Speaking out: Ashfield DeVent says there’s a chasm between the struggles of ordinary people and the opulent lifestyle of the PLP’s leadership. *File Photos
Speaking out: Ashfield DeVent says there’s a chasm between the struggles of ordinary people and the opulent lifestyle of the PLP’s leadership. *File Photos
Voters are increasingly concerned that government has become elitist under the leadership of Ewart Brown, according to one of the PLP's own MPs.

Ashfield DeVent said that the working poor are convinced that they have been forgotten while Dr. Brown obsesses over glitzy parties and flash cars. Mr. DeVent, pictured left, whose Pembroke South East constituency includes some of the poorest areas in the country, said that government has failed to deal with some "core grassroots issues". That failure has led to the "perception" that the PLP no longer represents the common man.

Mr. DeVent's opinions were given extra weight yesterday by a straw poll of grassroots voters conducted by the Bermuda Sun. Working Bermudians chosen at random were unanimous in their view that government needs to realign its priorities. Voters told this newspaper that they are tired of Dr. Brown's jetset lifestyle at a time when they are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. (See story here).

Mr. DeVent said: "In my constituency, among the working people I meet, there is a growing perception that the party is becoming more elitist - that it isn't supporting their needs. That's what I'm hearing more and more. When you look at the [current] make up of the party, it is very different to its roots."

In recent weeks, several high-profile figures have questioned whether the PLP is doing enough for struggling households in Bermuda. Craig Simmons, economist at Bermuda College, said that a so-called labour party appears to have turned its back on the working poor. Others have criticized the Premier for attending a Playboy party in Los Angeles; for travelling by private jet; and for choosing a top-of-the-range BMW as his new official car.

Mr. DeVent, a former Works and Engineering minister, said: "Mr. and Mrs. Joe Bermuda do not travel by private jet and are never going to travel by private jet. They are asking: 'How do these people represent me?' This is a critical issue. The guy struggling to keep the roof over his head, he's looking at his leaders, and they appear to be spending his money on fancy cars and Playboy parties, and he's thinking 'it looks like my leaders are having a great time; but what about me?'" Continuing on the theme of the Playboy party, which the Department of Tourism said it sponsored in order to boost Bermuda's profile in America, Mr. DeVent said: "Perhaps these are good things. Perhaps they'll even bring more tourists to the country. But right now, for that guy who's struggling, he needs help now. And that doesn't help; it doesn't even raise a ray of hope that help is on the way."

Fellow PLP MP Wayne Perinchief came to the Premier's defence, saying that Dr. Brown has always led an "affluent lifestyle" and that Bermudians should accept him as he is.

He said: "Ewart Brown, before he was Premier, always enjoyed a very affluent lifestyle. He always did. That's the man; he's not putting it on or pretending. If you saw a Wayne Perrinchief in that office doing exactly the same thing, you should get a baseball bat and beat me over the head, because I've been a lowly police officer and never enjoyed a more affluent lifestyle than that."

Mr. Perinchief disagrees that the electorate sees the PLP as increasingly elitist. The working man is much better off under this government than the last, he said. He added that it was only right and proper, in one of the most affluent countries in the world, that the leader should have a top-of-the-range official car. "We can't have a Premier who meets the President of the United States turning up in a clapped-out car. We used to have a Premier who rode a moped, but this isn't the 60s or the 70s anymore. We all have to grow up sometime."

Mr DeVent argues that priorities are skewed: "I think the party has, in many ways, not dealt with some key, core grassroots issues. Non-collection of court-ordered child-maintenance payments is a key one. It affects a great number of struggling caregivers. If we are not helping these families with these core issues, what are we doing?" Referring to government's promises of free daycare and health care for seniors, Mr. DeVent said that the party has good plans in progress to help ease the plight of poor families. However, he said that the "perception," was still growing that the party has become elitist.

"In politics, the perception becomes the reality. And right now, people perceive that the party has stopped representing them. That's what I'm hearing, in my constituency. I hear it every day. It's become a major issue." Mr. De Vent said that functions for the PLP now cost $500 or a $1,000 to attend. He said: "I cannot honestly try to persuade people to go to their own party's functions - the cost is out of their reach."

The UBP will today table a motion in the House of Assembly to demand government do more to help struggling families. Cole Simons, the party's deputy leader, said in a statement: "Government has shown no sign it appreciates or understands the growing day-to-day pressures facing our people. It is the biggest challenge before Bermuda today and the Government needs to step forward with a plan to help our working families make ends meet."

Mr. Simons said that as the "world economy deteriorates," government has put in place no plans or measures to help support the poor. He urged the government to expedite its free day care and public transport plans and to consider a payroll tax cut and other tax changes.