Terry Lister *File photo
Terry Lister *File photo

Independent MP Terry Lister is mum on rumours that he is spearheading an effort to create a third party, but a leading Opposition politician says he has already “crossed the point of no return.”

PLP MP Walton Brown says “there are efforts to form a third party. The question is the long-term viability of such a party.”

Mr Brown says “all indications are” that Mr. Lister will try to form a third political party on the island — a story first reported by The Royal Gazette  last month.

“I think he’s crossed the point of no return, ” Mr Bown said.

He added the independent MP “earned a great deal of respect over his years in Parliament when he was with the PLP. Is that respect transferable to a third party? That’s the question.”

Through an e-mail Thursday, Mr Lister said: “I am hard- pressed to tell you anything about Walton Brown’s political or personal plans. So I can’t fathom what he could tell you about mine. Pay him no mind.”

He added that such comments about his political future are nothing more than speculation. He had batted away questions about such a future earlier in the week, declining to answer inquiries about the viability and effectiveness of a third party and political discontent on the island. Most importantly, he has not answered the obvious and crucial question: is he going to form a third party?

Others were not so reticent.

Kim Swan, a former UBP leader, said the third party concept in Bermuda “is riddled with obstacles”, with one important factor being “the racial polarization in Bermuda most evident in the elections that remains” unaddressed. Mr Swan said he is not involved in any discussions to form a third political party.

Mr Swan also gave the impression that Mr Lister was stirring talk of a third political party, saying, “while I have been impressed with MP Lister’s personal contribution to issues as an Independent, I am duty bound to point out that he was elected as a PLP Member of Parliament by predominantly PLP supporters — not unlike what took place with former UBP MPs who left and then formed the BDA in 2009”.

The reality, Mr Swan said, is that both major parties are “products of a community still rigidly divided.

“The great divide is where the real problem with politics and life in Bermuda is — but the reality is that many know how to benefit from the racial divide in Bermuda,” he said.

Larry Scott, a 67-year-old attorney who served in the Bermuda Senate from 1993 to 1998, said he was surprised there is talk of forming a third party this early in the political  cycle.

Mr Scott did say that there are younger Bermudians who do not look at politics and race in the same way as his generation.

“There is a burgeoning younger class of Bermudians who don’t see that racial divide. They just don’t visualize it in the same way. The first political party that captures that generation will have success.”

He quickly added, “I’m just an observer, I’m not associated with any of this.”

Mr Brown said any third party would have to be based on “personalities, not policies”.

Mr Brown recalled during the mid-1980s, when the NLP (National Liberal Party) formed by disaffected members of the PLP. That party won two seats in 1985 because of two strong personalities, he said, who were former PLP members. 

Four years later, however, the NLP lost the only two seats they held despite increasing their share of the popular vote from 7 per cent to 10 per cent. The 10 per cent was spread out across the electoral districts and therefore nullified the increase in support, said Mr Brown. Such are the pitfalls for third parties.

“History has not been kind to third parties. In some western parliamentary systems such as Canada, it’s worked,” he said.

“But in the present political climate, there’s a fundamental divide,” he said. “There are those who share views similar to the OBA and those who share views similar to the PLP. The level of polarization doesn’t leave a great deal of wiggle room to form a third party.”

Mr Brown said he would be “very surprised” if any current members of Parliament from either the OBA or the PLP joins a third party.

Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hamilton and a keen observer of the island’s politics, meanwhile, said there is no proportional representation in the political system here, as there is in some European governments that have strong third parties.

“That means that a third party can be nothing more than a gadfly that can distract from the two dominant parties (in Bermuda),” he said.

He added: “To be honest with you, you have three parties now. You have the OBA. Within the OBA you have a UBP element that the OBA was laid over. Remember the OBA is a coalition. That doesn’t mean the elements that coalesced together abandoned their ideological principles, it simply means that  they found common cause.”

He questioned why disenchanted members of existing parties didn’t pitch an internal party battle to change their political direction instead of “picking up their marbles and going home”.

“I don’t understand what happened to good old-fashioned political battles,” he said.

Premier Craig Cannonier’s office declined to comment for this story.