I was contacted by the RG about two weeks ago and asked to give my thoughts on Dr. Brown’s Leadership. Specifically they asked me four questions. Excerpts of my answers were published in the paper last week. My full responses however are below, should anyone want to see the full context of my comments, or additional bits that did not make it into the article. There are some typos in it, as I wrote it after a particularly long day. I will, later, look to correcting them.
1) How will Dr. Brown be remembered when people look back in twenty years?
It is always hard to make predictions, they are almost always wrong. With that qualifier, I think that Dr. Brown will be looked at, in twenty years time, in much the same way as Sir John Swan is also looked at today. True, John swan was Premier for a much longer period of time than Dr. Brown’s one sole term. However, the changes that have come to fruition under his one term (or put into further motion) will have, I think, as long-lasting consequences as those that John Swan presided over. Now, that doesn’t mean that those changes are good or bad. That, in itself, is open to interpretation, and some people will see them as mostly good, others bad, and still others as a mixed bag.
My own thinking is that Dr. Brown has been the ultimate personification of the substantial changes to the PLP’s ideology over the last few decades. In many ways the PLP’s evolution has mirrored that of the UK Labour Party, as well as the South African ANC. From a strong social democratic ‘old Labour’ and radical Black Power ideology the Party has transformed into a more or less advocate of neoliberalism (but with Bermudian characteristics!) Third Way New Labour, as well as a degree of neo-conservatism (on many social issues – ‘traditional family values’ and ‘personal responsibility’ for example). Both the Blair and, especially, Clinton models have been particularly instructive in the transformation of the PLP in this light, as has the Mbeki era of the ANC. The legitimate program of tackling the White oligarchy, which animated the alliance of working class and the progressive Black bourgeoisie, has been perverted (at least from the point of view of the workers) to one of only taking out the ‘White’ part of the White oligarchy and helping develop a newly empowered Black bourgeoisie. The Black empowerment and greater attention to social issues that we (the Party’s supporters) expected has been mostly a narrow one rather than a broad-based one (assisting only a select few, rather than the working class itself, although some members of the working class have, through this process, been transformed into a new bourgeoisie).
Dr. Brown has, however, been a brilliant political strategist. He has pushed the envelope of the Westminster system, exploited its shortcomings, for his own political advantage. Now, that need not be a bad thing. Had he used his talents to push for substantial reform of the system (political reform and party financing), that could have been beneficial, at least if you subscribe to the notion that the end justifies the means. Personally I believe the means determines the ends, and achieving change by Machiavellian tactics will only lead to ever more backstabbing and Machiavellian maneouvers, with the end result of less democracy in the end. All the same, that’s a moot point, as he hasn’t used his talents to achieve those objectives. By his actions though he has shown the shortcomings of our existing system, and I think more people than ever before are now willing to seriously entertain profound reforms to our political and party systems. By his actions he has helped people become aware of the shortcomings of the system, although some of this is no doubt more reaction than reflection. It is, however, a starting point for further discussion.
Will he be remembered as good or bad; for change he has instigated or change he has caused in reaction? Too early to tell. I would say he will be remembered more for the change he may have caused to be put in place, as well as changes he has set in motion within the country on a social level (an approach to politics as a whole, and ideological crystallisations).
2) How does the Bermuda of October 2010 compare with the Bermuda of October 2006?
I think there is greater cynicism amongst the general public, both Black and White, PLP and UBP. Obviously the Whites feel as if they have been deliberately baited, and to a degree that is true. There has been some baiting of them, but a lot of the race problems I put down more to intransigence on the part of the Whites, than any organised plan to antagonise them. There have, though, been some reckless approaches by some people who should have known better, and some truly counter-productive actions too. On a political level, I think a lot of the social/political capital that Dr. Brown (and by extension the PLP) had when he became Leader in 2006 (and the PLP in 1998) has been wasted. People are tired of poli-tricks. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and that has hurt a lot of people, and bling can only do so much to cover that up. Whether that means people will become more involved and change the course of politics, or people will get more apathetic in the future, is hard to say. I would like to say they will become more involved, but I think it is more realistic that apathy will grow. And with apathy the politics means less democracy in the long-term, which feeds back to more cynicism and apathy, and so on. There are, of course, always counter-currents, bursts of grassroots actions and critiques, filling vacuums left by the disconnect between the originally organic connection between the working class and its official manifestations (the PLP and the BIU). Another big change of course has been the continued implosion of the UBP, with the formation of the BDA. I think the UBP has stabilised for now, but they are a rump Party compared to their former selves, and it is doubtful that they will ever be more than a rump Party from now on. The BDA continues to be rather vague (which is both its strength and weakness), but in the immediate moment the PLP face no credible threat in a conventional political form of an organised Party. The PLP are likely the ‘natural’ Party of Government for Bermuda for at least the next decade and more, just as the Liberal Party was long the ‘natural’ Party of Canada, and the question is how will the Party cope with no formal opposing forces and how well the Party can develop, and maintain cohesiveness, internal opposition in order to stave off degeneration, and maintain dynamism and relevance.
