The constituency I was running in, #20, is a predominantly pro-OBA area. There are a few areas which may be considered pro-PLP or ‘mixed’ areas, namely the few populated blocks of the City which fall in the area, Woodbourne Avenue, Serpentine Road and the various streets branching off it (including the Ferrars Lane area), and the north-western area encompassing Travellers Lane and the Mills Creek area.
So, most of my canvassing involved conversations with pro-OBA voters (many of whom were quite open on their support for the OBA; I think, in hind-sight, two out of five were upfront on this). And yet, the conversations with the pro-PLP voters was telling and even foreshadowing the problems that the PLP encountered on election day.
Many pro-PLPers were upfront about being unhappy with the PLP. They generally expressed disappointment with the PLP for moving too far away from its roots as a working-class party, too focused on power for the sake of power rather than using it for the people. I was able to convince a number of these pro-PLP voters to vote for me in order to send a message to the PLP, and I think that the majority of my votes (small as they were) came from disgruntled traditional PLPers. I also believe I picked up voters who identified with my pro-feminist and ‘Green’ positions – and there were certainly a number of voters who were supportive of these positions, but felt the need to vote for the OBA this time rather than voting for me.
A lot of the PLP voters, although voicing their dis-satisfaction with the PLP to me, and some opting to vote for me instead, most were upfront in telling me that they would either not vote at all, or they would vote PLP ‘one last time – to give them a final chance’.
During the polling itself, it became clear that the PLP team were worried as a significant number of voters they identified as pro-PLP had not turned out to vote by 6pm. They were trying to arrange for them to be contacted, but as the minutes ticked by and the final stages of the election came ever closer, it seemed evident that these voters were voting with their feet.
While it is dangerous to extrapolate from limited data and generalise trends, it seems likely to me that the phenomenon I observed in constituency 20, regarding PLP voters, was repeated in constituency after constituency. And the low voting turnout overall (initially reported at 67%, but now revised to 70%) would seem to confirm this.
While I do think there was a definite swing away from the PLP and towards the OBA, the most significant factor in this election was the disaffection of PLP voters with the PLP. They could not bring themselves to vote for the OBA, and while some may have voted for Independent candidates (as was, I believe, the case for me), the majority just chose to simply not vote, while the OBA core vote remained steady and reliable.
The PLP’s Problem
To me, the main problem for the PLP was a disillussionment with the PLP on the part of its base. After 14 years in power, and a number of gains, the general feeling seemed to be that the PLP had done too little, too late, and, quite frankly, had forgotten that the point of being in power was to implement change for their people, the working class. The PLP had spent too much time proving it was able to rule as well (or badly) as the UBP that preceded it, and got too caught up with the trappings of power and silo-mentalities that they hindered themselves and lost their way. The negative campaign that the PLP relied on also backfired, with a number of PLP voters saying they were tired of the negativity, and were looking for vision and substance instead. There was also a sense that the PLP was taking their base for granted and focusing too much on potential swing voters (I know for a fact I bagged a number of otherwise PLP votes simply because the PLP team had canvassed too little in the back-of-town).
I should however point out that every single PLP voter I spoke to sees the OBA as little more than a rebranded UBP, being a front for old White Bermuda – in short, the Forty Thieves with new clothing. The problem was that they also saw the PLP now as little more than a Black version of the UBP, a ‘new’ ‘rival’ Forty Thieves.
This was further compounded by the total lack of strategic thought exemplified by the Premier’s apparent ‘out-of-touchness’ of going overseas to collect questionable awards, frequent trips overseas for business (understandable, but she seemed away far too often), and, most questionably, not calling a snap election during the period when the Opposition was fractured between the BDA and the UBP.
The Challenge Ahead
The PLP needs to take stock of where they went wrong. They have an immense talent pool, and some truly genuine and deep-thinking members dedicated to the party’s ideals of social justice and racial equality. These members, the backbone of the party, the grassroots, need to reassert themselves, and bring the PLP back to its ideals.
The PLP also needs to drop the juvenile and negative election campaigns and focus on a positive vision for both the party and the country.
It needs to articulate why its policies are good, and what the party is about, rather than relying on appeals to a past which only serve to reinforce the distance the party of today has come from it’s origins.
It needs to ask itself what is it that the PLP, today, is about, and what it should be about.
Bermuda needs a party of social justice. I hope the PLP can rebuild itself to be that party.