“I don’t care who I’m working with to get it done, we just have to get it done, and I will work until I decide to retire with all of the energy and commitment that I have. But I want to see results. I’m here to support, not undermine, but I will be vocal when I have to be.”
— Michael Dunkley (July 26, 2017)
When the former Premier of Bermuda sat down with a Royal Gazette reporter to announce that he would be stepping away from frontline politics, there was something in the air to indicate that his assertions could be taken only at face value.
The nature of the heavy election defeat on July 18 was the first clue: with only 12 One Bermuda Alliance candidates elected to the House of Assembly, including two newcomers in Ben Smith and Jeff Baron — albeit the latter having served in Cabinet owing to his seat in the Senate — the Honourable Member from Smith’s North has had little option but to sustain his visibility.
There are few alternatives.
During his period as leader of the country, Michael Dunkley was among the most visible of any who has held such a lofty position in our society. But these are also different times.
The advent of social media has meant that there can be a 24/7 dissemination of information and opinion to the electorate, which can be a good thing. But on the flip side, dialogue that is bitter, nasty, racist, xenophobic, homophobic — and all the other “-phobics” you could imagine — have brought to the surface in greater detail how challenged from an intellectual standpoint the level of Bermudian public discourse is.
Some may say that we are in a period of social decline; others, more accurately we posit, may remark that this has always been the case — social media has merely cleared the tint, presenting a platform for our behavioural deficiencies to be more “in your face”.
So to the former premier and leader of the OBA. He is a social-media junkie. His fix? Gathering news, recycling news, commenting on news, responding to the merest criticism.
Even before the election, Dunkley took on the noble task of attempting to engage with the electorate through a specially designed government portal as well as e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
But, for all that Donald Trump has devalued social media — in particular Twitter with his incessantly cringeworthy utterances whose ill wind could be felt all the way to Mount Rushmore — @BDAMilkman has been a comparative fresh summer breeze.
However, what began as Bermuda’s most social politician making himself ultra-accessible has deteriorated since the General Election into a series of slanging matches with the good, the bad and the ugly among our decaying social fabric.
Throughout the many incidents of abuse, name-calling and other forms of provocation — some threads long enough to give cause for Rumpelstiltskin to file suit against the Brothers Grimm for relative underemployment — the former premier has consistently striven to maintain the high ground, but in recent times the cracks are beginning to show.
It is what continuing to argue the toss in patently unwinnable debates will do to you. When someone says they’re “not trying to hear you”, you should take them at their word and navigate another path.
But with a glance towards the OBA MP count, if not Dunkley to carry the torch of relevance, then who?
Which brings us to the Opposition’s leadership vacuum, the selection tomorrow week of a new leader from an admittedly shallow pool, and the OBA’s chronic inability to engage with the public — notwithstanding a public who at times are “not trying to hear” them.
From a community-engagement standpoint, the candidates rolled out after the party’s nomination period ended do not strike you as a who’s who of modernity — what with their negligible digital footprints — especially at a time when the Progressive Labour Party has at its apex a man of 38 years and the youngest premier in the island’s history.
In an age when the youth vote is so significant and so cherished, choosing from three whose combined age will be 220 by the time the OBA can next be expected realistically to present a challenge worthy of the name is indicative of a gross absence of forward planning.
The fait accompli assessment of the 2022 election is indeed intentional. For, if the PLP could lose only five seats in 2012 having dropped the country in a $2 billion black hole, it bears not imagining what would be required for a seven-seat swing to restrict the new government to a single term.
Guided by the principles of Occam’s razor, that the simplest explanation among many more complex ones is the right way to go, the OBA cannot win next time out.
So why not reinvent the wheel and dip into the party’s spluttering fountain of youth?
Of the available “young” candidates, the names Jeff Baron and Nandi Outerbridge stick out as a pair who could have taken the OBA forward, guided by the experienced hands around them until one or the other was established firmly enough from a populist view by 2027 to run the PLP close.
That has not happened, so Craig Cannonier with his Jetgate baggage, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin with her Tweedgate baggage and Jeanne Atherden, who is so anonymous as to be irrelevant, are left to square off to see who skippers an ageing ship.
It is no wonder Dunkley has had to maintain and fire up his profile; without him, the Opposition could easily be said to be missing in action.