The curious case of Tweed

The PLP seems intent on making Reverend Tweed’s work permit issue a political one. They’ve attempted to frame it as the OBA abusing the system, being unfair and targeting the issue for political gain. The thing is, those claims don’t hold a great deal of weight and the framing is weak.  The evidence seems to weigh heavily against Reverend Tweed and the AME church that immigration policy was not only not followed, but flouted. It seems like a questionable political move as while it might rally staunch supporters it could weaken their case with crucial swing voters.

Usually the PLP dominates on framing issues which is why this is such an odd case. Those in support of Reverend Tweed seem desperate to paint the OBA as politically meddling but are those claims sticking?  The government has regularly and clearly stated that the AME church did not follow the procedure that everyone else is subject to.  The Church has yet to provide any evidence that they followed immigration policy.  These very same groups complaining now were months ago obstructing parliament calling for more immigration control and expressing opposition to proposed immigration changes that very well could have benefited individuals like Reverend Tweed.  It’s an incredibly hypocritical stance to turn around and suggest that special concessions should be made while at the same time saying that Bermudians should come first.

The OBA’s framing this time around is pretty solid.  Immigration policy wasn’t followed and if the AME church wants the work permit granted they must follow policy and advertise the position to ensure no qualified Bermudians are available to take the role. It’s a hard case to argue against. Certainly the PLP can succeed in rallying diehard supporters to take up arms (figuratively speaking) for the cause.  However, struggling middle class swing voters will be wondering “whats in this for me”?

Reverend Tweed isn’t a Bermudian and spent the vast majority of his life living elsewhere not investing in the island or trying to obtain status.  He opposed legislation to support individuals like him having claims to Bermudian status.  Sure he might be “the people’s champion” for some, but really, are we then admitting a Bermudian isn’t capable of leading such a cause and we need some foreigner to come in to save the day?  What about putting struggling Bermudians first?  Wasn’t that a great source of much of the angst in the recent demonstrations?  That Bermudians are coming last?  Why should we support an employer who has openly flouted immigration policy and expects special treatment.  What, if anything, does a swing voter gain getting behind this issue?

One really has to wonder what the PLP aims to gain here. It seems obvious that if the AME Church followed immigration policy and there was no qualified Bermudian that Reverend Tweed would have his work permit approved. Trying to paint it otherwise makes it seem like there is an assumption that the people are too stupid to figure this out. Why take the risk, especially when the OBA could, albeit unlikely, up their rhetorical game and start attacking the many glaring holes in the whole situation?  Certainly before they had the upper hand with the whole airport deal it might have been worth it, but now?


Why are google profits good for Bermuda?

I fail to understand what advantage Bermuda gains by playing host to companies like Google.  Companies with a physical presence on the island benefit us by creating jobs and opportunity.  Companies with a brass plate seem to create a little bit of legal work and a tremendous amount of bad press and reputational damage.  What am I missing?  Why do we cater to companies like google?

Despite companies like Google, Bermuda should keep its 0% corporate tax.  We need it as a competitive advantage to attract international companies to base themselves here and create jobs.  However we need some means to encourage the Google’s of the world to establish more of a presence on the island or relocate elsewhere.

Perhaps we need to get creative and introduce something like a jobs for profit policy requirement.  For example, what if we introduced a requirement that 10 people need to be physically resident and working on the island for the company for every $billion in profit. So in the case of Google, to support the $15.5 billion they moved to the island in profit, they’d need to maintain at least 150 jobs here too to demonstrate that they’re actively using the island as more than simply a tax shelter.

Why would this not work?  What are the holes in the idea?

Examining the bye-election results

The recent bye-election should serve as a wakeup call for the OBA.  What they’re doing isn’t working.  This may have been a bye-election in a stronghold seat however what is absolutely clear is that the PLP has a mobilized base and the OBA does not.  If the OBA wants any hope of getting reelected they need to take a serious look at their approach and pivot before its too late.

The PLP dominated the percentage of the turnout garnering 81% of the votes of those who showed up vs. the OBA’s 17%.  While historically the OBA/UBP has underperformed in constituency 26, their vote numbers were almost half of what they normally are.

But… but…  it’s a bye-election right?  Well we’ve had one before back when the the OBA and UBP were still separate entities.  The overall turnout of that bye election was terrible at about 40% of the total number of registered voters vs. this by elections 52% and the rough range of 65-75% seen in the last few elections.  Turnout wasn’t spectacular but the OBA’s percentage of the vote was significantly lower than the last bye election.

