Chester Cooper tells PLPs to “Get Involved (2022)”!

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CHESTER COOPER -Chairman BCCEC
y and its work in making sure Progressive Liberal Party supporters can openly share their views.

I want to thank Obie Roberts for inviting me to continue this tradition.

Let me say at the outset that there is no point in hiring expensive foreign consultants to tell us what we know already. Instead, since we know the reality of the situation, our efforts and energies must be on mustering the will to execute on the changes that will make the PLP the sustained and vibrant and WINNING political force that we know it can be.

So now that those niceties are out of the way, I accepted this invitation because I want to explain as best I can where I believe the Progressive Liberal Party is, and where it can go, if we do certain things.

You’ve all had time to digest by now, that the PLP lost the last general election – and badly.
My expectation going into the race was that with hard work and God’s help, I would win the Exuma seat and many of my party colleagues would win their seats in what would be a close election, and the PLP would be returned to power to continue to build on the good work I believe the party had done over the past five years. Notwithstanding my minority view, it is remains my unwavering view that the core principles of the PLP are still the ones that best serve the interests of all Bahamians.

I did not expect to be one of only a few to win a seat, nor to enter the House of Assembly with only three colleagues. I also did not expect to enter without the former prime minister, who graciously accepted the loss and took full responsibility for it, even though, I’m pretty sure we all know the blame was far from his alone.

The reality is though, I wasn’t completely caught off guard that we lost.

As I walked the constituency, and I know you know I’m not the only one who heard this, people would say: Chester, I like you, you are the best candidate by far, with the best plan, I want to support you, but I can’t vote for you because I don’t support Perry Christie or what the PLP has become and a vote for you is a vote for Christie.

When I heard this, I would argue the party’s case, and still ask for their support, but hearing it quite often gave me food for thought.

Why did the public tire of the former prime minister? Did we in the party recognize this too, but for whatever reasons, chose to ignore it? [I’m asking for a friend?] Why did the public see the party as having drifted away from its core values of empowering the masses and protecting and uplifting the poor?

The people came to see the PLP as the enemy of the people. And we have to examine why.

The day after Mr. Christie stepped down as leader of our party, I released a personal statement, speaking only on my behalf.

It was to make clear that, respectfully, I rejected the view that race had anything to do with the PLP’s loss.

Some people ask me why I did that.

Well, firstly, I don’t believe in racial division. I believe in racial equality. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to even unintentionally further divide Bahamians along racial lines – notwithstanding our painful past. The truth is that the ideals of the PLP benefit all Bahamians, regardless of color. And so, let’s expressly and openly embrace all Bahamians.

Secondly, and again, I say this with respect, I didn’t see the point in boiling down our election loss to something so simplistic and wrongheaded. We have to dig deeper than that, no matter how much it may hurt to acknowledge any shortcomings we may have.

Thirdly, and most importantly I wanted to echo what I believe the electorate had just told us.

a) we had a serious disconnect with the mindset of many Bahamians who were tired of the “same ole same ole” and b) there is a strong need for inclusion of all socio economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds if we are to be successful in the future”.

I believe I won my seat because I had several things going for me. I was born and raised in Exuma, and have long been trying to pay it forward in my community, even before politics was a consideration. [As Picewell would say – I am a Home Town favorite]. I was blessed with a very giving, likable, hard-working and understanding wife. I had a carefully crafted plan for the development of the entire community. I had an incredibly dedicated team on the ground. The party machinery also lent support to the extent that I had the good fortune of securing the support of all former living PLP MPs for Exuma including George A. Smith, Ruby Ann Darling and Anthony Moss. I relied just as heavily on social media (mostly FB, Instagram and WhatsApp) as I did the ground work, and I openly courted FNMs and independent voters. I also learnt very quickly that Bahamian politics is very intimate and you must CONNECT. So, I personally visited 99% of homes in my constituency from Highbourne Cay to Duncan Town, I listened to their concerns, I drank their switcher and ate from their pots – experiencing varying culinary delights of varying quality.

But so did a lot of people, right? So, in the end, I sincerely believe that God had a hand in the way things turned out and if we listen to the message God had for us – we will in time be the better off for it.

So, why did so many of my colleagues lose?

Now, this may get a little rocky here for a minute, but I want you to stay with me, because this is NPI and we are an open-minded, forward-thinking, think-tank Group. Right?.

I believe the PLP lost the last general election, because we lost touch (we lost our connection) with those we were trying to help the most.

Not only that, but we acted too slowly in many instances when needs were urgent.

We let simple problems become big issues by our failure to acknowledge them and nip them in the bud far too often.

We hid behind a message of Majority Rule, without updating it for new generations who feel little connection to it, but rather seek economic empowerment. The millennials told us that they were over all that and we ignored the youth to our peril.

We were not accountable enough and not transparent enough.

And we ignored scandals – protecting the interest of offending individuals and condoned things we should not have by our silence. I can give you examples of the last few weeks, but sufficed to say, this was one moment when my campaign team reportedly felt a momentum change.

And we protected the interest of the party over the interests of the nation, thinking, wrongly, that the Bahamian people would somehow understand without being told, that those two things were actually the same.

