So, my comments regarding the changing ideology of the PLP, in light of Maxwell Burgess’s announcement of his joining the PLP, are now in the RG. Those comments were made a couple of weeks ago and were my answers to the two questions:
1) Any comment on Maxwell Burgess joining the PLP?
2) What does the trend of members going from one Party to the other say about political ideologies today?
I understand that the other people quoted in the RG article had a somewhat more focused question format (see Guilden’s transcript on BIAW), and I will try to expand on any issues that any reader may wish to seek clarification on, based on my comments. The full content of my comments to the RG are below, so they may be read in their entirety and in context (understandably the RG was unable to use it all).
Thoughts on Maxwell Burgess and Bermudian Politics Today
I personally found it amusing that in the same day as Maxwell Burgess’ joining the PLP made the news the RG’s editorial was titled ‘Political Realignment’. Now, the editorial itself focused just on the UBP and the BDA, but it was amusing all the same. We have today, in the PLP at least three (publicly that is) turncoats from the UBP, that is, former UBP MPs are all currently PLP members, one sits now as a PLP MP, the other benefitted from political appointments under the previous PLP Leader, and this new turncoat is being associated with running as a PLP candidate in the next election.
To me, at least, this current situation leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. While the PLP has long been metamorphising into a version of the UBP of old, having such public events like these really brings it home. Sure, people can change. They can have honest conversions of principle based on careful reflection. I’m actually willing to give Jahmal the benefit of the doubt there, but I don’t think he should be considered as a possible PLP candidate; I think its only fair that turncoats are considered with a degree of suspicion, and I don’t think it benefits the PLP to parade them as if it is some sort of coup. Having a former UBP Leader as a PLP MP is repugnant to me. I have absolutely no respect – politically – for Mr. Furbert. I think he is a political opportunist who, understandably upset by how is former Party used and abused him, came to the conclusion that his political survival could not be gaurunteed in the sinking ship that is the UBP. That he was willing to join the PLP, whose members had quite liberally mocked him when he was UBP Leader, is impressive, I agree. I personally would have more self-respect than to have done such a thing, but that’s just me. His actions reek of opportunism and desperation. He does not represent what the PLP stood for (labour values), although he does arguably represent what the PLP has become, the Party of power, interested only in keeping power. The problem is that the whole point of obtaining power was to realise labour values. Instead we have power, realised a few crumbs of labour values, and then become a Black UBP – a Party interested only in power for powers sake, and realising only the values of a new oligarchy.
Now we have the person who, to be frank, should have been the UBP Leader instead of Mr. Furbert. He probably is, after Mr. John Barritt, the best possible person to should have led the UBP. That the PLP so attacked him when he was a UBP Minister and a lackey for Mr. Swan, and to now welcome him with open arms? Either these UBPers have been won over to labour values or the PLP has been won over by UBP values (power and oligarchy). That the PLP has barely been a labour party now for the better part of its rule, I think the chances are the PLP is now sufficiently UBPesque that such high-profile UBP names have no qualms about joining it.
Now, when a Government MP defects to the Opposition, as happened just before 1998, that’s a different story. Such a person has everything to loose (although one could argue the immediate pre-1998 defector saw the writing on the wall and took a preemptive move – but I think it occured sufficiently before the election to rule that out), from a political and economic position. Therefore one can more readily accept that they have had an honest political conversion. When an Opposition MP, or opposition related figure, joins the Government side, which we have in these three, the dynamic is different. They have everything to gain. They cannot but help being regarded as turncoats, as opportunists. They deserve, at the very least, suspicion, and at worst (or is it best?) contempt.
In the editorial ‘political realignment’, your editor wrote that people of like political philosophies tend to join to make a Party. That can be true, but it is also true that same interests (power, influence – and the benefits that can lead to) are also potent forces. The UBP often functioned as a conveyor belt for aspiring Blacks who, through association with the UBP and the networks of power that meant, could benefit. Once the UBP lost power they lost that attractor for candidates, and this severely impacted their entire electoral strategy. In 2003 the UBP still looked like it may return to power, and so the effect wasn’t immediate. The trend is now pronounced (seen even in 2007), and the UBPs problems are increasingly compounded as a result. If you have aspirations, and networks of power would benefit you, the UBP – though it still has considerable economic power – has a lot less attraction than the PLP – as the Party of power.
We do not have any political choice anymore, in Bermuda. We have three political parties which essentially stand for the same things. There are slight differences, especially in their support bases (class and, inasmuch as class and race are conflated here, race) but they really don’t disagree on fundamentals. They are all centrist parties. Recently, true, the UBP has been putting out a more roll-back neoliberal position, no doubt influenced by their mother party, the UK Conservatives. But even the PLPs roll-out neoliberalism (where the State facilitates private business, as opposed to the more privatisation of the State by the conservatives/UBP) is still neoliberal and hardly pro-labour. Additionally all three parties are increasingly articulating reactionary ‘traditionalist’ values as a response to rising crime, with calls for increased penalties and even talk of corporal and capital punishment (at least in informal comments), instead of addressing the systemic problems of social tensions which are the cause. And the BDA? They had the potential to change this situation. They could have – through their actions – led to an ideological rennaisance of our political situation. They could have pushed the PLP back to its labour/social democratic roots and the UBP back to its more conservative base. Instead they’ve either said nothing or said the same things as the UBP, perhaps with a different tone, but same substance.
So, we have three choices which differ mostly on brand. Not much else.
It is still possible that things will change with Ms. Cox as PLP Leader. Its possible. But as things stand right now, there really isn’t much between the three. And Maxwell Burgess joining the PLP like this, it just underlines all that. I would hope that PLP members will also look at this situation and reflect on the point that the whole point of being in power meant realising labour values. That the PLP is increasingly the last refuge of the UBP old guard should set alarm bells ringing. What’s Left these days? How does one reconcile ones opposition to what these people represented then with their joining one now? Does becoming a member fundamentally change them? I don’t think so. Parading them in public, this to me is basically parading the capitulation of PLP values. The UBP lost, but the oligarchy has won all the same. Oligarchy and skin colour are two different things. Oligarchy only respects power, not skin colour. In the next election, provided Mr. Burgess and Mr. Furbert are indeed PLP candidates, at least nominally, in their constituencies the voters will be offered the choice between three versions of the UBP. And in all other seats, as things stand now, voters will be facing a vote for three versions of oligarchy – the UBP, the NewBP and the used-to-be-a-labour-party-PLP. More a demockery than a democracy. So we do have a political realignment, but it is the PLP becoming more UBPesque than anything else.
Again, I hope I’m wrong in this – and I’m sure any number of talking heads of the PLP will argue with me – but thats what I’m seeing. And what makes it worse is that we need an actual labour party more now than ever before. And it is a great shame to the PLP that they actively rejected the idea of unemployment insurance some years ago (they argued the economy was good and so there was no need for such a fund then; and now they say there is no money for it), and after over a decade or power we haven’t been able to realise a minimum living wage or a 35 hour week, or even encouraged the development of worker cooperatives (instead we have faciliated the redistribution of wealth into a growing Black boss-class, instead or empowering our workers to break the whole boss-worker;master-slave dichotomy), abolished the undemocratic Senate system and the related Westminster system that distorts the popular vote. Nor have we instituted wide-ranging reforms of political financing. Why? On political reform we have stalled because we currently benefit from this unjust poli-trick system.
So, I am not impressed by these events. Then again, I’m not surprised either. It is just a superficial reflection of the trend the PLP has been on since even before 1998. The question is then, what should one do about it?