1963 - 1972
The Bermuda Progressive Labour Party (PLP) is Bermuda’s oldest political party. After being Her Majesty’s Opposition from 1968 for 30 years, the Party held power from 1998 to 2012. The Party once again sat in Opposition from December 2012 for four and a half years but was returned to government in a historic election on July 18, 2017.
The PLP was founded in February 1963 by a group led by Wilfred ‘Mose’ Allen. The other members were mainly Hugh ‘Rio’ Richardson, Albert Peter Smith, Edward DeJean, Walter N.H. Robinson, Austin Wilson and Dilton C. Cann. They were part of a group that regularly met at Hugh Richardson's garage in Pembroke before holding the first formal meeting of the PLP on February 10 1963 in Walter Robinson's law office in Hamilton. Intended to appeal to the working-class, the first election platform called for equitable taxation, an end to racial discrimination, economic parity and welfare programs, as well as housing, educational and electoral reform.
The PLP contested its first General Election just months after its formation on May 16 1963. Nine seats were contested by the Party out of the then thirty-six in the Colonial Parliament. The first successful Members of Colonial Parliament (MCPs) were: Mr. Arnold A. Francis, the first Parliamentary Leader; Mr. Walter N. H. Robinson, the Deputy Leader; Mrs. Lois Browne-Evans (Bermuda's first black elected woman Member of Parliament and first woman lawyer); Mr. Russell Dismont; Mr. Cecil Clarke and Mrs. Dorothy Thompson. In that first General Election the party received 5,827 votes a total of 18.6% of the popular vote.
The following year in the summer of 1965, the PLP had to deal with it first major internal crisis. A split occurred due to a disagreement over philosophical direction and how the Party would campaign for equity in Bermuda. It was fundamentally a battle amongst key figures about its direction and principles. In the end all of the member of the Colonial Parliament left the Party, save for Lois M. Browne-Evans.
In 1966, two of those who had left Walter N H Robinson and Dorothy Thompson returned to the Party. Mr. Robinson would subsequently become the Party’s second Leader.
Walter N H Robinson would lead the PLP Delegation to London in 1966 to discuss the formation of a constitution at the Bermuda Constitutional Conference. The delegation would advocate for the elimination of the plus vote, additional seats in Pembroke, one person one vote of equal value, amongst other changes to advance democracy.
In 1967, the Party moves into what is now its headquarters Alaska Hall on Court Street, Hamilton.
Following the conference, a General Election was called to be held on 22 May 1968. In the election, the party was soundly defeated. In this new House of Assembly of 40 seats the party wins only 10 seats and 33% of the vote. Additionally, the party's Leader, Walter Robinson, lost in his constituency. The Party leadership was handed over to Lois Browne-Evans who became the third Party Leader. Along with this position Browne-Evans gained the distinction and worldwide recognition as the first woman political leader in Bermuda, Bermuda’s first Opposition Leader under the new Constitution and the first female Opposition Leader in the Commonwealth.
1972 - 1985
In 1972, the Party faced another General Election and of the 40 seats contested the PLP wins 10 seats and 13,018 votes increasing its percentage of the vote to 38.2%. Walter N H Robinson would successfully return to active politics. Lois Browne Evans yields the leadership to him and he becomes the fourth Party Leader.
In April 1976, Mr. Robinson retires from politics and Mrs. Lois Browne Evans once again become Party Leader this time the Party’s fifth.
The General Election would be held later that year on May 18, 1976 and see the Party run 36 candidates with 15 seats won and 15,246 votes amounting to 44.4% of the popular vote.
The PLP has always favoured Independence for Bermuda since its inception and in 1977 launched an Independence Action Plan, which fostered public debates, television programmes and public meetings.
A second Constitutional Conference is held at Warwick Camp in 1979, with the PLP delegation arguing strongly for a more equitable voting system to give one person one vote of equal value. No agreement was able to be reached on key proposals but it was decided that whichever party campaigned in the next general election or any general election on its preferred electoral system that Party would be granted permission to amend the constitution to the preferred option mandated.
Steadily increasing its share of the vote, the next test would come for the PLP came during the General Election of December 9, 1980 which saw the largest number of registered voters in Bermuda at that time. There was now a system of mandatory voter registration instituted following the constitutional conference. The Party runs 40 candidates and wins 18 seats and 46% of the votes cast a historic record for PLP. The scent of possible victory comes to the Party for the first time.
