Real reform is desperately needed to return focus to the issues

When The Royal Gazette contacted me last week regarding commentary on the election campaign I figured sure, I can provide some filler content on a slow news day.  I threw something together based upon my earlier post (Bermuda Election 2017: Big on slogans, short on solutions) and submitted it on Thursday.  Nowhere in my wildest imagination did I expect to be featured on the front page, referred to as some sort of expert while overshadowing the OBA’s election platform announcement.  To be honest I am wholly taken aback.  I am certainly by no means an expert and am just someone on the sidelines commentating on the match.  It is shocking to consider what the implications are when the editor thinks the ramblings of a no-name blogger about our broken political system are more interesting than the OBA’s platform?  The thought is perplexing.

The overarching concern that I tried to express in my comments is that our political system no longer serves the people because politicians are discouraged from pursuing real reform.  All indications are thus far that both parties are wholly unprepared for this election, lack tangible solutions and are afraid of the people. Instead of working with the people they try to be as vague as possible in the run up to the election and at the last minute make some big unsubstantiated promises to try to win support.  It’s a recurring theme that is getting worse with each election.  In the meantime, many people who could participate stay on the sidelines as our political system renders a 3rd party or independent candidates impossible.

People seem to forget that in the run up to the 2012 election the OBA wasn’t geared up to win by a landslide, it was a very close race.  They produced a platform which presented a feel good promise of inclusiveness but lacked real substance, real measurable deliverables.  When the OBA realized it wasn’t going to win them the election they trotted out the promise that they would deliver 2000 jobs.  It wasn’t qualified what they meant by it but it is what the people wanted to hear and tipped the election in their favor.  The OBA didn’t explain that things like Americas Cup, the airport deal and pathways to status were the price to be paid to create jobs. Once the election was over people didn’t want to hear it, 2000 magical jobs were promised with no expectation of sacrifice.  The OBA in the end are paying the price for not having set expectations and failing to deliver.

People also forget that the 2007 election was the same in favor of the PLP.  It was pre-recession, the economy was overheating and people were being priced out of living in Bermuda.  The PLP weren’t set to win the election by a landslide.  So, 10 days before the election, they rolled out a platform littered with the word free.  Free day care.  Free public transport.  Interest free loans.  Free Bermuda college.  Free computers and dental coverage for seniors.  Nothing in life is free.  What we discovered was that not only were most of these promises not feasible, it was the taxpayer that was footing this bill in the form of millions in deficits and billions in debt.

This is ultimately the problem.  We want our politicians to do the impossible, fix things without changing anything or us having to make any sacrifices.  They sell us on grand unrealistic promises at the last minute and this is what we vote for.  We don’t want real reform.  We lament that capable people sit on the sidelines and don’t get involved but we don’t want to demand any kind of real change to enable them.  Our two party system ensures that independents or are third party simply aren’t viable.  We won’t see real change until we can convince our politicians that they won’t get elected until they reform our political system to make other parties and independents viable.  The problem is, politicians will never pledge to give up power unless they think it is the only way they can win the election.  Perhaps we can convince one of the parties that this year’s last minute pledge to tip the scales should be realistic political reform.

 

Full commentary regarding the election

Last week The Royal Gazette asked if I would answer a few questions regarding the election campaigns thus far.  Here is a copy of my full responses to a set of four questions they posed that delve a bit deeper than the portions selected for publication.

From what you have seen, what do you think of the OBA and PLP’s election campaigns so far?

Each campaign has been heavy on rhetoric and slogans but short on substance.  Neither has proposed tangible solutions to our predicament and are more focused on trying to discredit the other.

 

The OBA is touting their slow and steady track record but they lack discussion of new plans and new ideas.  Their slogan of “Forward together, not back” rings hollow as they have not lived up to being the inclusive party they campaigned they’d be in the last election.  It leaves one wondering who they mean when they say ‘together’?  How can we be certain that a future OBA government will move all Bermudians forward together?

 

The PLP are touting their Vision 2025 which is big on ideas but short on plans on how to actually achieve them.  They claim they are “standing strong, putting Bermudians first”, but we have witnessed the PLP putting political expediency over what will truly put Bermudians first.  Often times one gets the sense that their version of “Bermudian” only considers one segment of the population and not all Bermudians.  How can we be certain the PLP will stand strong for and put all Bermudians first?

 

Sadly thus far both campaigns have been wholly disappointing in their finger pounting and rhetoric compared to their lack of focus on solutions to the issues.  You would think we are gearing up for a football match between small town rivals rather than deciding our future.

