For a recent story in which we asked senior PLP figures to reflect on why their party lost the election, we reached out to former Cabinet minister Arthur Hodgson. He chose to respond with a guest column.
Why did the PLP lose the Election? When you are dealing with 30,800 voters almost anything you say about why they voted as they did would have an element of truth. Add to that another 15,000 who failed to vote and you could multiply the number of truthful answers.
In fact you could ask the question differently; why did the OBA win the election?
Look at the size of the victory, 17 to 19 and the fact that at least 3 seats were won and lost by less than 10 votes and the creditable answers multiply.
Actually the whole idea of winning and losing an election is a relatively new idea in Bermuda politics. Before 1968 winning or losing was personal. It was individuals who ran as individuals and it was they who won or lost. There were no political parties but we did have organized groups known as Parish Political Associations. The main objective of the Parish Political Associations was to get a coloured person elected from the parish so that coloured people would have a voice that was heard in Parliament. Even in 1963 when the PLP was formed there was nothing more than a desire among its supporters to have a vigorous and cohesive coloured voice in Parliament. The PLP founders may have had a more sophisticated ideology in mind, but most of its supporters simply wanted coloured representation.
Following the formation of the UBP in 1964 the PLP came to the conclusion that having a voice in Parliament wasn’t enough to change social conditions in Bermuda. Social conditions would not change unless and until the entire political structure changed. Hence we had the 1966 Constitutional Conference when we changed the entire method of governing the island.
Thus it was only in 1968 that winning and losing took on the meaning which it has today, whereby one political party has more seats in parliament than another.
While the notion of winning and losing is simplified, the reasons that people vote or don’t vote for a particular political party are as complex as ever.
Some voters vote for individual characteristics; for these voters the PLP failed to field acceptable candidates.
Of course what constitutes an “acceptable” candidate differs. There are those who saw the PLP candidates as merely interested in self and not the community or just candidates who were not very likable or corrupt or just plain stupid or arrogant. You name the characteristic and there is a voter out there who based their voting decision on it.
Some voters came to the conclusion that the PLP had the wrong ideology. Then there were those who had no problem with the PLP ideology, but thought that as a team they lacked the ability to implement the ideology.
But what was the right ideology? There are those who believe that ethnicity trumps everything else and there are those who regard themselves as colour blind.
The downturn in the economy had its impact. Again there are those who thought that the PLP had the wrong economic ideology and there are those that had no problem with the PLP economic ideology but thought that the PLP was not capable of running the economy.
Why did the PLP lose the election? All of the above… and some more.
What does the PLP need to do to win the next election?
The PLP should focus its attention on using its influence to transform the nature of our society. The PLP should come up with a development plan that is sustainable. The plan has to take into account equity, justice, ecological balance and maximization of Bermuda’s human potential. We can’t avoid the issue of winning and losing, but the real focus should be on the direction for Bermuda. Sometimes this requires taking a long view knowing that it will take time for the voters to catch the vision.
It is arguable that when a principled and idealistic PLP was in opposition, it did more to change Bermuda for the better than it did as a Government that had substituted ‘election’ politics for principled politics.
If the focus is simply on getting a majority of seats in Parliament you may well find that you have been in Government and done nothing more than to perpetuate an unjust system. A casual look at history shows that that is what most governments do.