On The OBA – First Thoughts

I was contacted by the RG the other day asking my thoughts on the news that the two UBP factions (the BDA spin-off and the UBP proper) have agreed on a reunification and the name ‘One Bermuda Alliance’. My comments are in todays RG, although understandably it was not possible to use my comments in there entirety. To ensure there isn’t any misunderstanding of my comments (which can happen if one just reads excerpts), my full comments are below:

[The parts in bold indicate the excerpts found in the RG article.]

As a parliamentary force I don’t think the name change or reunification of the two UBP factions really changes anything. As a political force, that is, one that extends beyond parliamentary arithmetic, into popular legitimacy and political capital, I think they have a lot of potential at the moment, but it really depends on how they play their hand from now and what the PLP does from now on. People ARE upset with the PLP, and the PLP’s base is far from happy with the current situation. I wouldn’t have thought this a year ago but, quite honestly, unless the PLP gets their act together pretty quick, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Opposition were able to form the next government. Obviously there are a lot of different factors to consider, but I think the PLP is quickly losing a lot of its credibility. They are in a similar situation as the UBP were in 1998, when a lot of people decided it was time for a change of government and that the UBP needed a spell in opposition to sort themselves out. Of course there are differences, it’s not a simple comparison, but I think even quite a few PLP-supporters are sufficiently disappointed that they may look favourably on some serious internal restructuring or redirection. That doesn’t have to be done in opposition, but losing an election could certainly prove a useful catalyst for that process.

The OBA, as it stands, it just seems as old wine in a new bottle right now. The UBP split into two factions, the UBP and the BDA, and now they are back together. I think the BDA should have defined themselves more and carved themselves a niche, and going back to the UBP just makes me feel as if the last few years have been rather pointless from the perspective of the Opposition benches. However, it doesn’t have to be. If the OBA is able to capitalise on the disappointment with the PLP and the opportunity that this reunification offers, then they can become a very new entity and not just old wine/new bottle. I feel that if they spend the next few months reintergrating their structures and personnel, develop an open candidate selection (branch hustings to select new candidates) and collectively resign and initiate a series of bye-elections in about four months time, say a late August or early September, then that could give them a real boost. It will help them acquire legitimacy and allow an influx of new faces (it may very well include most or all of the current crop) and put pressure on the PLP. I realise a general election needs to be held by December 2012, so some people may think its a wasted exercise, but I think it could serve to really establish them as a new force and put the PLP on the defensive, help thrash out a counterposition to the PLP government and ensure a new opposition grouping in time for the next parliament/Throne Speech.

I think that Premier Cox was quite right when she said in her pre-Easter address that the honeymoon period has ended. I question what appears to be some short-sighted policy decisions relating to the budget, of which the whole public transport fiasco is emblematic. I think people are starting to question what she was doing as finance minister up til now and why public monies seem compromised now. I think she will face increasing pressure internally, although she is far from the divisive figure that Dr. Brown was for the Party. But I don’t feel that she’s really outlined an overall policy direction. It seems very short-term focused, more immediate tactics and a lack of overall strategy. The longer she fails to give a strategic direction for the Party I think the more problematic she will find her position – and so will the social and economic situation in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like her, and I think her (at least percieved) committment to consensus decision making is good. She should be facilitating, but as a facilitator she should also have an end-goal, and I’m just not seeing that yet. If the OBA can offer an overall strategy and fill that vacumn, I think they will successfully challenge the PLP’s hegemony. The OBA still needs to deal with the race issue, which is not something that the UBP ever resolved. However, that is not insurmontable, and increasingly the challenge is one of class rather than race (although the two are inseperable in the Bermudian context), and if the OBA can convince them [, the public, that they can create] of a more economically stable environment, that may just be enough, especially in light of current difficulties under the PLP.

As for their name, OBA, I’m pretty much indifferent. Names don’t mean anything in a political context anymore really. Labour’s not really labour these days as it is. What’s important is the ideological base and policies of the Party. I want to see how they are different from the UBP, what do they stand for, what’s their story, can they address the race issue, where do they stand on this, that and the next thing. How do they differ from the PLP? What would they do differently?

I doubt I’ll be supporting them though, to be honest, but I do look forward to seeing if they can contribute to a better level of politics than we’ve had so far. We’ve seen the PLP can govern as well as, and as bad as (and in some ways better and worse than) the UBP did. They were supposed to be better across the board, and that hasn’t really ever developed. I think they need to take a good hard look at themselves and work out if they are a party of political power only or if they are a party of political power wedded to principles of the labour/social democratic moverment. At the moment they seem awfully decadent and a long way from what a lot of their supporters had thought they would be. I hope they correct these errors sooner rather than later.

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