands off the UBP and was sitting as an Independent. How many times can he threaten like this without it getting old?
The UBP seems to be skilled in stumbling from one internal crisis to another.
The Rise of the PLP
Alot of the UBP’s current crises stems from its historic defeat in 1998 to the PLP. Under Freddie Wade the PLP had adopted a modernising programme eerily similar to the New Labour project initiated in the UK under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and executed by Tony Blair. The basic arithmetic of this plan was that the working class would vote for the PLP no matter what, and so in order to win the PLP would have to break the hold of the UBP over Bermuda’s middle class Blacks, the swing voters. In order to achieve this the PLP altered its rhetoric and policy, and in the end there really wasn’t much policy differences between the UBP and the PLP, just as New Labour stole the political centre from the Conservatives, so too did the PLP take the ground from underneath the UBP.
This project was of course helped in Bermuda by the infighting within the UBP following John Swan’s gamble on independence and his resulting resignation and the ‘burger wars.’ The UBP ultimately gave away the 1998 election as it lost much of its core support, disgusted with the UBP’s actions and willing to give the PLP (whose platform really wasn’t all that different from the UBP by then anyway) a chance.
Once the PLP was victorious in 1998 the UBP was essentially doomed to a downward spiral of increasing irrelevance. The UBP had only been successful in capturing the ‘swing voters’ – middle class Blacks – through a combination of internalised skepticism of the PLP being able to govern effectively, patronage (in as much as being associated with the economic and political powers that be was advantageous) and the unequal voting system at that time. With the PLP in power it essentially lost all of these advantages.
The PLP showed that, at the very least, it could govern as equally bad as the UBP. Similarly, with winning political power the PLP gained access to the levers of state that could lead to economic change. The UBP still retains the majority of economic power, essentially, but the aspiring Black middle class, opportunists as they are, would now realise the benefits of being associated with the PLP. Association with the UBP could still be of some use due to its relationship to economic power, but with the solidification of ascendant PLP hegemony in the past decade, it became ‘better’ to be associated with the PLP. The restructuring of the constituencies served as a final fatal blow to the UBP. Neither one of these in themselves would neccessarily have meant the terminal decline of the UBP, but combined, their decline has been irreversible.
Of course in Bermuda, as most things still do, race is a key factor here. The UBP, based on opinion polls and general observation, has an almost complete domination of the White vote, somewhere around 90% support. Of the Blacks they probably still retain some minority support, say perhaps 25%. The PLP is almost completely supported by Blacks, with only a few (1-2% White support – the non-UBP White voters seem to not necessarily translate into increased White PLP support). The number of Blacks supporting the UBP has been, and continues to decrease. I see no reason for this decline in Black UBP support to reverse. I also see the potential for the PLP to actually increase its White support by a handful of percentage points over time, partly due to mutually opportunistic reasons.
The Problem in the Political Equation
The problem with the ‘New Labour’ political equation that the PLP embarked on in the 1990s is that it assumed the support of the working class as absolute. Aside from a few generally housekeeping modernisations there have been suprisingly little progressive changes in areas that directly benefit the working class. I am not saying there has been none, but that the changes have been too little, too late. By assuming the working class support as absolute and generally disregarding their interests, the contradiction arouse that the traditional grassroots of the Party have resorted to industrial actions towards the ‘Labour Party’ and the perception has grown that the PLP today is increasingly elitist.
These criticisms seem to have struck a nerve with the current leadership with a flurry of generally pathetic attempts to argue that the PLP is still labour and not elitist, as seen in the recent pieces by Minister Derrick Burgess, PLP Chairman David Burt and PLP Senator Marc Bean. The only articles of any worth in my opinion are those of Julian Hall. Premier Dr. Brown has also be seen to react to this with a few PR bits and the latest You Tube propaganda.
David Burt and Minister Burgess essentially attempted to argue that the PLP remains organically connected to the organised labour movement, and that many Union related individuals serve as PLP MPs or apparatchiks. This ignores the fact that since its very first minutes the Party has been an uneasy alliance between labour and left-wing intellectuals and Black middle and upper class who were disadvantaged under the existing system. These different factions had different end goals, but one common enemy. The ‘left’ sought a national democratic revolution, the dismantling of both racism and the oligarchy and the expansion of popular economic and political democracy. The ‘right’ sought an end to the racist oligarchy, but not necessarily oligarchism itself. It could, and has, reached an understanding with the oligarchic system, but continues to push for increased ‘modernising’ of the oligarchy to become more representative of the country’s racial demographics.
For various reasons, the demoralisation of the ‘left’ following a series of electoral defeats at the hands of the UBP, and an internalised colonial mentality beholden to social hierrachies, the Party came to be dominated intellectually by the ‘right’ albeit with the occassional leftist rhetoric, as well as by an aristocracy of labour. As long as the PLP remained in Opposition it was forced by necessity to be closer to its grassroots in political expression; in many ways the grassroots provided the ‘muscle’ or ‘battering ram’ for the Black middle and upper classes goals. Once power was achieved the division between right and left was accelerated, and the leadership and the grassroots have become more divided as a result. Post 1998 PLP has shown itself to be ‘talk left, walk right’ in most things.
