I was at the forum at St Paul’s Christian Education Centre on Saturday night [*]. I listened and heard and saw. The audience was mixed and majority white. All the speakers spoke well, and in the sum of their presentations, they covered a variety of points and issues.
On balance, and in later reflection, I thought that on Saturday night, I saw and heard the voices of some people who have lost the power they once had. I also heard the voices of people who are coming into power – and who know that they are the people who will wield power on the morrow.
One slice of Bermuda’s people pie seems to long, still, for the old days when the UBP was in power and, according to them, everything ran properly. Another slice wants more change and is prepared to get involved and help cause the change that they want. One more slice, different again, is unhappy with the current situation and wants its voice listened to and acted upon. There are more slices, but the voices of these slices were not heard at this forum.
There seemed a broad unhappiness with Bermuda’s Westminster style two party system. There was a strong suggestion that while Westminster argument was good for the UK, and seemed to work well there, the system was not right for Bermuda. The Westminster style was considered too contentious and divisive. One man pointed out that Italy’s method of continual coalition would probably be even more unworkable in Bermuda than it was proving to be in Italy.
I wondered if people thought – or think – that the US style where Democrats and Republicans [no ‘independents’ in the US system] barter and trade and cross their votes in a bewildering criss-crossing pattern was better. What about the new Russian style of parliament – they call theirs the ‘Duma’ – where, it seems, Vladimir Putin still makes all the major decisions, just like it happened in Stalin’s day? The only difference now is that Putin doesn’t pack people off to the ‘gulag’.
It was suggested that Bermuda would be far better served by a system of ‘joint select committees’ and by a removal of the party whip on most votes.
Julian Hall reminded – and our Bermuda history confirms – that for almost three hundred and fifty years, from 1620 to 1963 – Bermuda had no political parties at all. For these hundreds of years, Bermuda had a Parliament made up of thirty-six ‘independent’ Members of Parliament. Our Bermuda history also confirms that much Parliamentary work was done by ‘joint select committees’.
There was, for instance, a joint select committee that sat and deliberated on matters dealing with segregation. That joint select committee came back with a report. The ‘independent’ members of Parliament, with quite remarkable unanimity, accepted and supported the continuance of lawful segregation; and continued and supported the continuance of institutionalized discrimination against all black Bermudians.
As a true democracy, with all persons having an almost equal say in the running of the country, Bermuda’s real experience with true and open democracy is less than a decade old. Bermuda is a democratic toddler just coming to adolescence.
Some of us – and I am one – may be impatient with the relative slowness with which I see Bermudians grasping the new power that has been placed in their hands. Others amongst us seem to want to turn time back and recreate a mythical golden era when good and excellent governance was supposed to be the norm.
When looking back through the telescope of history, some people seem to look through the wide end of the telescope and see only a rosy past. Others peer through the small end and seem to see a troubled past.
I thought that at that Saturday forum, there were a lot of ‘rosy past’ers’. But I also saw and heard democracy in action. I like the sounds of democracy in action. I have no desire to go back to those ‘good old days’.
I want to move forward and I want to be and, through this column, I am engaged in thinking and discussion and debate as we move forward.
For me, the past was not ‘nice’. The present is OK. I want a good future. I’m engaged for the future.
[*] Meeting organized by Khalid Wasi with Tom Vesey, Julian Hall, David Sullivan, Denis Pitcher, as speakers – Stuart Hayward as moderator.