There has been some talk of late on the blogs as a result of Rolfe Commisiong’s musings in the RG article ‘Are White Bermudians Politically Irrelevant?’ about the need for the UBP to remove itself from the scene and allow for an evolution of Bermudian politics. In particular this has sparked some discussion over at Bermuda JEWEL, as well as this piece from 21 Square. This discussion also comes at the same time as particularly active discussions on the need for a third political party.
Mr. Commissiong’s argument is essentially that the continued existence of the UBP is the glue that holds the PLP together, as well as stunting our political growth as a whole, keeping us bound in the politics of race. This argument in itself is nothing new, its been argued for years before the blogs came about, and its been argued since. This blog certainly agrees with its premises.
The problem that people are left with is how does one go about setting up a new party without the support base of the UBP shifting over to it and leaving the new party as basically the UBP in new clothes, and how would this really change anything. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t change anything at all. There may be a small window of opportunity for change in such a situation, depending on what public face the new party presents to the people, but it would be likely that with the creation of a new party coupled with the destruction of the UBP in short succession, the new party will just become a new UBP.
I can only see two possible ways for a new party to emerge without becoming a new home for the UBP. The first of these is for a new party’s platform to have such a radical departure from anything previously associated with the UBP as to not really capture any significant support from the UBP base. This is possible, but would most likely not be very successful in elections (in there current form) and would most likely be a one hit wonder phenomena like the NLP was at one time.
The more viable option in my opinion is not for one single new party to emerge, and not for the UBP to collapse like a house of cards with a slight poke. Rather, it would be best if a number of new parties emerged, at least two, perhaps three, and the UBP continue to contest elections. The initial result of such a situation would be for the PLP to capitalise on split votes – like the UBP did in the 1980s with the PLP-NLP split. Depending on the platforms, level of organisation and strategies (contest all seats or focus on a few strategic ones), this needn’t result in a landslide PLP victory, just a continued PLP majority. What this situation does do is allow for a process of natural selection between the various parties, including the PLP. This could allow for a new equilibrium to develop in Bermudian politics, with the White vote being split between the new parties , and the capturing of votes from the current PLP base.
I would imagine the end result to be the immediate continuation of the UBP as a party, but no longer a viable party for forming a majority government. The PLP would most likely continue as the majority party for at least the next two elections. The new parties would most likely begin to develop as minor parties, with the potential to serve as king-makers in a coaltion format. The end goal of this, and it may take the next two elections before the new voting bases are clear.
In the end it may well be that we just have three parties, with a format similar to the UK with Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I believe that would have happened here with the NLP split back in the 1980s had it not been for our racial problems and other unique factors. The UBP may in fact continue as a rump party for decades yet, but as an increasingly marginalised force in the face of new political forces. Ideally it would even concede defeat and leave the field for two new political parties to fill.
All of this is totally hypothetical of course. But it doesn’t hurt to do some speculating all the same.
I would imagine the most likely form that any new party’s would take would be along the lines of a liberal democratic type party and a green party. A liberal democratic party, while appealing to sections of both traditional PLP and UBP bases would most likely attract (and this is just my own speculation!) professionals (particularly Black) and women, as well as some of the youth. A green party would likely get a slightly larger chunk of the traditional UBP base, particularly elements of White professional class and students overseas. The PLP would continue to rely on its traditional working class base and elements of the Black businessmen, while the UBP would likely retain most of the White businessmen.
I would imagine that both the new parties, based on the liberal democrats and greens, would focus heavily on political reform (decentralisation of power, proportional representation, etc.) as well as being very environmentalist in perspective. It is quite possible that these two new parties, sharing similar foci, could actually enter into coalitions, either in parliament itself as a bloc against both the PLP and the UBP, or in parliamentary elections (pooling resources or agreeing to not split votes in certain constituencies). In time they may even end up merging into a single party.
One important dimension for these new parties would be to try and avoid falling into the traditional mould of political parties – what they need in many ways is to be an ‘anti-party party’, with an emphasis on community organising.
So, that’s my prescription for how to move beyond the current PLP-UBP impasse that stunts our political growth. At least two new parties organise to challenge the current dominance of the PLP and UBP, we go through a couple of elections with the PLP winning enough to remain the government, the UBP becomes increasingly irrelevant, and the new parties upset the status quo enough to form a new political equilibrium. By 2020 we should have two main Black parties and one small mainly White party (the UBP). As the new parties increasingly upset the status quo, they will take support from both the PLP and the UBP, with the potential to form a political party that more truly reflects (in composition and vote share) the racial demographics of our people.
It will take time and there will be set backs, but the above is the only realistic scenario I see for the next decade. Some people will worry that another decade of PLP in power is too much. I would argue that this would be the likely scenario (at least!) if the status quo continues. Furthermore, the new parties will help invigorate the opposition to the PLP, clarifying the issues away from race, and this will be reflected as the PLP adapts to the changing political environment. While the PLP was in opposition it had a considerable impact on the policies of the UBP governments, and this will also be the case with the new parties. Afterall, as much as any political party wants to stay in power, its a pretty boring game (and the PLP risks getting overly flabby with opportunists) when the opposition is as lame as they currently are. Everyone enjoys a good match and a good challenge.
Anyway, just my thoughts. But if anyone feels like organising a liberal democratic or green party, I’ld say the above is what to expect. It should be a fun decade coming up!