Key observers say the single biggest election issue is the economy. *Creative Commons photo by Dave Dugdale
Key observers say the single biggest election issue is the economy. *Creative Commons photo by Dave Dugdale

FRIDAY, NOV. 16: Women voters could be the decisive force in the General Election and the party that best spells out how to create jobs and shrink national debt will triumph.

This from key observers, who broadly agreed yesterday that neither party has yet captured the public’s imagination on the single biggest election issue — the economy.

Craig Simmons, a senior economics lecturer at Bermuda College, said: “There was one US President who said ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ That is where I think the focus should be.”

Peter Everson, chairman of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said one of the reasons the PLP won for the first time in 1998 was a swing vote, particularly among women: “It’s females who run a lot of the households here and things weren’t going well with their bank accounts — that is now the PLP’s biggest weakness.

“The question when people come to vote is, ‘are they comfortable with their financial position when it comes to paying bills and who will improve their financial position over the next five years’?

“For either party, they have to make a case on who will be most effective in re-engineering the economy so it will stop contracting and eventually grow.”

Political pundit and commentator Walton Brown – who is standing as a PLP candidate for Pembroke Central, said the economy is a central issue “because we’re experiencing the worst economic crisis since the 1930s… The Government recognizes we need to get back on track, which is why there has been an effort in that direction.”

 Mr Simmons said neither party had effectively articulated how to kick-start the economy and cut the national overdraft: “It’s about how to get people back to work, how to create growth and what the exit strategy for debt looks like because in the near term the debt will continue to rise.

“It may even hit $2 billion — which most people can’t envisage at this time… It’s here and how well we deal with it is what I would like to hear from politicians.”

Mr Simmons declined to predict who will win the December 17 poll — expected to be the closest election in nearly 20 years.

He said: “You have to wonder whether or not you believe the polls — we’ll see. It’s not a good time to be a politician.”

Mr Simmons added: “The variable, which is very tough to predict, is human behaviour, about which we know very little, which is where economics is a weak science.

“But I would expect it will be closer than 2007 – but that’s about all I can say right now.”

Peter Everson said a recent article in the respected Financial Times of London said that President Barack Obama had won re-election partly because – unlike other incumbent leaders around the globe – he had escaped blame for the financial crisis, with voters blaming his predecessor George W Bush instead.

Mr Everson said: “In a Bermuda context, that obviously looks quite grave for Paula Cox and the PLP.

“At the end of the day, both parties need to convince people to go and vote for them. Some of those swing voters who voted for the PLP in the last two or three elections might be inclined to stay at home and not vote at all rather than vote for someone else.”

Businessman Philip Barnett, boss of the Island Restaurant Group, which owns several bars and restaurants in Hamilton, said both parties needed to concentrate on the problems facing the island.

He said: “I think they wouldn’t be slinging mud unless they thought it resonated with their electorate. But the electorate truly looks at what the issues are, takes the emotive aspects out and looks at the practical aspects.

“I don’t believe either party has come out with their full platform – I have to agree with Craig Simmons. It would behoove both parties to get their platforms out as quickly as they can.”

Mr Barnett also predicted a very close election – with the middle ground the key to victory.

He added: “I think that both parties have more work to do – I’d like to see more coming out on how they are going to move the country forward.”

Walton  Brown pointed to “aggressive” attempts by Government to attract business, particularly from new markets in the Middle East and to bring in hospitality investors, as well as “much more flexible environment” for job creation through new companies setting up on the island.

But he stressed it was equally important to ensure that the “vulnerable who have been marginalised” by the recession get “a hand up.”