Following this period of steady electoral progress with the PLP slowly expanding its share of Parliament there begins a noticeable slide. On February 3, 1983, the Party has to fight a snap election when it runs 40 candidates. The party loses 4 seats going down to 14 and gains only 43.4% of the vote.
In keeping with the party constitution, 72 hours following the election a conference was called to elect a Party Leader with Lois Browne Evans easily retaining the leadership.
In 1984, the Party faces another crisis of leadership with Members of the legislature attempting to oust the Party Leader and subsequently taking news of this and their position to the media. This activates a disciplinary process resulting in parliamentary members being expelled and others leaving the party. Similar to some 20 years before with an internal crisis. The reaction is dismay and disaffection by party members and supporters.
A General Election was called for October 29, 1985. A weakened yet determined PLP contests 30 of 40 seats. The disaffection of party members and supporters is evidenced in the result when the party retains only 7 seats and 31% of the votes cast.
Following the election result, Lois Brown Evans steps down as Party Leader. As per the Constitution at a Special Delegates Conference 72 hours following the General Election L Frederick Wade is elected Party Leader. He is the PLPs sixth.
A Party divided, defeated with members and supporters disillusioned; the new Leader L. Frederick Wade commits the Party to rebuilding which includes restoring Alaska Hall. The period is spent rejuvenating the party and healing wounds created during the period of division.
By 1989, a rejuvenated PLP is ready for the General Election. A General Election is called for February 9, 1989 the Party managing to attract veteran as well as new candidates to contest the election under its banner. The Party contests all 20 constituencies and runs 30 candidates winning 15 seats and 23,168 votes representing 35.6% of votes cast. Wade is re-elected Leader in the special conference that follows the General election. Under his leadership the rebuilding continues with the Party regaining the confidence of many of its supporters and building new bridges with the electorate. One of the strategies Wade follows is building links with the business community.
At the Party Conference in 1990 the Executive is returned to the control of the lay members of the Party. Assembly members had been fulfilled responsibilities following the period when the party was decimated at the polls. This year also see a renovated Alaska Hall reopened. Despite a stumble due to an arson attempt the building is re-opened by the Rat Hon Sir Lynden O. Pindling, KCMG PC, JP Prime Minister of the Bahamas a long-time ally and friend of the PLP in Bermuda. Sir Lynden attended, with a delegation, as the honoured guest for the occasion.
In October 1993, a General Election is called and the PLP contest all 20 constituencies with a slate of 40 candidates. The Party wins 18 seats and 21,368 votes or 46.7% of votes cast. This is over a 10% increase in the share of the popular vote. A repeat of the 1980 result, puts the Party with an eyeshot of victory and out of the political wilderness.
The Party manages to be a tour de force in Parliament delving serious political defeats on its opponents from the Opposition bench. A disastrous attempt to select a Speaker, failed Independence referendum, a forced resignation of a Premier and Motion of Censure just to name a few.
In 1996 tragedy strikes the Party with the death of Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition L. Frederick Wade after a period of illness. Jennifer M. Smith, the Deputy Leader succeeds to the leadership of the PLP as the seventh Leader. Quickly orchestrating a programme of campaign mobilization, party organisation and massive fundraising. Running under the campaign theme Á New Bermuda with carefully a chosen slate of 34 candidates in all 20 constituencies, effective public relations, messaging and clear platform initiatives Bermuda was electrified by this PLP message. Party Leader Smith leads her Party to its first General Election victory on November 9, 1998, winning 26 seats and 30,422 votes representing 54.6% of votes cast.
Executing the agenda, the new government institutes many changes including annual voter registration, reform of boundaries to be more equitable and the principle of one person one vote of equal value. The new relationship with business, changes to education, advancing literacy, constitutional reforms along with other new policies changes Bermuda politics forever. Constitutional reform is established to make the electoral system more equitable alters the number of seats to 36 single seat constituencies.