While trying to fix the nation’s major problems, we often forgot to sweat the small stuff and left too many people behind. In short even our base felt ignored, oftentimes at the expense of others who didn’t support us or persons who hopped the band wagon at the 11th hour.

We went into communities asking support from the very people we raised taxes on to improve their lives, and when we did so, we found them in the same circumstances we met them in when we promised to improve their circumstances five years ago.

I told you this might get rocky, but you’re doing well – stay with me.

The PLP is not a bad organization, and was not a cruel and uncaring government, as we were often portrayed by the mainstream press and social media. I re-iterate my view that the core principles of the PLP are those that best suit our Bahamas. And I also am convinced that when removed from the immediate glare and heat of a political campaign and the often biased and downright false commentary – all will appreciate the contributions of this past administration to addressing serious issues like tax reform, food security and the enhancement of education in the Bahama. The truth is that – despite our shortcomings, history will judge us fairly… we helped many, we tackled key issues, we left The Bahamas, as a whole, better than it was in 2012… the people had just moved on, the people just had needs more diverse than they did in the past, and we failed to realize it or attend to it. Fellas, you ever had a girlfriend who dumped you simply because her needs had changed?

Note that I say “we”. I say “we” even though I was not there. I was not in Parliament, I was not in Cabinet, I was a private citizen who can share a few personal stories of my own but I am PLP and I must stand and accept the critique and examine the criticism and “we” “we” must move forward. We must accept and own the defeat.

But we must do so with a plan that reflects the will and desires of the people. A plan that will meet their needs and improve their circumstances on a tangible level. And not weeks and months before an election, but from day one – like we promised the last time, but did not deliver in a way they could touch, see and feel.

Okay. Everyone still with me? I told you it might get rocky there for a moment. But we’re not done yet.

There’s a quote I like from the Oxford Book of Ballads – It’s in a very long ballad called Sir Andrew Barton.

And it tells the tale of a massive battle in which Sir Andrew was wounded, hurt badly, but willing to die fighting the English dogs for the glory of Scotland.

The part I like goes:
“Fight on, my men!
I am hurt, but I am not slain
I’ll lay me down and bleed a while
And then I’ll rise and fight again.”

Yes, PLPs we are wounded, we have been dealt a harsh blow, but our party is not dead. We are not slain.

We will bleed a while but we will rise to fight again.//

If you’ll notice, I haven’t mentioned the FNM yet. I really am less concerned about the FNM than the PLP.

We will hold them accountable, we will highlight where they are wrong or try to mischaracterize what the PLP has done.

But I really don’t expect very much from them. So far, much hot air, very little sense of the direction the country is going, no real plan and a whole lot of backing off campaign promises.
The FNM has said they want anti-corruption legislation. And I welcome it. I have no stomach for corruption. That goes against how I was raised, how I have lived my life and built my business.
The FNM has said it will look at civil action against ministers and others they believe abused their legal authority to the financial detriment of the Bahamian people.

And to that I say, let the chips fall where they may. I have no stomach for that nonsense either. The treasury is no one’s personal piggybank, and the standard should apply to all
No one should get away with misusing the people’s money.

I am by no means financially disadvantaged, and I don’t want a dime of my tax dollars wasted.
Do you think the man or woman who barely makes minimum wage or is unemployed is any more tolerant of it than me?

So FNM, do your worst. If you are going to be fair and just, you will find some of your own ilk caught in your quagmire of web, it’s only a question of when and we must likewise apply tough rules to this FNM, who won on a platform of transparency.

I invite them also to expedite campaign finance reforms because it is a common view that, yes money did play a role. We must now follow the money. We must use the PAC effectively to examine all transactions that may be linked to their donors and hold their feet to the fire.

AND we must follow the decisions and potential conflicts of all of the surrogates of special interest who are represented in the cabinet.

However, if my expectation of them holds, the Bahamian people will deal with them harshly five years from now.

But does that mean the PLP will be the natural choice to replace them by default? I think it may be presumptuous to expect that.

And it would be lazy to not prepare for the opportunity to govern once again.

We cannot just wait for the FNM to screw up, though I suspect it won’t be very long.

In the case of France, (and the UK for that matter) none of the major parties in that historic democracy holds sway over the majority any longer.

While they were so worried about themselves, they ignored the most important component of their democracy – the people.

Let us embrace the “teachable moment” and not make the same painful mistakes.

So, what is the way forward for the PLP?

Will we spend the next five years trying to defend the past five years that we were rejected on?

I suspect that this will anger our people and the electorate even more//
Or will we spend the next five years reconnecting to our base, healing it and expanding it?
I say we choose the latter.

But before we reconnect with our base, we must first heal within.

And we must remember who we are. What we were built upon, and be about that, and demonstrate that every day to the people of this country.

And we don’t have to look very far.

The core values on which the PLP was founded are just as sound today as they were over 60 years ago when they were published on October 26, 1953, & I quote in part:

“The government is the servant of the people and not the people the servant of the government. Government must be administered economically and effectively and must constantly strive to raise the standard of living of the people. To this end we pledge our wholehearted support.”

