So what does the upcoming by-election mean for the One Bermuda Alliance and the Progressive Labour Party? In parliamentary terms very little. The 24-12 result ensured that not only would the PLP have the ability to be one of the strongest governments in recent history, but also that the Opposition has absolutely no chance in its existing form to change the course of any Bill by votes in the House of Assembly.
The best the Opposition can hope for is using powers of persuasion in the Senate to get at least two independent senators to vote down legislation and delay it by a year. This is a rare occurrence indeed. Independent senators rarely vote against legislation and will generally likely consider voting against the government of the day only if there are enough members in the community who contact them directly voicing their displeasure with a particular piece of legislation. That is probably for the best.
So in the House of Assembly at present, the Government is enjoying a 24-10 experience, since Jeff Baron and Grant Gibbons resigned their seats. And guess what? Their absence in terms of votes makes no difference whatsoever. There is so little noise coming from the Opposition benches at the moment, it matters not if the Opposition is ten-strong or 12.
When there is such a lopsided result, the Opposition needs to act and think differently. It needs to work harder and more feverishly to get its message out to the wider community. It needs to control social media. The opposition Members of Parliament must be on talk shows, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. The OBA party structure should be releasing statements about Bills before the House and stating its position so the public are aware what it is. This, however, is not happening. And it will not because we rarely did get the communications quite right anyway.
How many people know who the shadow ministers are? I have to admit I struggle. I have no idea what the OBA’s position is on sugar tax. I do not know what its position is on weekly trash collection. I have no idea what its view is on most of the matters of the day. Why? Because it would seem that the OBA’s sole method of communicating is one of hope — hope that its views will encompass a few lines of reports from the House in this newspaper. It is not good enough.
Some will argue that this is the PLP’s honeymoon period and, as such, nothing needs to be said to oppose the PLP. Others will argue that they feel so demoralised by the 24-12 result that they simply cannot muster the energy to be heard since their message will fall on deaf ears. So what? The fact is, the role of the Opposition is to suggest alternatives and to communicate with the people in such a way that they are hearing about the alternatives and suggested ways forward.
If the OBA believes the PLP is doing well in one area, say so. If it believes the PLP is absolutely screwing it up, say so.
At the moment, the silence is deafening.
So what do the chosen candidates of the OBA say on the doorstep? It seems to me that their message must be one of giving the OBA the opportunity to be an effective opposition. To hold the Government to account. It can’t be right to go on the doorstep and say, “Help us be the next government” — that would be selling an absurdity, given the state of the organisation.
In the absence of an absolutely catastrophic event by the PLP, and a corresponding failure by the Opposition to energise, the OBA will not be the next government. As long as the PLP continues to largely follow the OBA’s management of the economy — per the recent ratings agency report — the OBA needs to say: “The Government must be accountable. Allow us to be that voice of accountability.”
Anything else will just sound hollow and unrealistic.
So what will the result likely be? It seems to me that Scott Pearman will hold Constituency 22 (Paget East) for the OBA. The numbers are just too far apart for the PLP to grab that seat.
Constituency 25 (Warwick North East) is another matter, with no guarantees. Both the PLP and OBA candidates are newcomers to the “front line”. On paper, Curtis Dickinson has the better CV and far more experience. Justin Mathias, on the other hand, has enjoyed an inexplicably meteoric rise within the OBA, claiming the scalp of Nick Kempe in the process. Dickinson has been gaining his political stripes serving on a number of government boards in the past few years.
So the electorate of Constituency 25 needs to decide whether it is important to have an opposition in a form that is potentially viable, or a government that has so many seats that it is impossible to hold it to account.
The Leader of the Opposition must be hoping beyond all hopes that Mathias holds Constituency 25 for the OBA, since surely her fortunes rise and fall with that result. If the seat is won, Jeanne Atherden will no doubt claim the tide is turning. She will say that the shine of the PLP is waning — even though the OBA won the seat in 2017.
If it is lost, and there is a fair chance that it will be, then she cannot claim that the OBA has stabilised. The knives will be out. But who would be foolish enough from the remaining nine OBA MPs — not considering the newcomer Pearman — to take the poisoned chalice of leadership in the OBA’s present make-up and poor form, especially when the issue is not just the OBA leadership but the team as a collective?
From the outside, it appears a general malaise has set in. A despair from which there does not appear to be an immediate solution. Let’s face it — people want to join a winning team; not a team that appears divided. They want a party; not an alliance that is prone to fractures and fissures.
The country deserves, and democracy requires, an active and powerful opposition. And right now we do not have that. The OBA party members need to consider all options — not just the one option that allows the OBA to limp along into complete obscurity.
Otherwise, they may as well just pack up and close shop completely.
• Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government