The PLP again wins its second parliamentary election held on July 24 2003 with 15,222 votes representing 51.6% of the vote and 22 out of 36 seats. Hours after the victory a group of successful candidates refuses to remain under Smith’s leadership orchestrating a coup. After a series of negotiations Party Leader Smith steps down and later resigns as Premier. On July 28, 2003, Mr. W Alexander Scott, is elected the eighth Party Leader and is later appointed Premier of Bermuda. Some of the hallmarks of Premier Scott’s administration are the historic Social Agenda, the Bermuda Independence Commission and the Sustainable Development Roundtable.
In October 2006, Party Leader Scott is challenged by Dr. Ewart Brown for the Party Leadership. W. Alexander Scott is defeated in the election for Party Leader and Dr. Ewart F. Brown becomes the PLP's ninth Leader and Premier of Bermuda.
Premier Brown moves ahead swiftly to begin executing a programme of change in government and throughout the country.
In November 2007, Premier Brown takes the country to the polls. After a well-executed and exciting campaign, the PLP wins a third term in power in the election held on 18 December 2007, again taking 22 of 36 seats with 16,800 votes representing 52.5% of votes cast. This is the highest number of voters to ever vote for the party to date in an election. Following the victory Premier Brown continue to execute an agenda of visionary social programmes that impact youth, seniors, families and the economy. Future Care, Mirrors Programme, Child Day-care allowance, additional funding for scholarships and infrastructure improvements like New Court Building and Heritage Wharf in Dockyard. Premier and Party Leader Brown is not without controversy with the issue of the Uighurs and his leadership style bringing some serious confrontation with other Parliamentary members. At one point the Party even faces a vote of no confidence in the Legislature which is defeated.
Premier Ewart Brown resign from elected politics in October 2010 at the end of his term as Party Leader. On October 28, 2010, he is succeeded as Party Leader and Premier by Paula A. Cox who is the Party’s tenth Leader. Premier Cox inherits a government and Bermuda getting to grips with the growing impact of the global recession. Also, a world that has gone on the attack against offshore centres like Bermuda. The period witnesses a growing economic crisis of fleeing international companies, shrinking job market for Bermudians and contracting of the island’s economy. Voter disenchantment with the government with its perceived inability to respond to the situation grows.
The lack of satisfaction with the PLP Government is shown on December 17, 2012, when the party narrowly loses the general election. Of the 36 seats the party wins 17 seats and only 14,218 votes or 46.1%. This is the partys worst electoral perftormance since 1993 and the islands lowest turnout of voters by percentage since 1985. The PLP experiences a historical repeat of 1968 with the Premier and Party Leader Paula Cox losing her own seat. Cox resigned as Party Leader the following day. , On December 21, 2012, she is replaced after the holding of a Special Delegates Conference to elect a new Party Leader by Marc Bean, the former Minister of the Environment, Planning and Infrastructure. Marc Bean becomes the eleventh Party Leader.
Bean directs the Party to focus on rebuilding. There is a need to rebuild confidence with the electorate that deserted the Party, rebuild the organisation internally depleted by the loss and rebuild the Party capability to regain back its place as the government of the people.
In February 2013, during the opening of the new Parliament, MP K Randolph Horton is chosen to become Speaker of the House of Assembly without the support of the Party or Caucus. On February 15, Mr. Terry Lister announces, during the session of the House of Assembly, that he had decided to sit as an Independent Member of the Assembly. This changes the position of the party in the Assembly from 17 PLP members to 15 PLP members. This depletes the Opposition benches making the work to challenge the government more challenging. Following these two events another series of three occurrences reveal opportunities for the Party ahead
On September 23, 2014, Independent member Terry Lister announces his retirement from active politics requiring a bye election to be held. On November 18, following nearly a four-week campaign push, the results of the bye election showed the PLP Candidate Jamahl S. Simmons storms to victory. The final count that night was 462 PLP (58.1%), 326 OBA (41%) and 6 spoiled. An impressive turnout confirmed the party indisputable dominance of the political landscape of the western parish of Sandys. The first significant victory following December 2012 On Friday December 4, 2015 MP Glenn Blakeney submitted his letter to the Speaker of the House announcing his intention to retire on Monday December 7, 2015. The Party on Thursday, December 10, 2015, announces Senate Leader Diallo Rabain as the candidate for the upcoming Constituency 13, Devonshire North East bye-election. On February 4, 2016 he wins with Devonshire North Central Bye election with 461 votes, 55.7% of the 827 votes cast. 64% of the 1287 registered voters turned out. These successive bye-election victories were indicators of the rebuilding of public confidence in the party that has commenced since 2012.