Of course the economic crisis (or is it crises?) that we have at the moment is a great change from 2006, but that is hardly the fault of the PLP or Dr. Brown. It is true that there were plenty of Cassandras (both UBP and on the left, locally and globally) who warned of this potential, but they will be forgotten again when the cycle reboots itself from bust to boom. Such is the nature of the capitalist economic system, one which was reduced in severity (but not ended) by Keynesianism and has been accelerated by the Neoliberal revolution of the last three decades. All the same, there is more that the Government could have done, such as more prudent expenses, or alternate expenses to set up a safety net in the form of unemployment insurance and a minimum (and living!) wage, which would at least have reduced the negative impacts of the crash on our people.
3) What do you think of Dr. Brown’s leadership style?
I think I touched on this in question #2. I think it is fair to say he has had a rather ‘presidential’ and ‘American’ style of leadership, which is hardly unsurprising due to his long stay in the USA (and California for a good part of that). This was seen by some as a breath of fresh air after Alex Scott’s leadership. Alex Scott was frequently criticised for being too hesitant, too cautious, in his leadership. I always thought that partly unfair, as I saw him as being a consensus style Leader, but it is true he could have done more to facilitate decisions, but that was partly a reaction of how he came to the Leadership, seen largely as a compromise candidate, and I reckon he felt constrained as a result. Now, I don’t think it is fair to say that Dr. Brown was dictatorial, but I do think he was certainly a strong leader and many of those surrounding him were apparatchiks. I actually think that it was the cadre around Dr. Brown that caused more problems than anything else, as they insulated him from some things and I think helped give him a skewed perception of other things.
Again, and I must stress this, I have immense respect for Dr. Brown’s political strategic abilities. He has outplayed and outflanked pretty much every obstacle he encountered or manufactured. I don’t think one can but help have respect for that. We disagree radically on ideological issues, but I can’t deny the skill and genius he has displayed as Leader.
The question I have been wondering though is what effect his Leadership will have for the long-term evolution of the PLP? Will we move back to a more consensus-style politics (which I think we will under Ms. Cox, if only temporarily) or will we see a rise of a more Americanised machine-based political style in the next generation of PLP Leaders (that is, the post-Cox generation). And yes, I realise the next Leader has not been chosen, but I think it is fair to say the contest is more of a formality – but an important formality for legitimacy purposes – for the Party at the moment.
4) From your experience, what is he like as a person – the man behind the public image?
To be honest, I don’t know him all that well personally. My interactions with him though have been generally quite nice. He’s quite a genial, funny guy, in my experience. He has always been willing to answer my questions, or, at least, reply to my emails. We’ve also had some ideological discussions, which I’ve appreciated. I do think he enjoys attention, both positive and negative, but, to be fair, most politicians do. I don’t think I can really think of any bad thing to say about him on a personal level. We disagree ideologically, but that’s about it.
I’ve always gotten the impression from my interactions with Dr. Brown that he genuinely believed himself to be acting for the betterment of the country and its peoples. I never got the impression that he was doing what he did for any selfish reasons, or at least not for purely selfish reasons. He honestly believes that his Leadership and his advocation of, say, gambling, is for the long-term benefit of the country. I dispute that we should follow the Caribbean/Bahamas tourism model – I think we would benefit more from retaining and expanding a niche market based on quality experiences, not a McCaribbean system – but that’s just me. He sees differently on a lot of things, and it is his vision for what is best for Bermuda that he has tried to make real. Whether his vision is really the best for Bermuda, well, only time can tell on that one, but I don’t think it can take away from the fact that he believed his actions were for the best. I think he has genuinely tried to do what he thinks best, on all things, and has been frustrated by people he question whether certain actions were the best possible one. Naturally, of course, people with competing visions for Bermuda are entitled to voice and act on them as well though, and I think that has curtailed a lot of what he would have liked to achieved.