Just as John Smith in the UK is often lamented by Leftist elements within the UK Labour Party as being closer to ‘Old Labour’ than the New Labour model he advocated as an electoral tactic, so is Freddie remembered here. There are some that argue that had Freddie lived, the first PLP term would have been ‘business as usual’ in order to ensure stability, and that subsequent PLP terms would have realised more of the Party’s original ideology. This is always possible. Personally I doubt it. Freddie was one of the key architects of our version of ‘New Labour.’ Dr. Ewart Brown, who was brought in by Freddie very much as part of this electoral strategy, is perhaps the best representation of New Labour PLP, but style notwithstanding, the substance of New Labour is the same. I believe Freddie would have not alienated the labour wing as much as the current leadership, but I really don’t feel that there would be that much difference between a PLP led by Dr. Brown and a PLP led by, say Paula Cox. Stylistically, sure, Paula Cox would be more akin to Gordon Brown I think in style, but really there is little that separated Blair from Brown and Brown and Cox – as far as one can see – on a substantial policy position.
We are currently seeing in the UK the working class choosing not to vote at all, or making various protest votes or even giving some support to far right groups, all of which gives the Conservatives a chance to win the next UK general election. The Tory leader is very much Blairesque in style (and substance) which has given him an advantage over Gordon Brown’s lack of style (but shared substance).
It is not likely that we will see the same changing fortunes for the UBP here though. The historical memory of the Bermudian working class is too long to forgive the UBP any time soon, and while there may be some misgivings towards the PLP now, one has to agree that the Party is still organically connected to labour. In that I agree with David Burt and Derrick Burgess; my disagreement with their positions are how great is the strain on this connection and how does this ignore the fact that the Party has historically had a division between a working class grassroots and a Black bourgeois. [The only comment I have on Marc Bean’s article is that I agree, members should be consistent in their criticisms, privately and publically. I feel alot of the bluster is internal Party jockeying for power using the very real disconnect between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ as so much ammunition for their own opportunistic ends rather than actually seeing any real potential for change.]
As the Party is still organically connected to labour, labour can still influence the Party. As such the working class will continue to support the PLP rather than go to the UBP. Also, the Black middle and upper classes are becoming increasingly bound to PLP hegemony, leaving the UBP doubly electorally disadvantaged, both in total potential votes, and for obtaining candidates for their electoral tactics. [I have written on this many times before, a Party that opposes in principle the idea of affirmative action – ‘merit over melanin’ – but is overwhelmingly a White Party in membership but with a predominantly Black candidates list is both hypocritical and patronising in its approach to race and politics.]
The above fact alone renders the UBP a doomed Party. Politically they offer little substantial policy differences with the PLP, something that is being made embarrasingly obvious by recent PLP backpedalling on its election platform (with subsequent adoption of elements of the UBP platform…]. If the UBP is to win power ever again a number of factors will have to come into play, barring some catastrophic self-destruction of the PLP.
I believe that the UBP will have to both wait several political terms (say three at a minimum) in order for a new generation to both forget the UBP of old (real and percieved) and to grow weary of the existing PLP; and it will have to resolve the contradiction that is its entire approach to race. As long as it fails to practice what it preaches, especially in terms of opposing melanin over merit but in practice actively employing it, but also on its transparency and democratic structure, the UBP will have very little chance of future success.
I remain of the conviction that the UBP continues to be the ‘glue’ that holds the PLP left and right together. I believe that should the UBP dissolve, or at the very least split, it would serve as a catalyst for radical (in the sense of fundamental) political change in Bermuda. Without such action, political change will still come, but it will be delayed and its form will be unpredictable. [This is a belief I think held by others also. See Denis’ thread here for example.]
There are elements of the UBP that would be a better fit with some elements of the PLP, and it is not inconcievable that a UBP split would allow a new political equilibrium that would shatter the current dynamics largely bound by race.
The main dangers that I see in the continued retardation of Bermuda’s political development is the risk for the social pressures currently affecting the working class to be expressed in xenophobic or even fascistic outbursts, as well as increased social alienation with its related social disorders.
It is also possible that a new leftist group could form in order to challenge the PLP and attempt to make make it more accountable to its working class base. I personally see a development along these lines occuring, but not necessarily in the sense of an organised political party, but rather in the form of some sort of hybrid between a political party and a grassroots social movement.
Ultimately I feel that the UBP is in a terminal decline and the sooner its members decide to pull the plug the better. As long as the PLP does not threaten the bottome line of international business, or true neocolonial masters, the UBP doesn’t have a chance. In the event of a left wing resurgence within the PLP by its rank and file, it is possible that a new Party, most likely a new Liberal Party would evolve in short order with the blessing of financial donations. At least this would break the racial dynamic and allow for progress in our political development.
As for the current UBP leadership, as much as I like Kim Swan personally, I really don’t see him as an effective leader of the UBP. I was suprised at both his and Cole Simons elevation to the top UBP positions. I intepret their election as a combination of no-one else really wanting the job at the time, the more capable contenders demoralised by the fall of Dunkley, and the potential future leaders being too fresh to lead effectively. While I see the UBP ultimately dissolving or being eclipsed by a new Party, I view the current UBP leadership as an attempt to give one of its newer MPs a chance to get enough experience in order to take over as a more capable leader, no doubt before the next election. In fact, I’ll give Kim Swan at most a year and a half before the knives are out.
And while in the past the UBP has excelled at stabbing in the back, I predict in the future it will take to stabbing in the front. And then hopefully it will go out, be it with a murmur or a bang, and a new political equilibrium can come about.