To begin with I want to make it clear that I am neither endorsing any leadership candidate, or picking on any of them. What I am going to try and do is give my thoughts on each candidates campaign positions so far. I am starting with Mr. Butler’s campaign simply because it is the most recent; I’ll look at Ms. Cox’s and Mr. Lister’s positions later.
Mr. Butler was the first MP to float the idea of running for the Leadership, and even then he was looked at as a bit of a long-shot. While he is well-respected within the Party for his sheer energy and intellect, I think it is safe to say that not many people saw him as a leadership candidate. Certainly a candidate for sitting in Cabinet under any leader – and there are quite a few who do think he would be the best possible Minister of Education, a Ministry that is of increasing importance for the next decade.
It is widely acknowledged that he has great cross-over appeal, being popular within the Party, its support base and amongst voters who generally do not vote PLP. He is a generally popular Bermudian politician. No one doubts his organisational abilities, his commitment to the Party and his keen eye for whatever project he sets himself on. All the same, he just does not seem to have that certain essence of being Leader, either as a strong leader or a consensus based leader.
I think Mr. Butler recognises that people have the above impressions of him, and his campaign launch should be looked at in light of the above, and his recognition of them. He is going to try and exploit his image of high energy, maverick ‘think outside the box’ politician, as someone who can garner cross-over support for the Party, as well as try and portray himself as someone who will take advice but will ‘be his own person’ when it comes to decision making.
The Launch Itself
Mr. Butler choose to launch his formal campaign not at PLP headquarters, or surrounded by PLP MPs or members, or with a traditional presentation format. Instead he launched his campaign at the homeless shelter, followed up by a soapbox at Harbour Nights, and surrounded by supporters made up of PLP members, supporters and non-PLPers.
At least when it came to having PLP MPs flanking him it is true he really didn’t have much choice in the matter, as pretty much every MP and ‘big name’ PLPers have already endorsed either Ms. Cox or Mr. Lister. The other aspects of his launch however speak directly, to me at least, at how he is going to try and portray himself.
By having non-PLPers actively supporting him at his launch he is sending a message that he acknowledges his lack of strong support (for his leadership campaign) within the Party, but highlighting his ability to garner support within the wider community. The message here is, on the one hand, a recognition of his initial weakness, but also a strength, with the impression that with him as Leader the PLP could increase the support base for the Party in any election. An election with him as Leader could see support for the PLP increase at the expense of both the Bermuda Democratic Alliance and the UBP; it could even wipe out the BDA as a parliamentary force and further weaken the UBP.
By launching at the homeless shelter, and then at Harbour Nights, he is sending several messages at once.
Importantly he is highlighting the perceptual shift of emphasis from the ‘bling’ of Dr. Brown’s leadership and one more focused on social issues and reconstruction. He is also highlighting his image as a ‘man of action’ who will not just say such and such but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty by rolling up his sleeves and getting in the thick of it. He is also reinforcing his image as a maverick, unorthodox thinker, the message being that this is what Bermuda needs to get us back on track to where we want to be.
Also important in his launch is that he has made a point in his statements to underline that his ‘advisors’ have advised him against some of his policies, such as the Ministerial pay-cuts, but that he has chosen to ignore their advice. In doing so he is trying to send the message that he is a not afraid to be advised by those who disagree with him, and not afraid to ignore their advice; that he is a ‘strong’ leader.
In some aspects of his launch he is taking some risky gambles, but I reckon he really didn’t have much of a choice in light of the weak position his candidacy was viewed in. By not having a lot of obvious PLPers at his launch he risks alienating members, who will view his candidacy as being not very serious. The unorthodox launch style may also be seen in that manner too. Ultimately I don’t think he has anything to loose in this gamble, as even if it doesn’t help his leadership campaign he is helping to highlight some social issues that need addressed more. One almost gets the impression that he acknowledges he is unlikely to win the Leadership position, and is hoping instead to influence the course of the contest, and setting himself up for a Cabinet position, most likely a return to the Ministry of Social Rehabilitation. It seems to be a win-win situation for Mr. Butler either way.
His insistence on ignoring the advice of his advisors, or, rather, his highlighting of that fact, could backfire on him though. Some may see it as ‘he doth protest too much’, while others will see it as him displaying a streak of stubbornness rather than leadership. In this area though I think he is in a catch-22 situation, and the risk of being looked at as stubborn is probably a slightly better quality to be seen as rather than ineffectual.
I will address his actual policies, from his two launch speeches, in a follow up post.