I was caught off-guard by Mr Lister’s decision to retire, prompting an intriguing by-election situation.
I can imagine Mr Lister was having a lot of stress, both from former colleagues (be they MPs or PLP members/supporters unhappy with his decision to leave the PLP, having won his seat under the PLP banner) and the general shenanigans that our incredibly divisive, tribalistic and negative politics still involves.
However, I was convinced he was moving ahead with a third party option, and was waiting to see how it developed – who was rolled out as candidates, what policies it would espouse, what ideological direction it would take.
My feeling was that it would likely be a successor to the National Liberal Party, that is, a centrist party.
In that there would be little ideological differentiation between the PLP and the OBA. Despite the gulf that exists between their supporters and MPs, from an ideological perspective the differences are more nuanced than real. Different shades of gray, at least on major ideological issues. About the only difference, if one were charitable, would be that the PLP believes our class system should reflect our racial demographics, while the OBA generally adopts a colour-blind approach which serves only to reinforce our racial inequalities.
Despite this, I would have welcomed a truly centrist third party, as I would have hoped that would attract the centre-right wing of the PLP and the centre-left wing of the OBA, thus pushing the PLP to the left and the OBA to the right, ideologically. And from my perspective, greater ideological diversity in our political sphere is a good thing, and one that is better in terms of policy innovation and resilience.
While not an ideological centrist by any means, I would have been willing to assist such a venture, for the sake of it’s potential for kick-starting an ideological rebirth for Bermudian politics, as well as in the hope it would serve as a catalyst for transcending our traditional divisions.
The two-party system, to me, reinforces and helps reproduce the very real racial-economic divisions in our society. This two-party system, of course, was a reflection and a product of pre-existing racial-economic divisions, but I believe it has since helped maintain these divisions, be it intentionally (political calculus) or unintentionally.
Why, and why now?
I’ve read Mr Lister’s explanations for his decision. I think he’s mostly telling the truth – he seems, quite frankly, burnt out.
I also suspect he feels personally betrayed:
- He cites the PLP and OBA MPs failing to back up an amendment he proposed earlier this year, for example. I severely doubt he would try to table such a bill without first courting support for it, at least for a seconder. I imagine he did so and was given reason to expect he had wide support sufficient to pass the amendment – which itself seems like something hardly objectionable. That no one then backed him up in the House was no doubt humiliating to him as a result.
- I also feel that he feels he did have a few people lined up, ready to be announced as candidates for his new third party (as part of a long-term campaign strategy, of regularly announcing new candidates), however, for whatever reason, those people backed out, leaving his plans in tatters. It would be hard not to see Kim Swan’s decision to join the PLP in this light. If I was an Independent MP in the HoA – in the way he became one – looking to set up a third party and looking for prospective candidates for centrist party able to appeal to both OBA and PLP voters, I would have approached Mr Swan. I don’t know if Mr Lister did or not, just saying that’s what I would have done if I was him. And so Mr Swan’s joining the PLP would throw my plans into complete disarray. And if I was already on the verge of burning out, and had already spent a good chunk of my working life as an MP previously, yeah, I can see deciding to retire.
Now, sure, some will quite rightly say that if one’s disgusted with the current state of politics, then that’s even more reason not to duck out, but instead to roll-up ones sleeves and redouble ones efforts.
However, I can also empathise with burn-out, and I commend his service to the country over the years – and I respect his attempts to be a good example of what an Independent MP could be.
Under the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968, Section 51(2), a by-election must be held within two months of a member vacating their seat in the House of Assembly. At the very least we’ll have a new MP by the end of November.
The seat is widely considered a PLP safe seat, but the question of who’ll run for them is of interest. The PLP Senators make obvious candidates, with Marc Daniels being from the west. There’s also the question of what effect the PLP leadership challenge might have on the by-election (and vice versa).
As for the OBA, the by-election offers an opportunity for a shuffle, as well as the long-shot chance of a stronger majority in the H0A. It’s likely their choice of candidate will be seen through the prism of BDA/UBP factional rivalry though.
Also, is there a potential for an Independent or a newly minted third party to take a gamble and try contesting this election too? I’d like to think so, as difficult a challenge as it would be.