So, I realise I’ve been quiet of late.
I’ve been on-island canvassing neighbourhoods (primarily the City of Hamilton and it’s immediate neighbourhing areas) and meeting with stakeholders and others as I seek to deepen and broaden the platform I ran on in the 2012 election.
I’ve also been regularly attending Senate and House of Assembly sessions, and have been observing both the PLP and OBA as they reach a new equilibrium half a year into the new government.
In this post I give some initial thoughts on the OBA.
An Unexpected Win?
On election night, after leaving the count at my polling station and watching the subsequent results roll in at the Beach on Front Street, I strolled briefly up Parliament Street, with a vague idea of checking out both the OBA and PLP rallies.
The OBA rally, on Reid Street, was a full on party, although I still recall the striking image of one member standing at the barricade, almost staring in wonder, looking at nothing in particular along the western length of Reid Street. I never made it to the PLP rally, deciding instead to just go sit off and reflect on the evening.
I couldn’t help but think that no-one was more surprised at the OBA’s victory than the OBA themselves.
Sure, the PLP did, I believe, genuinely think they would scrape through.
And I thought the PLP would too, or at least an Independent (likely Kim Swan) would squeeze through and hold the balance of power in a hung parliament (many of the other Independents were either seeking to position themselves more for the next election, or to otherwise express a hope for a new political system, rather than genuinely expecting to win).
But the OBA, I really think the surprise caught them out.
A lot of the OBA’s actions over the last six months seem overly amateurish to me, even if they have largely been given a ‘free pass’ by primarily their supporters, but also the lay public.
To an extent this free pass is part of a genuine honeymoon period that any new government receives, especially when it replaces a government that had been in power for over a decade.
However, there is also a distinct political bias or double-standards at play, and I think it is a mistake to ignore this and the problems this can generate over time. Had the PLP done some of the things the OBA has in their first six months they would have been blasted.
More worryingly for the OBA though is their recent streak of losing votes in the House of Assembly, and depending on the Senate to try and reverse these.
This may be understandable due to their slight majority (which may be compounded by overseas trips, like when the Premier and Finance Minister were in the UK for the Human Rights Amendment votes), but also shines a light on apparent problems for the OBA as a long-term viable Government in their current format.
Quite frankly, one wonders at the stability of the current Government.
Pros & Cons
The instability of the current Government has its pros and cons.
On the pro side, it forces MPs to actually do their job – that is, show up, attend sessions and vote.
It also forces parliament to engage in a (hopefully…) higher standard of debate, with legislation more carefully scrutinised.
An additional pro is it allows OBA backbenchers an unprecedented degree of influence as their individual votes are of greater importance than they would be under a strong OBA majority.
As for cons, it renders the Government shaky and at risk of collapsing at any time. The PLP is already mulling a no-confidence vote which even if the PLP subsequently lost, it could further damage the credibility and viability of the OBA project.
Personally, I think the no-confidence vote right now would be a counter-productive tactic which will equally damage both parties. While this may advantage new political forces, I think it would be premature at this stage.
One particular con of the current balance is increasing friction within the OBA.
While there is certainly some ongoing fall-out within the PLP stemming from the election loss and subsequent leadership of Marc Bean, the friction there is on the back-burner at the moment.
In the OBA however it seems that the divisions are being exacerbated between three factions. One being the core members who founded and joined the BDA; another being the core ‘senior members’ from the UBP; and another being those new members who genuinely believed in the OBA project, without allegiances to either the BDA or UBP camps.
There does seem (based purely on my observations) to be a low-intensity conflict between the BDA and UBP camps, with rumours of a ‘Gang of Five’ of senior UBP members forming a key bloc within Cabinet, and smaller ‘BDA’ group trying to maintain momentum (of which Jetgate may highlight).
Trouble in the East?
There also appears to be an eastern problem for the OBA.
Kenny Bascome (Constituency One) appears to be almost in a bit of a sulk towards the OBA leadership. It is no secret that he had desires on the Ministry of Tourism, and his consignment to the backbenches seems to have created a rift, perhaps highlighted by his sudden absence (intentional out of spite or accidental in terms of lack of commitment) contributed to the recent OBA defeats.
And Nandi Davis (Constituency Two) seems to be increasingly a weak link in the OBA’s wings. Personally, I don’t know her, and I would like to see a young MP really blaze a path for more youth engagement in politics. One feels however that she is not getting the guidance and encouragement from the OBA’s more senior members that is required.
I’ve gone way over my self-imposed size limits here, so I’ll try to conclude for now.
The PLP are increasingly emboldened, and are doing an excellent job in their role as Opposition. For the most part I’ve been impressed with how they’ve regrouped after the election loss and the professionalism of the majority (certainly not all) of their MPs.
The OBA appear somewhat divided internally and have made a series of easily avoidable mistakes. These have greatly eroded their post-election political capital and there is a risk of the OBA project becoming a train-wreck in slow-motion.
Personally, I think the OBA will survive their full-term, but not without further reversals in parliament, and divisions within the OBA will continue to grow if nothing is done internally to deal with them.
If this happens, the OBA risk running a repeat of the post-1995 UBP administration, increasingly divided and impotent.
Nonetheless, the PLP brand continues to be severely damaged by the failures of 1998-2012, and while benefiting from the OBA’s problems, they do so more by default than anything else.
This situation leaves the door open for a new political project to develop, of which I think the unprecedented numbers of Independent candidates in 2012 foreshadowed. Whether this translates into a new party forming, or success for Independents in the future, I don’t know.