WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7: The ruling PLP will have to work hard to win the next General Election, its own supporters warned yesterday.
Walton Brown, a former Government Senator and parliamentary candidate for Pembroke Central, said the party has to sell itself better to voters — or risk losing seats.
Another high profile PLP figure, MP Dale Butler, agreed with Mr Brown that the economic slump is a key concern for voters.
Mr Brown said: “One should never take the electorate for granted. No one can predict with confidence what the outcome is going to be.”
He was speaking after a poll by Profiles of Bermuda — published in the Sun on Friday — put the Opposition OBA, formed last year, ahead of the PLP.
The survey of more than 300 voters showed that 39 per cent said they would back the OBA, with 30 per cent of voters sticking with the PLP. Almost a quarter of those surveyed, however, were sitting on the fence; 23 per cent said they had not decided who to vote for.
Mr Brown said: “One of the biggest challenges the PLP Government continues to face is how to effectively deliver the message of achievement and the message about what the Government is doing every day.
“There’s a litany of policies which are providing benefits to the people of Bermuda, but we haven’t been able to deliver that message.”
Mr Brown, himself a pollster and analyst, added that Government Ministers need to launch a charm offensive to publicize their work — like housing initiatives and health care for seniors – better.
He said: “This hasn’t captured the imagination of a large enough segment of the public. Government needs to tell its story more effectively.”
Mr Brown added that the recession was also hitting Government’s popularity with voters.
He said: “We’ve had the longest period of continued recession in our history and that will take its toll on Government. People do feel disillusionment — they can’t find work, they see prices going up. People will blame Government, even if prices going up is not its fault.”
Mr Brown added: “People worry about rising crime – there is demonstrated evidence of a successful intervention to reduce crime. Crime has gone down, but some people think it’s not been properly addressed. That’s where delivering a more effective message becomes critical.”
Key targets for both parties include the PLP-held seats of Southampton East Central, Hamilton West, St David’s, St George’s North, Smith’s North and Warwick North Central and Warwick North East.
The OBA will also be eying the UBP-held St St George’s West seat, held by Kim Swan while the PLP will be aiming for the OBA’s St George’s South.
The PLP hold 24 of the 36 seats in the House of Assembly, with the OBA holding 10 seats. The UBP have two remaining MPs.
Mr Brown said that a “significant” proportion of the floating vote would be PLP supporters “who are not expressing that opinion today.”
But Mr Brown said that, once a General Election was called, people would be more likely to declare themselves for the PLP.
And he added: “If a new party got so much support it would be alarming. But what we have is the same political alliance throwing its weight behind a new political party. It’s a new party, but not a new political force.”
He also pointed out that a national poll could not assess the strengths of individual candidates – an important factor in a Westminster-style system.
Warwick North East MP Dale Butler said jobs, the economy and the national debt were all major concerns on the doorsteps – and that some voters appeared “disgusted” with the PLP.
When asked if the PLP could lose an election, he said: “I certainly hope not – I’ve worked from the day after we won in 1998. I’ve worked very hard for the people of Warwick and Bermuda.”
He added that – as well as criticism – he had heard praise for Government’s role in promoting jobs fairs and restricting some categories of work permits.
Mr Butler added: “Most of my colleagues tell me that they’re working as hard as they can to address people’s concerns – some people think you can wave a magic wand, but you can’t do that.”
Veteran PLP politician and former Premier Alex Scott, who started his career in politics in PR and polling, said a poll was “a snapshot of a moment in time.”
He added: “It’s an interesting thing about Bermuda and that’s that PLP supporters don’t necessarily participate or respond to pollsters. You will find them in the undecided or no answer columns – that goes back to the years when it was very much Front Street was the UBP and politics was more black and white than it is now.”
Mr Scott added: “If I was the leader, I wouldn’t be saying ‘chicken licken, the sky is falling down’ – I would take note of it and move ahead with plans and strategies.”
Pollster Cordell Riley, who carried out the latest survey, said: “The key to the election is what the dissatisfied PLP voters will do. There’s a chunk of people on the fence and what they do is critical.”