Musings on the by-election & PLP internal elections

Post-Gonzalo

While there was widespread damage from hurricane Gonzalo last week, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as what we experienced in Fabian 11 years ago.

There’s extensive damage to our vegetation, but that will recover or be replanted.  There’s an ongoing struggle to completely repair the power grid, but the majority of people now have power back, and roofs are on their way to being repaired.

On a whole, the island was ‘back to normal’ in a working sense by the Monday, more or less.

The storm will provide a short-term retail and employment boost for the local economy, which will be welcome, albeit brief.

I am hopeful though that it may lead to a more long-term boost, particularly for the green energy sector, with solar panels having weathered the storm relatively well, and many may choose – if they have the capital – to invest in them going forward.

Constituency 33 By-Election

With the surprise retirement of former PLP MP, and subsequently Independent MP Terry Lister, Constituency 33 is now in the midst of a by-election process, and both parties have announced their candidates.  No Independents have come forward at this time, although I think there’s still time for that possibility.

The parties didn’t select the people I was expecting to be honest.

I thought the OBA would either run a strong candidate from the 2012 election, such as Andrew Simmons who ran in 17, or someone ‘high profile’ from their Senate team.  In the end they went for the well known lawyer Georgia Marshall.

I don’t know Ms Marshall in a personal sense, although I know of her reputation as a formidable divorce lawyer, and I believe she’s a very strong candidate for the OBA, which will make this by-election less of an assured PLP victory as it may have been otherwise.

Having said that, despite a long-term erosion of PLP support in the constituency (due partly to boundary changes and partly due to incumbent apathy), I fully expect this seat to be won handily by the PLP.

I was expecting the PLP to field Senator Marc Daniels for this by-election.  He is from that general area, has proven himself as a more than capable Senator and winning this seat would have freed up a Senate position, allowing the PLP to develop ‘new blood’ for future electoral purposes.

However, for whatever reason, Senator Daniels is not the candidate, and former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons is.

For many this selection will be controversial due to the candidates history with the NLP and the UBP.  It makes him an easy target for being described as a ‘flip-flopper’ or ‘political opportunist’, just as now PLP MP Wayne Furbert – a former leader of the UBP – was/is.

This will be a hard one for Mr Simmons to shake, both from opponents and from internal PLP critics.  In his favour however is that he will be seen as having paid his dues and proven his commitment to the PLP since defecting from the UBP, and I think this will ultimately win over internal PLP critics at least.

More recently he has courted controversy with some Twitter comments.

Those particular comments, when seen in the context of his comments immediately before and after did not strike me as offensive, although at the time I did think they were unwise.  I understood him to have been partly quoting lyrics from a song and partly asking hypotheticals in an attempt to understand and express the feelings of alienation and hopelessness that a particular sub-group of our population experiences.

I saw the initial, and continued, controversy over his comments as being part misinterpretation (taking them in isolation and outside of context) and partly manufactured outrage for political purposes.

Neither of which should have come as a surprise to him, and which is why I personally was surprised he’d made them, knowing how they’ll be used by his political opponents.  However, he did the right thing and resigned his party position, and, to me, continued focus on them is now purely artificial, although still material in a political sense.

PLP Leadership Elections

Last night the PLP held elections for Leader and Deputy Leader, with Marc Bean retaining the Leadership in an emphatic win against Walton Brown, and David Burt winning over Michael Weeks for the Deputy position.

To me this contestation is a sign of a healthy and vibrant internal democracy for the PLP and helps give legitimacy to the positions, whereas a coronation would have signaled a stifling of internal democracy.  Which makes the coronation of Nicola Sturgeon as SNP Leader in Scotland, following the democratic reawakening of the Scottish independence referendum so surprising and concerning, but I digress…

Having a contested election forces a Party to have a conversation about what direction the Party should take, and helps bring collective legitimacy to whoever wins.  This is a strength.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

The failed challengers have thus done the PLP a favour, and it would be wise for the victors to not seek to punish them, as former Premier Jennifer Smith was seen to have done to Arthur Hodgson over a decade ago.  That only encourages factionalism and weakens the Party – in some ways the ‘palace coup’ of the 2003 general election may be seen as having resulted partly from the poor handling of this issue.

Both Mr Brown and Mr Weeks are valuable assets for the PLP and Mr Bean and Mr Burt would do well to use their respective strengths to the benefit of the PLP, both as an effective Opposition and a government-in-waiting.

