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.