Minority governance

Jonathan over at Catch A Fire has responded to my earlier post suggesting that it would be difficult for a new party to form without essentially becoming a relabeled UBP if the UBP were to disband.  I cannot say I agree with him in this regard.  In my belief the primary reason for the UBP to disband would be to cause a rift within the PLP.  With ‘glue’ that holds the PLP together gone, the various factions within the PLP would no longer be held together on the premise of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.  This would likely cause a split as these factions now unopposed begin to turn on each other and likely would divide into two parties.  The NLP is not an adequate guide simply because that was a split from the opposition, not the leading party.  Had the NLP been formed out of the incumbent UBP of the time, things may have turned out very differently.  A split in the PLP with an extinct UBP would leave the good elements of the PLP the ability to leverage off of the former UBP support base.  In truth however it is obvious that the UBP won’t disband and is far more likely to die a very slow death as as sitting MPs break off to be independent and they fail to rejuvenate themselves into being able to attract strong new talent.

Jonathan’s musings suggest that for new parties to be successful they need to have a platform that radically departs from what exists today.  In a way I agree but in another I disagree.  I believe a new party only needs to be successful enough to cause a minority government and needs to champion that cause while appealing to hope.  A minority government is what Bermuda needs most, whether it comes from the PLP dividing into two parties and allowing new parties to form, a new party forming in our present political climate or a group of strong independent candidates rising up.

In the case of our present climate a new party or independents would need to set itself apart as not being the UBP’s or PLP’s puppet by doing what the present parties refuse to do.  It would need to pledge to take the power of government out of the hands of the politicians and place it in the hands of the people.  It would need to appeal to the youth who are presently very disillusioned and marginalized by the present parties composed of relics from an aged passed and it would need to offer hope to the middle class swing voters that both present parties rely on to win. 

In order to have a fighting chance it would need to convince those swing voters that both the UBP and PLP have proven ineffective in solving our economic and social issues.  Neither have successfully solved both issues together.  Thus, it would need to be championed that regardless whether you vote for the UBP or PLP your vote will be wasted as the status quo will not change.  Whomever gets elected to power will remain unaccountable, corrupt and put the interests of the party before that of the people.  That is the product of a majority government and could even be the result if a new party were to win the majority.  Indeed power corrupts just as they say and only the ignorant believe that they cannot be corrupted when given power absolute.

A party rising to this challenge would need a strong, charismatic and empowering leadership that could rally people behind this message and convince enough that voting for a new party is the best way to send a message to our present relics that their time is up.  The party would subsequently need to focus heavily on marginals and aim to pick up enough seats to control the balance of power.  It may even be best minded to not challenge UBP or PLP strongholds and only the marginals on the premise that it’s intention is to win a minority government and not necessarily be the ones holding a majority.  It would not need to be the incumbent nor would it need to be the opposition and this would buy credibility against claims of a lack of experience.  It would simply have to hold enough seats that the incumbent did not hold a majority government.  A minority government is what Bermuda needs most and we’re seeing elements of it with the disillusioned MPs of the PLP forcing Premier Brown to smarten up.

Few would disagree that the biggest problem facing Bermuda is not one party or another but our political system.  It was designed for a different era and a different style of politics, one which has not proven to work here.  What we need is transparency, accountability, good governance and most importantly a stick which can be used to beat politicans who step out of line.  A minority government would be that stick.  It would force the incumbent to be accountable, to debate their cause and prove their reasoning.  It would empower both the incumbent and the opposition to do their jobs, to truly work together rather than against each other in the interests of a better Bermuda.  Best of all, it would not require experience on the part of a new party and instead only enough wisdom and sound reasoning to be able to side with the interests of Bermuda and its people before all else.

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I’m half way through Malcolm Gladwell’s latest work and found he offers clues to what perpetuates the divide between the haves and have nots.   Interestingly it may be a source for ideas of how we can shrink that divide.  I encourage you to pick up a copy an give it a read, it’s hard to put down.  Here’s an excerpt:


Perhaps the best explanation we have of this process comes from the sociologist Annette Lareau, who a few years ago conducted a fascinating study of a group of third graders. She picked both blacks and whites and children from both wealthy homes and poor homes, zeroing in, ultimately, on twelve families. Lareau and her team visited each family at least twenty times, for hours at a stretch. She and her assistants told their subjects to treat them like "the family dog," and they followed them to church and to soccer games and to doctor’s appointments, with a tape recorder in one hand and a notebook in the other.

