Although the bye-election in Constituency 13, Devonshire North Central, resulting from the resignation of Progressive Labour Party (PLP) MP Glenn Blakeney, took place on February 4, the dust therefrom remains far from settled. True, it had been a PLP seat and, if not a safe one, at least one that the PLP could realistically count on. That was, of course, until the 2012 General Election, which sent the PLP to the political graveyard and which turned C13 into a marginal seat, with the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) coming within 20 votes of victory.
That was then, this is now. Both parties, gearing up for battle, offered the voting public candidates to be reckoned with. The PLP selected their Senate Leader, businessman and former candidate, Diallo Rabain. The OBA, equal to the challenge, offered businessman, and candidate in the last election who lost by the slimmest of margins (6 votes in C17 Pembroke Central), Andrew Simons. Mr. Simons just happens to be the son of former UBP Cabinet Minister, Gerald Simons, who was the Minister in charge when sweeping changes to the educational system were made, and under which we now operate. But I digress.
Much was at stake for this bye-election and no amount of spin doctoring could alter that fact. For the ruling OBA, it was a litmus test on its policies and unfilled promises. From the redevelopment of the airport, which our (Profiles of Bermuda) poll indicated that 75% of the voting public do not want, to same-sex marriage, which 6 in 10 do not want, to the granting of status. For this, there was much support (nearly 7 in 10 voters) if persons had lived here for more than 25 years. But the headstrong manner in which the Government has gone about in bringing this policy forward resulted in those opposed to it exercising their democratic right and shutting down the most recent meeting.
And the elephant in the room is the failure of the OBA to produce the promised 2,000 jobs. That was then. Considering that some 2,300 jobs have been lost since they took the reins of government, the number of jobs needed to fulfill that promise now stands at 4,300 – a promise that you can safely say will remain unfilled. This is now. For the PLP, it was a gauge of whether or not they had restored confidence in the voters after losing the previous election. And this included whether or not recent internal squabbles over the party leadership were having a negative impact on voters.
In the 11th hour, the verdict was pronounced: the PLP romped home to victory. While the turnout was not the highest at 64%, the actual number of voters was, at 827, slightly more than the 803 that voted in the 2012 General Election. The margin of votes between the PLP (461) and the OBA (351) had increased to 110 and the swing to the PLP was 5.5%. If that swing were to hold in a General Election, giving the PLP 51.6% of the total vote, they would pick up all of those slim marginals they lost in the last election, easily winning the next General Election. Indeed, in our poll conducted in May of last year among 407 registered voters, the PLP led the OBA 46% to 33%. So when the Premier tells you that he has more important things to do than to call a snap election, you can believe him.
By the way, that was another promise in the lead-up to the last General Election, still to be kept; to hold fixed-term elections, which would mean that there would be no such thing as a snap election. That was then, this is now. There has been little, if anything, done by the Government since that poll to shift the numbers positively. The bye-election results were a clear message to the Government – listen to the people, although the Premier shrugged it off as just normal midterm angst expressed at an incumbent government.
For the PLP, I’m not sure that the results indicated a restoration of confidence by the voting public as much as it was a loss of confidence, particularly among swing voters, in the OBA. Certainly there has been anecdotal evidence of such on social media where those who had voted for the OBA in the last election, or stayed home, are now claiming that they would vote for the PLP. As such, I don’t think that the leadership challenges within the party had any bearing on the bye-election outcome – it didn’t matter who the leader was. What should matter, at least to the PLP, is that they ought to be mindful of going into the next election with a disunited front, if they want to claim victory. Any expulsions or splits, like those in the 80s, would likely win them an extended stay in the political desert of their choice.
The OBA, for its part, seems incapable or unwilling to listen to the concerns of the people. Their response is that they have a mandate to govern and that they were elected to make the tough decisions. However, ignoring the wishes of the people could relegate them to a footnote in Bermuda’s Political Annals. But there are also risks for listening at this late stage. Backing down from some of its more controversial policies may help to restore voter confidence but such a move would arm the Opposition with much firepower as the months tick away to the next general election.
The Government finds itself on a sticky wicket just as the Opposition seems, like the West Indies under 19 team – to have gotten its groove back! Mom’s sage advice is quite applicable here: “If you don’t listen, you will feel.” But if the Government does listen, they are still likely to feel the heat, anyway. And if there were any cracks in the PLP mantle, based on their performance during the Motion to Adjourn in the House of Assembly’s last sitting, they concealed it well. Prepare for the return of “flogging Fridays” on the Motion to Adjourn, unless or until the cracks show up.
By Cordell Riley
Cordell W. Riley is a data analyst, educator, entrepreneur and racial justice advocate. He runs the consultancy and business intelligence firm Profiles of Bermuda (www.profilesofbermuda.bm). He can be reached at [email protected]