PLP Elite: Primaries provide the opportunity for ordinary party members to overturn candidates selected by the PLP inner circle. Candidate selection under this system will be more democratic but will still involve only a handful of people. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
PLP Elite: Primaries provide the opportunity for ordinary party members to overturn candidates selected by the PLP inner circle. Candidate selection under this system will be more democratic but will still involve only a handful of people. *File photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21: The PLP (Progressive Labour Party) primaries that began this week are a remarkable development for Bermuda politics.

It is part of a movement, albeit shuffling and stumbling and far from complete, towards openness and democratic participation.

These aren’t just primaries over a few obscure seats held by obscure backbenchers — but important PLP seats held by important PLP people.

The primaries represent an important psychological advancement for the PLP.

It wasn’t that long ago that a hallmark of the party was defensiveness — okay, call it paranoia if you want to — and a determined outward show of unanimity. Primaries would have been unthinkable.

I hesitate to remark on this whole subject because it should, of course, be unremarkable. It should be part of the normal to-and-fro of adult human beings interacting with each other in a healthy kind of way.

I worry that the party will climb back into its dark cold cave at the first sign of controversy, either real or stewed up by the media.

That’s kind of what ended the old United Bermuda Party’s experiment with primaries — that and the problem of local branches promoting exactly the kind of stereotype that party HQ was trying to overcome.

The PLP, no doubt, will confront very similar challenges.

And so will the OBA (One Bermuda Alliance), once they get settled in. Their constitution provides for the creation of a candidate selection committee that approves, ranks and assigns candidates.

But ordinary party members can call for a primary if they’re not happy with the appointment and can get 100 signatures to back them up.

You might call this a way of flirting with openness, without going all the way. OBA’s first choice is clearly to have the candidate decided by party central.

But if the PLP sticks with primaries and makes them work, I have no doubt that OBA will adopt them as routine business too.

If they don’t, the new and open OBA will end up seemingly hideously undemocratic and closed which, of course, is what it will be. This isn’t to say that the primary system, such as it is in the PLP right now, is any great shakes.

It’s a step forward, but it still leaves voters a long way from democratically choosing their own representatives.

It gives ordinary party members the chance to over-rule the preferences of the party elite, for better or for worse.

But candidate selection remains an internal party process — expanded under a primary system, to be sure, but still involving just a handful of people.

Party membership is not widespread in Bermuda, nor should it be. It probably numbers in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

So the selection of candidates remains an internal party process — expanded under a primary system but still involving just a handful of people.

Bermuda voters can choose whoever they want — so long as it’s one of the two candidates selected by the two political parties to run in their particular constituency.

Bermuda has a long and paternalistic history. Our tolerance for being told what to do is high. We are used to the kind of government and politics that doesn’t trust ordinary people to make informed decisions — or even have much of the information needed to make informed decisions.

Political leaders can find plenty of evidence that ordinary voters can’t be trusted to make wise choices.

Yet ordinary voters can find even more evidence that the powerful need to be kept in check by the active involvement of ordinary voters.

I hope the primaries are successful, producing plenty of excellent candidates and weeding out the bad.

But I hope this success leads to a much more open primary system in the future.

It should be just the beginning of a process that attracts stronger, more energetic people to politics and gives them a way of muscling out the lazy and incompetent.

More importantly, it should be a way of genuinely involving the people of Bermuda in the most fundamental democratic choice of who should lead them.