Furthermore, although Mr Bean and Mr Burt won, they – and the Party – should not see it as a zero-sum game.  As I noted above, contested elections allow a party to have an internal conversation about the party itself and its direction.  In the process of a conversation ones positions evolve – that is the nature of a conversation, as opposed to an autocratic one-way directive.

While Mr Bean and Mr Burt may have won, they should take heed of the conversation that Mr Brown and Mr Weeks helped happen, and the PLP would be best served taking that into account.

Although not a member of the PLP, I would like to congratulate Mr Bean and Mr Burt on their elections, and also Mr Brown and Mr Weeks for ensuring a healthy internal democracy for their party.  There were also other PLP officer elections last night, and I congratulate the successful candidates in their victories.

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5 thoughts on “Musings on the by-election & PLP internal elections

  1. Not knowing either the candidates or the inner workings of the PLP, it’s difficult to comment meaningfully on the vote for Leader.

    That said, it seems to be either an overwhelming vote of confidence in Marc Bean, or an overwhelming vote against Walton Brown. That was quite as margin of difference.

  2. One interesting aspect of the recent leadership vote is that there were 94 votes involved. Those votes are branch delegates plus PLP MPs. Branch delegates numbers reflect the size of their respective branch, as per the PLP constitution (Clause 5, Section IV, B):

    “Each branch at the AGC shall have one delegate for the first twenty members (or fraction thereof) and one delegate for each additional twenty financial members (or fraction thereof) of such branch…”

    As there are currently, I think, 15 PLP MPs, that means there were 79 branch delegates.

    Compare this to right after the 2012 election, where the PLP had 17 MPs (Randy Horton subsequently became Speaker and Terry Lister an Independent), where there were a total of 146 votes – or 129 delegates.

    Between December 2012 and October 2014 the PLP’s membership appears to have declined by approximately 39% – as reflected in the decline in branch delegates.

    That is not a good sign for a party which is widely expected to be able to win an election if it was called now, thanks to a series of OBA scandals and mis-steps.

    Which raises a series of questions:

    1) Is this decline a reflection of Mr Bean’s leadership?
    2) Is this decline a reflection of the PLP losing opportunists who were only interested in PLP membership as long as it was advantageous while the PLP was in power?
    3) Or a combination of the above, and, if so, what weighting for both?
    4) How would that missing 39% of delegates/members voted in the contest between Bean and Brown? Or Burt and Weeks for that matter?
    5) What does this mean for the PLP in terms of going forward electorally, as regards active party machinery, finances and quality candidates?
    6) Where has this missing membership gone? It seems unlikely they’ve switched sides to the OBA.
    7) Is there scope for a new party to build on this missing membership?

    Without a poll of both existing members and former members, it’s almost impossible to answer these questions. However, they are questions that the PLP will need to answer, and soon.

    From the outside, it seems as if we have a Government that’s so far been relatively incompetent in government, and an Opposition that might win power by default, but has a growing existential crisis and may well be unfit to govern.

    What happens when both options are unfit to govern?

    Hmmm – perhaps this deserves to be its own post…

  3. Is the decline in membership also due to:

    1. Loss of Bermudians who have moved overseas in the last 5 years in the light of the country’s economy? Maybe PLP members?

    2. A general apathy within the younger people to politics generally and who would not wish to join a political party?

    3. Bermudian deaths – and lower birth rates? More likely that those who have died were from an era that was more politically interested.

    Just a thought.

  4. I just posted a new thing explicitly on this.

    I doubt #1 is much of a factor for the PLP membership – and it’s not clear how much of a reality it is in general either. I can see that a number of expats have left, but the numbers of Bermudians emigrating seems less realistic to me. At best I can see those already overseas for studies staying overseas, but not a large scale exodus of Bermudians at this stage.

    #2 is possible, but I don’t think that accounts for such a drastic 39% decline in two years. In my experience in the youth wing of the PLP the membership was largely 30+ (of the party overall, not the youth wing), so I can’t see that being much of a factor.

    #3 I don’t think that offers a realistic explanation for the size of the decline in two years. It would have to mirror the total population fluctuations, and I don’t think there’s been a 39% population decline between 2012 and 2014.

  5. Pingback: Constituency #33 – A two horse race | "catch a fire"

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