Let’s take a closer look at the turnout percentages themselves.

You can see here that the total turnout wasn’t great but the proportion of the turnout that voted OBA was abysmal.

Looking at these charts and the overall numbers one can make one of two boad conclusions

Though, looking at the turnout numbers and overall percentages it suggests to me that the bulk of the cause was either 

  • There was a big shift of people who voted for the PLP instead of the OBA.
  • PLP supporters turned out in force and OBA supporters stayed home (suggesting the OBA has weak support at the moment, especially to fight for a seat in a PLP stronghold)

Either way you look at it this is a terrible result for the OBA.  Either people dislike the OBA so much they’re converting into PLP supporters or the OBA has disenfranchised people so much that they can’t really be bothered.

Ultimately it makes one thing absolutely clear.  The OBA’s strategy isn’t working and if they hope to win the coming general election they’re likely going to need to be a lot more than “not the PLP” to convince people to get out and vote.


Too many confusing talking points

What is the OBA doing?  Honestly?  Their PR messaging is completely baffling it should be no surprise that they’ve left themselves no option but to punt the airport deal into February.  They are confusing and don’t have a clear message.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s a good example, when justifying the project they simply provide too many confusing and unrelated talking points.

“The funds that will be freed up with the creative approach of building this new airport can go towards other areas such as:

  • “Renovating our schools;
  • “Introducing speed cameras and roadside testing of impaired drivers;
  • “Enabling Government to provide cost of living increases for seniors; and
  • “Implementing progressive payroll tax reform to ease pressure on lower income earners.

None of these points are related to the airport deal and it isn’t obvious how “funds will be freed up”.  What funds?  We have no money and the current airport generates some revenue that we’re giving up.

It just boggles the mind. Why is the message so confusing? Why don’t they keep it simple? Why aren’t there 3-5 key value points that make the project indisputable rather than a raft of unrelated gibberish like speed cameras? People need to be sold on the project, not sold on a bunch of other unrelated initiatives.


Next moves?

What will be the next moves by the PLP and OBA in this episode of political warfare? The PLP are in a strong position, controlling the narrative.  The OBA by contrast looks incredibly weak and has willingly shouldered most of the blame without clearly calling out the PLP for their actions.  The PLP’s next move is simple, repeat what worked.  The OBA has a much more complex choice ahead of them.

The PLP has completely out maneuvered the OBA. While their tactics and willingness to put the reputation and future of our island at risk are ethically deplorable, politically they’re brilliant. The OBA has played so easily into the PLP’s hand that the PLP’s next move is rather simple. Repeat what worked. Call out for another “peaceful” demonstration at Friday’s parliament session. Rile up the people using emotion and stoke the fires of discontent. Make sure lots of vulnerable people attend and put them front and center in again forcefully blocking parliament. The police won’t have the option of using force again after both parties have called them out for it and their only remaining card is the slow process of applying the law by summoning people for obstructing parliament. It buys the PLP time to delay the airport deal more, frustrate the project’s foreign partners and build support. Such a maneuver has considerable upside potential and low downside risks.

The OBA by contrast has nearly neutered themselves. Not only have they not called out the PLP for causing this mess, putting innocent people at risk, breaking the law and encouraging others to do so, they have expressed regret and apologized as if it were their fault. It’s a mind bogglingly weak position with nearly no upside. If it were a game of poker, the OBA has left themselves with few chips to work with and handed the PLP a large stack. The OBA has a few options to choose from. They can attempt to try again at holding a parliament session to debate and pass the bill. They could play the “ask the audience” card.  Or, they could call the PLP’s bluff. Which is best?

Another attempt to have a parliamentary session plays into the PLP’s seemingly strong hand. The OBA doesn’t control the police’s response but shoulders all of the blame because they haven’t done a good enough job making it clear that they don’t command the police and probably can’t. They can request, only request, that the police don’t use force and instead, first warn, then document each participant obstructing parliament and summon them to court to apply section 12 of the parliament act.

A full fine should apply to any instigators, especially foreigners here on work permits. Probation and threats of imprisonment should be made regarding a second documented attempt. Partial fines should be meted out to followers.  It would also make sense to provide warnings that such will occur in advance of the parliamentary session and if possible, any government workers participating in obstructing parliament should also be subject to being placed on administrative leave without pay while their conduct is investigated.  It isn’t a terribly strong play because it will certainly take time and allows the PLP to play up and protest any arrests and fines, including having the unions trigger illegal strikes.