You might expect that if you spent such an extended period in twelve different households, what you would gather is twelve different ideas about how to raise children: there would be the strict parents and the lax parents and the hyperinvolved parents and the mellow parents and on and on. What Lareau found, however, is something much different. There were only two parenting "philosophies," and they divided almost perfectly along class lines. The wealthier parents raised their kids one way, and the poorer parents raised their kids another way.

The wealthier parents were heavily involved in their children’s free time, shuttling them from one activity to the next, quizzing them about their teachers and coaches and teammates. One of the well-off children Lareau followed played on a baseball team, two soccer teams, a swim team, and a basketball team in the summer, as well as playing in an orchestra and taking piano lessons.

That kind of intensive scheduling was almost entirely absent from the lives of the poor children. Play for them wasn’t soccer practice twice a week. It was making up games outside with their siblings and other kids in the neighborhood. What a child did was considered by his or her parents as something separate from the adult world and not particularly consequential. One girl from a working-class family—Katie Brindle—sang in a choir after school. But she signed up for it herself and walked to choir practice on her own. Lareau writes:

What Mrs. Brindle doesn’t do that is routine for middleclass mothers is view her daughter’s interest in singing as a signal to look for other ways to help her develop that interest into a formal talent. Similarly Mrs. Brindle does not discuss Katie’s interest in drama or express regret that she cannot afford to cultivate her daughter’s talent. Instead she frames Katie’s skills and interests as character traits—singing and acting are part of what makes Katie "Katie." She sees the shows her daughter puts on as "cute" and as a way for Katie to "get attention."

The middle-class parents talked things through with their children, reasoning with them. They didn’t just issue commands. They expected their children to talk back to them, to negotiate, to question adults in positions of authority. If their children were doing poorly at school, the wealthier parents challenged their teachers. They intervened on behalf of their kids. One child Lareau follows just misses qualifying for a gifted program. Her mother arranges for her to be retested privately, petitions the school, and gets her daughter admitted. The poor parents, by contrast, are intimidated by authority. They react passively and stay in the background. Lareau writes of one low-income parent:

At a parent-teacher conference, for example, Ms. McAllister (who is a high school graduate) seems subdued. The gregarious and outgoing nature she displays at home is hidden in this setting. She sits hunched over in the chair and she keeps her jacket zipped up. She is very quiet. When the teacher reports that Harold has not been turning in his homework, Ms. McAllister clearly is flabbergasted, but all she says is, "He did it at home." She does not follow up with the teacher or attempt to intervene on Harold’s behalf. In her view, it is up to the teachers to manage her son’s education. That is their job, not hers.

Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style "concerted cultivation." It’s an attempt to actively "foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills." Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of "accomplishment of natural growth." They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own.

Lareau stresses that one style isn’t morally better than the other. The poorer children were, to her mind, often better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making use of their own time, and had a well-developed sense of independence. But in practical terms, concerted cultivation has enormous advantages. The heavily scheduled middleclass child is exposed to a constantly shifting set of experiences. She learns teamwork and how to cope in highly structured settings. She is taught how to interact comfortably with adults, and to speak up when she needs to. In Lareau’s words, the middle-class children learn a sense of "entitlement."

That word, of course, has negative connotations these days. But Lareau means it in the best sense of the term: "They acted as though they had a right to pursue their own individual preferences and to actively manage interactions in institutional settings. They appeared comfortable in those settings; they were open to sharing information and asking for attention It was common practice among middle-class children to shift interactions to suit their preferences." They knew the rules. "Even in fourth grade, middle-class children appeared to be acting on their own behalf to gain advantages. They made special requests of teachers and doctors to adjust procedures to accommodate their desires."

By contrast, the working-class and poor children were characterized by "an emerging sense of distance, distrust, and constraint." They didn’t know how to get their way, or how to "customize"—using Lareau’s wonderful term—whatever environment they were in, for their best purposes.

In one telling scene, Lareau describes a visit to the doctor by Alex Williams, a nine-year-old boy, and his mother, Christina. The Williamses are wealthy professionals.

"Alex, you should be thinking of questions you might want to ask the doctor," Christina says in the car on the way to the doctor’s office. "You can ask him anything you want. Don’t be shy. You can ask anything."

Alex thinks for a minute, then says, "I have some bumps under my arms from my deodorant." Christina: "Really? You mean from your new deodorant?" Alex: "Yes." Christina: "Well, you should ask the doctor."

Alex’s mother, Lareau writes, "is teaching that he has the right to speak up"—that even though he’s going to be in a room with an older person and authority figure, it’s perfectly all right for him to assert himself. They meet the doctor, a genial man in his early forties. He tells Alex that he is in the ninety-fifth percentile in height. Alex then interrupts:

ALEX: I’m in the what?

