Thoughts on the OBA leadership contest

Back in September, Jeremey Deacon put up a post speculating on the OBA’s future: Where does the OBA go from here?

The first will be to elect a new Party leader which is, in itself, going to be interesting. They cannot elect someone with a UBP past, some of the OBA heavy hitters lost their seats at the last election, others have stepped down from the front bench or have left the Party altogether and they simply cannot consider turning the clock back, meaning there are meagre pickings.
Could they again elect a leader who is not an MP, as happened with Craig Cannonier? Yes, but the optics would be bad and would mean someone doing a John Barritt and sacrificing their safe seat.
It would also mean that the OBA would be led by a political novice and in the state they are in at the moment, when there is a dire need to rebuild and refocus, that, at least in my opinion, would be an unwise move.

In my own opinion, the OBA is struggling for relevance at the moment and it doesn’t terribly matter who they elect.  They fundamentally need to fix their very nature and it is far more of a task than simply picking a leader.  I said as much in my 100 days commentary.

“The OBA seem far too focused on what they think led to the PLP’s election win and not nearly focused enough on what led to their own loss.

“The party they campaigned to be before the 2012 election and the party they became were incredibly different.

“At their founding, they were to be a party of the people, collaborative and inclusive. Instead they became the opposite.

“Far too much emphasis is being placed on trying to emulate the PLP’s political style and not nearly enough is being placed on emulating the PLP’s ability to connect and be a voice for the people. “It is highly unlikely that leading from an ivory tower will ever result in the kind of outcomes they wish to achieve.”

One of the big differences with the founding of the OBA was that the people picked the leader, regardless of who it was.  It was empowering for their supporters.  After the JetGate scandal, the OBA simply held a meeting of party officials to pick the leader.  I believe this was a mistake because the OBA took the power out of the hands of their supporters and held it themselves.  The supporters had no say.

The OBA is now returning to the membership to pick their leader as part of their constitution but the question arises of what does their membership look like?  Do they have much of a following anymore?  Will many people turn out?  Is there any enthusiasm for the OBA at this point?  Personally I suspect support and enthusiasm is rather low and they would struggle to attract supporters and candidates at the moment.

I wrote some feedback in response to Mr. Deacon’s post on the link he shared on facebook at the time.

The only way for the OBA to be viable is to wholly dedicate themselves to fulfilling the pledges of their 2012 platform to become a party of the people. Yes, that means putting the leadership contest out to whatever membership they have left and having the people choose, regardless of the outcome. The party itself needs to be directed and driven by the people, not by a small cadre of back room wheelers and dealers.

However, I think the OBA has already tried this, failed and demonstrated that they can’t change. Few trust them to be different and as such they will struggle to attract any newcomers.

The difference in the past for any attempts at a new party was that there was always a fear of splitting the vote that led to a bias to support the OBA. I think now people are convinced enough that the OBA would lose that many would shift to support a new party.

If the OBA is going to regain any sort of relevance, it needs to put as much power in the hands of the people as possible.  I had thought that they may have a leadership challenge open to any member however after clarification from the @1BdaAlliance twitter account, it turns out their constitution limits it to MPs. That unfortunate as it might have attracted some new faces or the possibility of a senator standing for leadership.  Something different from the same faces that are tied to the UBP legacy and the OBA’s rough start.  It looks unlikely with this requirement.

Ultimately though, I don’t think it terribly matters so much who the leader is at this point.  The entire party needs to be focused on a servant leadership approach that focuses on empowering the people rather than an ivory tower one.  Unfortunately I really don’t see that as a realistic direction for the OBA because it just doesn’t seem to match their nature.  I haven’t seen an indication from any of the OBA MPs that there is someone among them that can lead that sort of a change within the party.  Perhaps they will prove me wrong and rejuvenate themselves.  Time will tell.