The “ask the audience” card is my personal favorite political card.  Put the airport deal to a public referendum (plebiscite if you want to get technical) with very clear options and a clear summary of the choices. The referendum option absolves the OBA of responsibility for making the decision and gives the people the power to choose. People want the power but hate making choices. The problem is that this move can be a costly affair (best if bundled with other key controversial issues) and the OBA already squandered this option on the pointless and poorly implemented Civil Unions/Marriage referendum.  A referendum must be absolutely clear and people must know what they’re voting for.  You don’t want a brexit style situation where people have no idea what they’re actually voting for.

Regarding the Civil Union/Marriage referendum it warrants a whole other piece but it made no sense to put two very similar questions next to each other. It especially made no sense when the vast majority of people didn’t even understand the difference between a civil union and a marriage, this very writer included. It could have been so well done if the options were, I support: A. marriage, B. civil unions, C. discrimination.  The wording of course wouldn’t have been that, but that’s how it could have been framed and it would have set the stage for a great rethorical argument for civil unions because “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” but “discrimination is wrong and has to end” so it leaves one logical choice that the courts are forcing anyway and most people don’t understand what it means.  It would have been a great happy medium to move the ball forwards to end discrimination based upon sexual orientation while allowing religious people to feel they won in preventing marriage.  Ideal, no. Realistic, yes.  But of course this is way off track of today’s issue, so lets get back on track.

The third option, if possible, is to call the PLP’s bluff.  The opposition leader has publicly and repeatedly called on the government to have the airport deal reviewed by the auditor general. Nevermind that the Auditor General’s job is to audit completed projects, not preliminary ones, so it isn’t even certain if this is possible. However, that seems to precisely be the political ploy. The thing is, the PLP provides an opening here.

By requesting the Auditor General review the deal they effectively legitimize the Auditor General’s opinions on all previous audits. That’s a pretty powerful rhetorical argument to hammer over and over again when criticisng the former government, that the current opposition accepts the Auditor General’s opinion.

The OBAs play here would be to publicly call out the opposition leader. Say we cannot afford our democracy to be disrupted and we cannot afford vulnerable people to be put at risk. Ask that if the Auditor General reviews and approves of the deal, will the opposition support it. Put the opposition leader on the spot as this is what he’s asked for. If he refuses he defuses his strong argument of protesting the airport deal as this is exactly what he has demanded. If he agrees and the Auditor General refuses because it is outside the remit of their office, it has the potential to frame the opposition as being clueless to how government works and not ready to lead. If the Auditor General agrees, then the only risks are a further delay alongside anything the auditor general uncovers. Of course if there is indeed something to hide that the auditor general can find then the OBA might as well resign and call an election because its over.

So what will be the next moves in this game of political chess? Who knows, the PLP and OBA never cease to surprise in their ability to create more controversy. If I were the PLP, I’d hold true to what has worked and push for another obstruction of parliament. They’ve already proven they don’t care if we demonstrate to the world and our island’s investors that they’re happy to disrupt our democracy, our political stability and put the vulnerable at risk to further their aims. If I were the OBA I’d be looking to call the opposition leader’s bluff and work the hell out of the resulting rhetorical potential, though unfortunately that isn’t the OBA’s strength and they tend to be stubborn so they’ll probably take the first option. Though who knows what will actually happen. Ultimately we’ll find out soon enough.

Out politicking

The PLP seems increasingly desperate as evidence mounts about their horrible track record in government alongside the OBA’s slow and steady bailing and righting of the ship the PLP nearly sunk. Yesterdays episode demonstrates how low the PLP are willing to sink in order to achieve power and that they’re perfectly willing to gamble our islands stability while putting our most vulnerable at risk to achieve their own political ends. Despite all this, the PLP continues to politically outmaneuver the OBA.  They’re simply far more adept at manipulating the mob and public opinion to their will while the OBA is the opposite, playing right into their hands.  This may not end well.

The PLP are clearly desperate to shift the narrative. Recent headlines have questioned the honesty of current MPs and raised concerns about inept and corrupt governance. They’ve placed serious questions around the conduct of a former Premier due to his delays and then refusal to testify to the Commission of Inquiry. Subsequently the claims that “rules were bent” to accommodate the historically disadvantaged raises the awkward questions of who actually benefited from this “rule bending”?  The PLP, a disarray of infighting and a bare semblance of unity desperately needed a diversion. Was it a calculated move to stage “peaceful protests”, put the vulnerable front and center while stoking the fires of discontent?