 

Do you think voters have been given enough information about how either party would handle issues such as the economy, crime, education or social issues?

Voters seem to be given as little information as possible to allow politicians to avoid accountability on complex issues. Neither party have track records of great success because governance has become increasingly difficult thanks to the recession and the internet.  Politicians avoid admitting when they failed, they just spin it making feel good party statements, touting quick fixes and focusing attention on the failures of their opponent. We need real reform but the people don’t want to hear that. So the politicians tell us what we want to hear or avoid telling us as much as they can.

 

Our economy is broken, we’re deep in debt and there are no silver bullets. Both parties avoid admitting that we’ve become an expensive and difficult place to do business that struggles to be competitive. Countries like France under newly elected President Macron have realized the importance of reform to revitalize the economy.  Countries like the  US and the UK have fooled themselves with bold populist promises that struggle to match expectations.  Reform and accountability are necessary to revitalize our economy but neither party wants to admit it because it would not be easy or popular.

 

Our children’s future has become a political football.  Neither party has succeeded in fixing education.  Neither admits why they failed to fix it, what they learned and what they’d do differently.  We spend more money per public student than the fees are for private school.  The problem isn’t money.  Every time either government has attempted to make hard choices the people have opposed it.  We want our politicians to do the impossible, fix education without changing anything.

 

Crime is another complex problem neither has succeeded in solving.  We did not provide opportunity and support to a segment of our population so we are seeing the result when they create opportunity and support for themselves.  Fixing that in the long term requires fixing other issues like jobs and education.  Addressing crime today requires taking a hard look at how we respond to it and how it is funded. A hard line approach has not worked but conservative Bermudians are not willing to consider alternatives.  So politicians do all they can to kick the can down the road.

There is a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots which drives discontent.  There is a temptation for politicians to stir nationalistic and populist sentiment for political gain.  It is easy to point to the divide between rich non-Bermudians and poor Bermudians to sensationalize the divide of prosperity between white and black.  We can demonize foreigners who come here as the problem and make them feel unwelcome but driving out foreign wealth will not fix anything and will make everyone poorer.  What we really need is a hard look at only the divide between Bermudians.  We need to understand how this divide is growing and what we can do to reverse it.  We need to reform policies that only benefit wealthy Bermudians and evaluate how those policies negatively impact the average Bermudian.  Just as one party aims to leverage non-Bermudian wealth to drive the divide between us, the other doesn’t do enough to acknowledge the true divide between Bermudians.

 

Ultimately the people aren’t offered real solutions because we don’t want to hear them.  Real solutions require hard choices and sacrifice which can be politically unpalatable.  Our two party system is intentionally combative and encourages our politicians to make our election about who will do a worse job rather than working together to do better.  Thus it is no surprise that no clear plans or solutions have been presented.  Instead we hear vague quick fixes, feel good soundbites and blame for the other party’s inability to fix it.  The saddest reality is that this is what the people want to hear because we’re not ready to face the hard truths of our predicament and demand our leadership do the same.

 

How do you think voters are impacted when a political party places emphasis on slogans, gimmicks and flag-waving rather than talking about its platform on specific issues? Do you think that has been an issue in Bermuda at this election or at previous elections?

Focusing on party branding and loyalty emphasizes the divide between supporters of each party.  It makes people take sides where they view it more important whether you’re with or against.  If you try to stand in the middle and focus on the issues you’re the enemy because you are not with the party.  It encourages blindness to the issues and no accountability.  People focus more on voting against the other party than holding their own party accountable.  That lack of accountability gives politicians a free mandate to do as they please knowing that next election they can just rinse and repeat with the same opponent.

 

The trend of each election seems to progress more towards party identity and further from the issues.  The internet has made governance hard and public opinion can be ruthless and unforgiving.  Politicians are not allowed to be people and make mistakes.  Thus politicians don’t want to admit they were wrong even if they were well meaning because it is often just a google search away.  It creates a fear of being held accountable for pledging something that seems like a good idea but turns out not to be but now are expected to see it through.  Thus it is easier to make no pledges, no promises and instead focus on being cheerleaders.

 

How would you like to see the final few weeks of the election campaigns unfold?

I would like to see  a genuine admission of what failures each party has made, why things didn’t work, what could be done differently and how they will adjust in the future.  Alongside that I would also like to see well thought out platforms outlining each parties solutions for the issues.  What would they do, how will they do it, why do they think it will work, what are the expected outcomes and how will they identify if it isn’t working and adjust.