DOCTOR: It means that you’re taller than more than ninety-five out of a hundred young men when they’re, uh, ten years old.

ALEX: I’m not ten.

DOCTOR: Well, they graphed you at ten. You’re—nine years and ten months. They—they usually take the closest year to that graph.

Look at how eas
ily Alex interrupts the doctor—"I’m not ten." That’s entitlement: his mother permits that casual incivility because she wants him to learn to assert himself with people in positions of authority.

THE DOCTOR TURNS TO ALEX: Well, now the most important question. Do you have any questions you want to ask me before I do your physical?

ALEX: Um…only one. I’ve been getting some bumps on my arms, right around here (indicates underarm).

DOCTOR: Underneath?

ALEX: Yeah.

DOCTOR: Okay. I’ll have to take a look at those when I come in closer to do the checkup. And I’ll see what they are and what I can do. Do they hurt or itch?

ALEX: No, they’re just there.

DOCTOR: Okay, I’ll take a look at those bumps for you.

This kind of interaction simply doesn’t happen with lower-class children, Lareau says. They would be quiet and submissive, with eyes turned away. Alex takes charge of the moment. "In remembering to raise the question he prepared in advance, he gains the doctor’s full attention and focuses it on an issue of his choosing," Lareau writes.

In so doing, he successfully shifts the balance of power away from the adults and toward himself. The transition goes smoothly. Alex is used to being treated with respect. He is seen as special and as a person worthy of adult attention and interest. These are key characteristics of the strategy of concerted cultivation. Alex is not showing off during his checkup. He is behaving much as he does with his parents—he reasons, negotiates, and jokes with equal ease.

It is important to understand where the particular mastery of that moment comes from. It’s not genetic. Alex Williams didn’t inherit the skills to interact with authority figures from his parents and grandparents the way he inherited the color of his eyes. Nor is it racial: it’s not a practice specific to either black or white people. As it turns out, Alex Williams is black and Katie Brindle is white. It’s a cultural advantage. Alex has those skills because over the course of his young life, his mother and father—in the manner of educated families—have painstakingly taught them to him, nudging and prodding and encouraging and showing him the rules of the game, right down to that little rehearsal in the car on the way to the doctor’s office.

When we talk about the advantages of class, Lareau argues, this is in large part what we mean. Alex Williams is better off than Katie Brindle because he’s wealthier and because he goes to a better school, but also because—and perhaps this is even more critical—the sense of entitlement that he has been taught is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.

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Tackling disparity

Another day, another shooting.  Quite sadly they're becoming far too commonplace and one can only wonder why?  While we're still awaiting the results of yet another study on young black males we can in the mean time take a moment to understand the perspective from an impoverished youth to gain some insight into the barriers that exist that may have lent to the situation we find ourselves in today.

Some of the largest issues we face in Bermuda today are the inability for disadvantaged youth to see nor understand a path out of poverty via traditional routes.  Our youth see a largely have vs. have not society as our island is home to some of the wealthiest individuals in the world but it also has one of the highest costs of living to match.  How can our youth who start with nothing reach the top without being able to envision themselves doing it?  How do we show them that an honest life is easier and more valuable than a life of crime?

Look at things from their perspective.  You may have limited knowledge, limited education and little hope.  Where do you turn?  You look at others around you who you can relate to as role models for how you can achieve greatness.  You may not be surrounded with positive role models, instead you look around and take note of those with status, those who were once like you that have now reached a higher level.  You look to mass media and see the hip hop stars making millions for having lived the hard life and then making songs about it.  If that's how they made it, perhaps that is the way?  The hard life of inter-gang warfare in the states seems glamourous and exciting in comparison to a rather poverty stricken life here on the rock washing dishes for a meager struggle of a living.  

Compare this to what else you see.  You can look at the rich and see that in many cases they were born rich.  They were sent off to private schools, they have trust funds and support networks to get them into the best schools.  They've got the networks to get them into good jobs and give them a comparatively easy route to the top.  If you have none of these things, how do you make it?  Often you don't even have a clue where to start, especially if you haven't even reached the basic level of having a phone, a bank account, a drivers license, identification or the clothes you would need to interview let along get a job.  Beyond this, you've don't know how to act in the 'business' world as it has always been foreign but you are condemned for not knowing.  It is hard for you to see role models of people like you who started where you are who made it so how are you to know it is possible?

