Words Matter

I understand that in his appearance on Let’s Talk Bermuda last night the Opposition Leader Marc Bean sought to clarify his description of the OBA as a ‘demonic Harry Potter One Bermuda Alliance’.

He also apparently expressed his surprise at the controversy that erupted from his choice of imagery in this description.

From what I’ve heard about his explanation, it largely gels with my own understanding of what he was trying to convey.

In general I understood him as questioning the nature of the OBA as an artificial ‘mechanical’ or manufactured nature of the OBA in contrast to the organic and ‘real’ nature of the PLP – as a political manifestation of a social movement against White supremacist based oligarchism, as an organic expression of the desire for social justice.

This goes to a question of the very legitimacy of the OBA as a ‘real’ political party in the organic sense, versus an artificially manufactured ‘thing’ created solely to trick the electorate and ‘win’ power.

There is a legitimate argument and concern here, one that questions the very legitimacy and long-term viability of the OBA.

I understand that.

Nonetheless, the imagery he chose to express those sentiments was a poor choice, and I hope that he (and by extension the PLP) can learn from this.

The imagery was bound to be controversial.

It was bound to be used to (try and) undermine Mr Bean and the PLP as a viable alternative to the OBA in the eyes of swing voters.

If the PLP wishes to be considered a viable alternative to the OBA – a ‘Government in waiting’ – then it needs to be a bit more careful in terms of crafting its message and understanding how words matter.  Words can be misunderstood and ones message twisted until it no longer resembles what one set out to say.

It is true that this will happen no matter what one does, that the core supporters of both parties will always regard the language or argument of the other in the worst possible way, and will seek to distort this in such a way as to confuse the swing voters.

Nonetheless, some language is easier to distort than others, some are more emotionally charged or image-loaded.  Sometimes these are required, they serve as ‘killer words’ that break through the defenses and ‘hit home’ when trying to win an argument or the ‘battle of ideas’ (and yes, I am deliberately highlighting some loaded words!).

But sometimes the words can be turned against their speaker.

Mr Bean chose poorly in the imagery he used in his speech.  I reckon they were more of a throwaway comment and shorthand description, but they have become the central aspect of it in the collective memory of swing voters and the OBA core.

This was, quite frankly, an open goal.  It could have been easily avoided, and the speech could have been a coup for Mr Bean.  Instead it has become a source of ridicule and incredulity.

I hope that this will serve as a defining ‘learning moment’ for Mr Bean in particular, and the PLP in general.  Too often the PLP has been victim to poor language choices – essentially foot-in-mouth-disease – and this wore away at their credibility and legitimacy over time.

If the PLP can take some more care and consideration in crafting their message, not just for their core audience, but also for the wider audience, and understanding the potential consequences and interpretations of what they say, then it would go a long way to helping rebuild the PLP’s image in the eyes of the wider electorate.  They may even win some converts.


5 thoughts on “Words Matter

  1. I agree and do dispute stick and stones that were taught by our parents. Words can hurt sometimes worst than licks, take it from one who got more than my share of licks, in my opinion.

    The issue I have is that words sometimes in Bermuda only matters can be one sided. I have read and heard horrid words from the UBPnowOBA towards black Bermudians and see how their supporters both black and white accept it and demolish the PLP when they misspeak. In my case I have known to slap any side when wrong and will continue to do so.

    Fairness, truth and honestly that I brought with me when I came to Bermuda some 20 odd years ago has diminished by the living experience of the show of hidden hands.

  2. “This goes to a question of the very legitimacy of the OBA as a ‘real’ political party in the organic sense, versus an artificially manufactured ‘thing’ created solely to trick the electorate and ‘win’ power”.

    Trick? Did they really set out to trick 15949 voters?


  3. Mike, ‘trick’ in this sense refers to the perception that the OBA is an artificial party, that it is merely a rebranded UBP, with all that this represents.

    The objective of this ‘trick’ is, in this sense, not about ‘tricking’ the core supporters of the former UBP but to ‘trick’ the swing voters, which would be a fraction of that total you cite.

    Whether the OBA or its supporters are willing to accept it as a valid perception is, quite frankly, immaterial.

    They should, however, accept that it is ‘a perception’ amongst a significant number of the electorate.

    And as such, they should also recall the phrase that came into our local poltical discourse not so long ago ‘perception can become reality’.

    That is, perceptions, whether based in fact or fiction, may have the potential of becoming a material force (in the sense of animating behaviour/action).

    Personally, to me it doesn’t really matter whether or not the OBA is a manufactured entity, in the sense that the above argues.

    It may or may not be, and while that does lead to an interesting argument concerning legitimacy, to me the fact that we remain in a two-party system, where both parties ‘bases’ remain identical to that which existed under the old PLP-UBP dichotomy, is the principal issue.

    The OBA retains the same base as the UBP did. It’s membership is overwhelmingly the same as the UBP’s was. It’s ideological perspective remains the same as the UBP’s was.

    The restructuring and rebranding that occurred as the OBA was forged does somewhat truly make it a new entity, with greater dynamism than the ossified structure of the old UBP.

    But is that enough to make it something truly different from the UBP in terms of what and who it represents?

  4. I can live with a PLP leader who calls the OBA demonic. A little bit nation of Islam perhaps, but not too far away from the usual tired old racial rhetoric.

    But “Harry potter demonic”?? What the dickins?? Marc Bean has just outed himself as a religious fundamentalist. That is what makes the speech a defining moment. It will be remembered not just by OBA and swing voters but by PLP loyalists who come from the social rather than the church wing of the movement. Non-religious voters are deeply deeply distrustful of fundamentalist politicians.

    It might be premature to say so, but this could mean that it will be impossible for the PLP to win a majority under Mr Bean.

  5. When I saw him use ‘Harry Potter’ in the same breath as ‘demonic’ and ‘One Bermuda Alliance’ I saw it as having two possible interpretations.

    The first one was, as you note, that he was equating the Harry Potter books with satanism, as many of the more fundamentalist Churches appeared to.

    The second was that he was alluding to the ‘magic’ of the OBA, in the sense that they had used a ‘spell’ to conceal their true nature and to win power.

    That ‘spell’ could be seen as the changed name (words have power, afterall, and changing the words of the UBP to the OBA has a certain power – in this perspective), or the nature of the election propaganda (weaving a spell).

    I won’t say that this speech renders the PLP, under Mr Bean’s leadership, unelectable.

    I will say that it will certainly haunt Mr Bean (just as other politicians have been haunted by poor word choices) and make it harder – as things stand, all things being equal – but not impossible.

    There’s a long time before the next election, and the OBA has plenty of potential to equally shoot themselves in the foot.

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