How it should be: Mark Pettingill defeated the PLP’s Dale Butler in Warwick North East last night but the two exemplify cordial and respectful political rivalry. *Photo by Alex O’Reilly
How it should be: Mark Pettingill defeated the PLP’s Dale Butler in Warwick North East last night but the two exemplify cordial and respectful political rivalry. *Photo by Alex O’Reilly

TUESDAY, DEC. 18: This seems as good a morning as any to make a fresh start.

For 50 years, we’ve lived, grown up, prospered and increasingly suffered and disintegrated under a UBP versus PLP duel-to-the-death.

If there’s one thing yesterday’s vote showed, it’s that those days, praise the Lord, are almost certainly over. And that may prove the most important long-term result of the election.

The PLP tried its level best to preserve the political formula that, since 1998 at least, won it  victory at the polls. It tried to provoke ugly UBP-versus-PLP slanging matches of yesteryear, which the OBA, to its immense credit, rarely rose to.

It tried to convince voters that the OBA was actually the devious concoction of US political consultants hired by the old UBP.

The result, I felt, was that it was the PLP who sounded like the creation of American advisors.

Instead of debating or arguing over the OBA’s policies and proposals, it insinuated and insulted.

The OBA “didn’t care” about “most” Bermudians, which I expect was meant to suggest black Bermudians. The OBA’s plans were invariably “concerning”, “alarming”, or “troubling”, unless they were “secret”. OBA candidates were urged to “come clean”.

This kind of stuff was impossible for the OBA to refute, because it was vague and meaningless. Denying secret plans was, of course, obligatory but essentially futile — because denying secret plans is part of keeping them secret.

But despite a performance over the last year that has often seemed lethargic, the OBA managed to absorb or destroy the last remnants of the old UBP and win the election.

The new party fended off the most savage attacks the PLP could muster, established its own identity, and avoided getting caught in the old UBP-PLP deadly duality.

That, in the end, was another election victory.

Legitimacy

The fatal flaw in the UBP-PLP conflict was that neither recognized the other’s legitimacy.

The UBP, while in power, preached the gospel that a PLP Government would destroy the country.

The PLP, meanwhile, preached the gospel that the UBP was inherently racist and undemocratic and needed to be not just defeated but destroyed.

A deep political feud like this naturally breeds fear and paranoia — which can cripple and divide a community but is useful in solidifying voter support.

But it also leads to the abuse of power by those in Government.

If an opposition is not considered legitimate, its criticisms, suggestions, and complaints can be comfortably dismissed, for they are not legitimate.

When an opposition has no legitimate right to exist, it is easy for a government to excuse or ignore its own mistakes, and ignore or cover up any wrongdoing by its own members. After all, anything that might strengthen the illegitimate opposition would be a greater evil.

And when an opposition is not legitimate, open political dialogue becomes unnecessary if not disloyal. “Transparency” becomes an illusion. The governing party’s caucus room  becomes more important than Parliament.

Posturing, arrogance,  hubris, defensiveness, an unwillingness to change policies that aren’t working out … the list of damaging side-effects of UBP-PLP hatred goes on and on. And it has gone on and on, for way too long.

There were understandable historical reasons why it developed. But the great hope that the OBA has offered us this week is that it need not go on forever.

Bermuda, Bermudians and the Bermudian political system can move forward, grow and mature. The time has come, and here is our opportunity.