When you look up from the bottom and see these two routes, which do you think most people choose?  One seems more clearcut because you can see people who started off just like you and you can understand the path they took to make it.  While it is a hard life, it seems glamourous and achieveable.  It may not ultimately provide the long term returns for any but a handful but how would you know any better? The other route seems impossibily difficult because you can't see anyone who was like you and don't understand the path of how to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Sure if you work hard at it the returns are endless but what if you haven't a clue even where to start?  Inherently which path are you likely to choose?  The one that looks easier because it is well trodden by others who lead the way or the one where you make your own path?  Is it not true that most people don't like the idea of risking it all branching out into the unknown?

There are a great many who have taken the second route and preach it, blaming those who don't work hard and for not knowing what they don't know.  Mind you, starting from the very basics many of these individuals had elements that helped them along the way, role models, a helping hand, things we cannot take forgranted as immediately available to everyone.  Contrast this to those who take the first route and succeed.  They don't preach, they often boast and share their stories of success making all those looking up envious as it helps fuel their rise because the ones at the bottom are those out buying their merchandise fueling their success.

People love to claim that education is the solution.  While yes it is part of it we cannot consider it a panacea.  Ultimately the solution to the problem isn't as simple as upgrading education.  Hell, we spend a fortune as is on it.  We need to explore solutions beyond education and figure out how to get more people to take the second route without pressuring and guilting them into it as if it is completely their fault for not succeeding.  We need to figure out what barriers there are and do our best to diminish them.  We need to wear down the path by promoting the stories of positive role models who started just like them who have done it.  We need to strive to make the second path far easier to walk than the first. 

How do we make those role models more visible and their steps to success more transparent?  Not just those ones at the very top, every day role models, namely Bermudians?  Those who started their own businesses.  Those who worked hard at school.  Those who did night school.  Those who made it.  Examples of people who were at the same level of those who we're trying to help so we can show clear paths out.  

Another question to ask: What lessons have these individuals not learned that we should be teaching?  What can we do to expand the network of opportunities for these individuals.  Most of all, what can we do to make the second route seem like an easier and more guaranteed route of success than the first?  If we can answer these questions will we have taken the first steps towards solving our disparity problem?

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How does a new political movement of independents or a new party overcome the risk of being marginalized like others have in the past?  Do Bermudians hold such a fear of the ‘other’ party being elected that when it comes to ticking the box they shy away from the alternative in favor of the ‘lesser of two evils’?  What will it take for Bermudians to shed this fear and wholly support a new initiative?

As we’ve seen in our history the prospect of forming a divergence from our present political dichotomy is daunting.  We’ve seen two dominant parties, a handful of elected independents and a whole lot of marginalized attempts at forming something new.  Why is it that when it comes down to that final vote Bermudians get scared and stick with the status quo?

We’ve been told that not voting for the UBP will mean the PLP stays in power while voting for the UBP will mean a return to our treacherous past.  In the end things don’t change and funny enough it probably wouldn’t matter which was voted in given how similar each party increasingly seems.  Power and hanging onto it seem to take greater priority in our present political dungeon.

What will it take for us to break free of the historical shackles that bind us to this shallow fate?  Does it need to be non-partisan?  Can it be a strong independent or does it need to be numerous?  Does it need to be a full fledged party filling every seat?   Does it need to be primarily black, primarily white or somewhere in-between?  Does it need to represent the young or the old?  Does it need to pull punches or swing wildly?  Does it need an Obama figure or can it be a group of well meaning people?  The questions are many, the answers are few.  The only certainty is that it won’t succeed if it isn’t change.

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People before party?

Mr. Commissiong’s comments in today’s paper outline exactly why the disbanding of the UBP would change the scope of Bermuda’s political future. 

While the end of the UBP might seem like a dream scenario for hard-core PLP-ers, Mr. Commissiong forecasts a new political landscape spells dangers for his own party.

"Prior to 1998, it was only the threat of continued Anglo-white domination of the political process which kept the then-opposition party together; and post 1998, it is only the threat of renewed Anglo-political domination, as represented by the white-dominated UBP, which continues to provide the adhesive to party unity."

Once that threat is smashed issues of political philosophy and ideology, largely unresolved in the PLP will need to be addressed, said Mr. Commissiong, leading to an issues-based political environment.

As Mr. Commissiong suggests, the UBP is the glue that holds the PLP together causing real issues to fall to the wayside.  It is a situation unlikely to change as long as the older generations still live and the UBP holds considerable political power.  The question then becomes whether the UBP can make the greatest sacrifice of all and put the betterment of Bermuda for all Bermudians ahead of the betterment of the party?

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