Though they move at the pace of a snail and recoil into their shell at the thought of upsetting anyone, the OBA deserves considerable credit for actually putting us on the path to prosperity.  It must terrify the PLP that tourism numbers are improving, international business is reengaging and the economy is getting back on track.  We’re building a better reputation for ourselves internationally and we might actually one day manage to balance a budget without mass layoffs, maybe.  It must be terrifying for a party that can only seem to rehash and repackage last year’s stale ideas into the same vision with no actual plan. What options do they have but to leverage their mastery of political rhetoric and ability to manipulate the mob?

The PLP continue to politically out maneuver the OBA. They’re brilliant at framing and controlling the narrative. Right from the middle of yesterday’s conflict they were framing the protest as “peaceful”.  Never mind that the evidence shows that it clearly wasn’t.

The replay of Bernew’s live feed makes it clear from @12:09 when the riot police walk up to the crowd and the crowd shoves into confrontation with the police and people start shoving and fighting with the riot police.  Let alone @14:17 when shoving between an individual in a beige hat and police descends into someone using an umbrella as a weapon and results in an officer pulling out a can of pepper spray. That was just the beginning of the conflict.

Physically obstructing entry to parliament and getting confrontational with police while breaking the law is not by any definition a peaceful protest. You’d expect that kind of action standing up for human rights violations or fighting against unjust discrimination, but the construction of an airport? Really?  It doesn’t make the police’s choice to use force and pepper spray right but it doesn’t excuse the PLP of seemingly instigating and fueling the whole thing for what seems to be political gain.

Yet, you hear it over and over again, “peaceful protest”.  Like an elegant frame put around an ugly painting it helps set how the events are interpreted.  The vast majority of people read headlines and converse in hearsay not facts. “Peaceful protest” sets the frame and “innocent grandmother pepper sprayed” sets the emotion. It tells a story far more engaging than the truth. Never mind that the protest wasn’t peaceful and that the grandmother was participating in an illegal and violent conflict against police over a rather trivial issue. Again, the police used questionable force, but they weren’t the only once using questionable tactics and people should be aware of the risks if you’re going to physically confront the police.

The PLP continued framing the events by calling out the police for heavy handed tactics. They seem to be successfully shifting attention from the reality that they were actively and personally leading the illegal obstruction and doing so despite considerable early warning from the police that they would use force if necessary. They should shoulder the blame for instigating and escalating things and putting vulnerable people at risk for political gain. However, the OBA instead framed the events with a rather weak “regret” and “we need to do better” and cast no blame on the PLP for creating this conflict and responsibility for the results. In any framing conflict, the stronger more dominant frame wins and right now, the PLP’s is far stronger and more dominant.

The really scary thing is what this means for our future. The PLP under their new leader have shown their true colors. Previously they were perfectly willing to be behind the scenes allowing the unions, some foreigner and a “people’s campaign” to stoke controversy. This time they were front and center calling for protests and leading the obstruction of democracy while stoking the fire. What does it say for the prospects of our democracy if the opposition is willing to resort to illegal tactics to physically block the efforts of the government that was elected by majority? That doesn’t seem fitting of a well functioning democracy. However it would seem very fitting with many of the revelations of the commission of inquiry that there is a culture that rules only apply when they suit your aims. That kind of attitude can’t bode well for Bermuda’s future.

Quick thoughts on the airport deal

Honestly, I’m still undecided as to whether the airport deal is good or bad for Bermuda.

  • There seems to be agreement that we need a new airport and maintaining our current one would be very costly.
  • We have seen very clearly via various government projects over the years and highlighted by the Commission of Inquiry that the Bermuda Government is currently completely unreliable at tendering and managing a capital project.
  • We can’t afford to run up our debt anymore.
  • We need stimulus/jobs in a manner that doesn’t cost us money.

These points lend me to support the project, however

  • The government has not been transparent enough with regards to the process and agreements.
  • Releasing a massive document of schedules two days before the debate on the bill is not enough time for a fair review
  • The new airport gives revenue guarantees and makes wild growth assumptions as highlighted by Larry Burchall which puts us at future risk. (though of note, with respect to the lack of time to review, I believe Capt. Burchall’s analysis does not take into account the cost of ongoing maintenance and whether we’d need to borrow the total amount upfront to get the airport up to speed)

Ultimately, I’m not convinced good or bad and I think the OBA is spending an insane amount of political capital trying to ram the project through. Capital of which they are about as indebted as our government and don’t have the luxury of spending so frivolously.