“Ours is the party which has taken on the responsibility to provide a better standard of living for farmers, fishermen, civil servants and all other working classes of the Bahamas and to lead the Bahamian people to the greatest prosperity in their history.

“Ours is the party which promises to build on a solid foundation a sound and stable economy, develop our agriculture and fisheries, invigorate our industries and introduce new ones, (let me repeat that) provide better roads, transportation and communications throughout New Providence and the Out Islands.”

“Education, security, freedom, development, human and civil rights. Those are the core values of our PLP.

It is up to you, members of the National Progressive Institute to help the PLP restore itself.
It’s up to you to engage in the marketplace of better ideas.

It’s up to you, to dedicate yourselves to fight for what is right, not for vanity over our reputation.

We have to show The Bahamas we have learned from our mistakes. We must show The Bahamas that we are ready and able to serve.

We must show them that we are willing to listen to them more than we are willing to talk about ourselves.

We must reform. We must transform. Or we risk an extended stay in the wilderness, watching those with bad ideas and half-baked schemes flounder while our people suffer. Sooner, rather than later, the first test of our willingness to change will come in the form of a convention.

In the lead, up to it and with its result, the party, and the nation will have a chance to see if we are ready to get up and fight again, or if we must continue to lay ourselves down, and bleed a while longer. We are PLP. We don’t set out to lose at anything, we didn’t get involved in politics to be in opposition. We must ready ourselves to be the Government of the Bahamas again in 2022.

Get Ready for 2022

Before I close I summaries a 10-point plan for our party to ready itself for 2022:

1) Acknowledge the missteps that led to such a crushing defeat.

2) There should be a sincere and humble apology and repentance to our supporters and the nation in an appropriate and genuine form. I don’t expect this suggestion to be warmly embraced, but the Anglicans and Catholics would be familiar with the “Act of Penitence: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.

3) As a part of the healing we must undertake a reconnection tour of all 39 constituencies allowing for supporters to openly vent and share their disappointments with the party and provide input and suggestions on ways to move the Party forward. We should then enlist persons from across the country to assist in rebuilding branches and implementing the suggestions. We must also find the 31,000 PLPs who did not vote for us, find out why, and formally invite them back into the fold.

4) We must move immediately towards the reform, rebranding and re-energizing of our party, inclusive of a thoughtful analysis and updating of the party’s constitution and governance including the structure and protocols of appointing stalwart councilors; as well as the election of a new slate of party officers that signals that the party is ready to Regain the Trust be Repositioned into a lean mean winning machine.

5) We must develop a clear manifesto, vision and plan beginning to RETURN TO CORE VALUES. Participation should be broad and wide. Mission should be to raise the standard of living and quality of life for ALL Bahamians, city dwellers and Family Islanders. Result should be addressing key social and economic issues including providing economic empowerment, creating new millionaires but also empowering the most vulnerable amongst us.

6) We must embrace the Progressive Young Liberals “PYL” putting all of the resources necessary to make it a truly viable and sustainable entity. We must pledge a serious look at its members as the next candidates in the class of 2022. I caution you not to be too hasty to cast aside our elders. We must embrace our Sr politicians, former MPs and party officials as coaches and mentors. BUT the new recruitment age for PYL must be 13 years old (yes persons born in 2004) in recognition that these will be the new voter in 2022. The PYL must be empowered to advance our refined YOUTH AGENDA.

7) We must empower the NPI to become a real forward-looking, think-tank, producing policy positions for the party and serving as an outreach machine to the professional class and the once thriving middle class.

8)We need an active recruitment initiative, holding well organized functions and speaking engagements with a deliberate effort to recruit members and candidates for 2022. The Class of 2022 must have a significant number of NEW candidates, Young Candidates and Female Candidates that is more representative of the demographics of our country. Said differently, 74.95% of the electorate is age 18 -55 with only 25.05% over age 56. Also, roughly 30% were millennials and more than 50% of the electorate are women!

9) We must without delay engage a full time PR machinery modernizing our approaches using technology, social media and alternate dedicated PLP media including radio, newspaper and I repeat a large SOCIAL MEDIA component for the advancement of our re-energized brand, updated vision and plan for an Empowered Bahamas.

10) We must remain Proud to be PLP! We must remain fearless. We must hold our head up high. This ain’t no time to be tired, this ain’t no time to be weary, this aint no time to be slunking. We have a party to build, we have an election to win, we have an economy to grow, we have a country to Run!

Get Involved (2022)

As I close, I ask you to get involved.

Our party needs your youth, your network, your ideas, your energy, your technology and innovation.

• Our Party needs you!

• I assure you that if I am involved with the rebuilding process as I intend to be, you will not be overlooked, you will be engaged.

• In the new PLP you must prepare yourselves for upward mobility in the party to be Chairman, Party Officers, Senators, MPs, Cabinet Ministers and powerful contributors to our great party at all levels and the new Bahamas.

• We must be resolute, we must fight, we must plan and we must work. We must drive change, never forgetting that “what got us here won’t take us there”!
I thank you for this opportunity to address you tonight. I hope that I have not worn out my welcome and you will you’ll have me back, at some point.

God Bless the PLP. God Bless the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

Good Evening.