As most readers are aware, Dr. Brown publicly announced again last year that he would not seek the Leadership again in the 2010 ADC. His term as Leader was set to expire at this time anyway and he would have had to seek re-election had he wished to continue. He had made it known to the Party even before his public announcement that he only intended to serve one term, and despite the intrigue in some quarters that his decision is merely a ruse I am convinced that he will, indeed, not seek re-election. In fact, when he was elected in 2006 he said at that time that he only intended to serve the one term. I personally expect that he will resign as an MP shortly after the ADC and initiate a bye-election which he will not compete in. I expect him to continue to be a figure in Bermudian politics though, just as John Swan continues to, but for the most part he will cease to be a central figure. I imagine he is already planning his retirement plans and preparing his constituency for candidate selection.
I do expect Dr. Brown to focus on his legacy during the last nine months of his tenure. I expect his focus to be on trying to get gambling legislation worked out, although I do not think he has enough time to do so. I know that Cabinet recieved the gaming taskforce report in I believe October 2009, but little has been said since, and with the opposition to it within the Party membership and support base, I don’t think it is a battle he can win. He can however help clarify the issues, and we may see a green paper or something similar come out for now. He will also focus on getting some of the proposed hotel developments up and running, with the Par-la-Ville or St. Georges sites being the most likely contenders here. The continuing economic crisis is likely to be the largest obstacles here. While I oppose gambling for Bermuda, I don’t begrudge Dr. Brown’s attempts to revitalise tourism here. While I like the quiet life, I understand that from a tourism point of view Bermuda is being passed by as a tourism destination partly due to our percieved quietness. There remains large scope for improving our tourism package, of which entertainment is a key aspect.
There are many, both in the Party and the general public, who see Ms. Cox as the heir apparent as Party Leader/Premier. In fact the parrallels between Brown-Cox (Bda) and Blair-Brown (UK) in this context are eerie. While I quite like Ms. Cox and think she could be a fine Leader/Premier I am opposed to her coronation as successor to Dr. Brown. The Party could do with a frank and open discussion about its vision and direction, something that has been sorely lacking in the last two Leadership changes (although Scott-Brown did attempt this to an extent). Past leadership changes have been less about ideology/policy than egos, and the Party as a whole has suffered for it. There are few in the Party who have a clear idea about what the purpose of the Party is anymore, other than a vehicle for power and profit. In short, the vision of the Party is rather blurry right now, and this opens the door to opportunism and disaffection.
The Party faces no imminent threat from either opposition party at the moment. An open and frank discussion of vision and direction at this time does not risk any political challenges to the Party. On the contrary, should the Party demonstrate its ability to maturely discuss these matters openly it has the potential to recruit new members and even take support away from the opposition parties. And such a discussion, in more clearly defining the vision and direction of the PLP, would also help clarify the vision and direction of the opposition parties. Right now we have not-the-UBP (the PLP), the UBP-but-not-necessarily-the-old-UBP (the UBP) and the not-the-UBP-or-the-PLP-but-something-else-which-we-don’t-know-yet (the BDA). Inspiring choices, no?
It is in this light that I welcome the announcement by Mr. Butler that he is considering a leadership run for the 2010 ADC. He has also put forward the beginnings of a vision and direction for the Party. I personally would like to see him expand on this vision and his reasonings behind some of his comments. I understand that there are many within the parliamentary caucus and membership that have a lot of respect for Mr. Butler, both for his insight and diligence, but do not see him as a leader and are prepared to write him off before he even steps up to bat. That would be a mistake, and Mr. Butler should not be discouraged by any initial lukewarm support that he may recieve.
I believe it is in the interest of the Party – and Bermuda as a whole – to further develop his leadership challenge. He should continue to develop and articulate his vision for the Party and for Bermuda, both within the Party and without. He should continue canvassing the branches, even hold regional meetings, to take his message to the membership. He should also continue expanding his vision to the people of Bermuda as a whole, through the media and even through the internet, much like the Opposition Leader Kim Swan has. At the end of the day he may not gather enough support to win the Leadership, but the very discussion that his actions would cause will have a beneficial effect for the Party, and even in defeat he may realise some of his vision through their adoption by the victor. He may even find himself as Deputy Leader.
It would be ideal if other contenders for the Leadership were to similarly voice their intent and vision so that the Party can truly have a discussion of its future and allow for adequate consideration in advance of the vote itself. I would prefer it if the leadership challenge were to get off and running at least five months prior to the vote itself, as this would give the membership enough time to hear out the contenders and make their decisions. I am not sure how this would play out for current members of the Cabinet though. Should Ms. Cox indeed intend to challenge for the leadership, I would prefer her to make this clear by May, and I am not sure if she would be able to sit in Cabinet during this process. With the current economic problems it may not be beneficial for any upheaval within the Ministry of Finance right now. As Dr. Brown has made it clear that he does not intend to return as Leader however, I think Ms. Cox – and any other Cabinet members thinking about becoming Leader – should be okay in beginning a leadership challenge.
I believe the Party is mature enough to engage in such a campaign while continuing to run the country and not risk any political loss. And while I did support calling a snap-election in the aftermath of the UBP-BDA split, I don’t think the Party machinery was in place to do so at that time, and I think the opportunity has largely passed by now. I would expect the new Leader to settle into the position for a few months and then call a general election in order to have their own mandate to govern from the people. An extended leadership campaign, from May to October, with competing visions, could benefit the Party in this respect, energising its sense of purpose, and solidify its image within the populace.