In November 2015, the leadership of Marc Bean is challenged members of the caucus who voice objections to his style of leadership.
Meanwhile the Party’s aggressive efforts to champion immigration reform experiences a major boost following the public action on the House grounds against the government immigration policy in March 2016.
During the same period in late March 2016 it was officially announced that the Leader of the Opposition and Party Leader Marc Bean would be taking a medical leave of absence. The Warwick South Central MP was admitted to hospital due to a sudden illness. Deputy Party Leader David Burt holds the position of Acting Leader during this period.
In August 2016 after a significant effort at healing and recovery, Marc Bean resumes duties as Leader of the Party and Opposition Leader.
On September 3, the Party was shocked with the news of the passing of Party Chairman Maynard Dill which sent ripples through the Bermuda community. He was interred at St Paul’s Church in Paget.
On November 4, just two months after the unfortunate passing of the Party Chairman Maynard Dill, Party Leader Marc A R Bean announces his retirement from active politics.
On November 7 and the early morning of November 8 David Burt is elected the twelfth Party Leader following the resignation of Marc Bean.
The Party announces on November 28th, Neville Tyrrell a former candidate of two previous elections and former Party Chairman is the candidate to run in Constituency 26 Warwick South Central in the upcoming bye election. On December 20th Neville Tyrrell is elected the representative for Consistency 26. Tyrrell wins 477 votes out of 597 votes cast Over 80% of the vote. There was a 52% turnout all of the possible 1139 votes. This the third bye-election victory for the Party following the December 2012 defeat and a strong indicator of public confidence ahead of a General Election contest.
At the beginning of 2017, the focus of the Party is on preparing for the next general election. Party Leader David Burt emphasizes to members this will be the priority for the foreseeable future. The organisation’s focus is on fundraising, voter registration, canvassing, candidate selection and branch organization.
In the Legislature the PLP continuously presses the government and advances its own agenda. Motions are laid, numerous parliamentary questions submitted and Opposition Bills are tabled. It is all a strategic plan to show the Party’s superior handling of issues, and preparation in its role as a government in waiting. Along with changes to the Shadow Cabinet, Party Leader Burt takes the steps necessary to position the Party with the right team and to be on a path to be successful at a future General Election.
Changes in the make-up of the House of Assembly dramatically impact the government composition and majority creating a real opportunity for the Party. In mid-May these changes allow the Party to achieve major victories with the passing of two Opposition Bills. Seeing a window of great advantage, Opposition Leader David Burt tables a Motion of No Confidence in the Government, saying that the Government must “operate with the confidence of the House, and if the Government loses confidence of the House then it’s time for the people to go back to the polls for an election.”
On June 8, 2017 the General Election date is announced as Tuesday 18 July 2017. The Party mobilises into election mode announcing candidates, organising critical operations and executes a grassroots approach of taking its campaign message to the doorstep of voters. The slogan chosen for the campaign is ‘Putting Bermudians First’. A platform is launched titled, ‘Building a Fairer and Better Bermuda’.
On Tuesday, 18 July 2017 the Progressive Labour Party has won the General Election its fourth General Election victory. The Party records a strong victory over the OBA, winning 24 seats to the OBA’s 12, and claiming 20,059 total votes [58.89%] to the OBA’s 13,832 votes [40.61%].
On Wednesday July 18, 2017, Party Leader David Burt becomes the Party’s fifth leader to serve as Premier of Bermuda and the islands youngest Premier ever at age 38. He is sworn in at Government House as the islands eleventh Premier.
History continues to be written.
LEADERS OF THE BERMUDA PROGRESSIVE LABOUR PARTY
Mr. Arnold A. Francis
Mr. Walter N. H. Robinson
Mrs. Lois Browne- Evans
Mr. Walter N. H. Robinson
Mrs. Lois Browne- Evans
Mr. L. Frederick Wade
Ms. Jennifer M. Smith
Mr. W. Alexander Scott
Dr. Ewart F. Brown
Ms. Paula A. Cox
Mr. Marc A R Bean
Mr. E. G. David Burt