PLP WIN!

This second PLP win at the polls marks the real turning point in Bermuda’s 394 year social history.

            In November 1998, when the PLP won its first election, Bermuda’s majority population reached the level of maturity that showed that it was ready to take charge of its own affairs, make its own decisions, and carry its own responsibility. This time around, those three factors were back in the mix and once again, Bermuda’s majority made a conscious decision.

            There will be many other next times.

            Five years from now, the question of who will be elected will be more wide open. The electorate will be more sophisticated.  In the new 1,200 voter single seat constituencies, brighter ‘sparks’ will realize that a Parliamentary seat can be won by garnering a mere 350 – 400 votes. Provided, of course, that diehard PLP’ers and till-death-do-us-part UBP’ers insist on still voting their party lines.

            Now, in 2003 and into the future, the world can see that Bermuda has moved from a benign oligarchy to democracy. Even us Bermudians can now see that rule by majority is here.

            That’s the real impact of this election win.

            Berkeley? BHC? Drugs? Crime?  Buzzwords for political campaign planners. Not real issues. The real issue was always beneath the skin. That’s the Bermuda reality.

            What now for the PLP?

            The PLP must change. If Bermuda is to remain a successful national entity in a world of big superpower ‘bruisers’, then Bermuda’s whole population must become involved in those issues that are of real national importance. What are these real issues?

            Immigration and work opportunities.  Education and work opportunities. Housing availability and mechanisms for achieving that. Safeguards for our total Bermuda social and natural environment. National alignment with International bodies – CARICOM? OECD? EU? Independence?  

            For the future, the PLP’s old style of decision making in relative seclusion must change to decision making moved to the wide open halls of a broader public forum.  For this the PLP needs to look at its methods for engendering the style and quality of debate that the country needs; and for how it can encourage yet still manage that debate.

            For this, I believe that the PLP needs to alter its style of national leadership. The current leader group must alter its styles in order to better lead this more mature nation into the new ‘e-world’ that’s emerging from our PC’s, cellphones, and TV’s.

            For the party, the joined positions and tasks of Party Leader and Leader of the Government must be separated. One is a task for a shirt-sleeved visored ‘apparatchik’. The other for a national Leader. One requires attention to picky and mundane detail. The other requires broad forward vision and wide strategic insight. One is world stage. The other is back office.

            Going into this new ‘e-world’ this densely populated but isolated coral atoll needs good forward vision and farsighted management. We – all of us Bermudians – have a very delicate balance that we all need to understand and have to help maintain.

 

The Scent of Change?

According to the Minister for Tourism, Bermuda’s hoteliers have finally admitted that one of Bermuda’s errors of the past was an overweening arrogance. This admission gives the first glimmer of real hope that the battle to revive and restructure Bermuda’s Hospitality Industry can now start to go somewhere.

            Of course we made mistakes! How else did we get all those carcasses and ghosts?

            Businesses that change in the right way thrive and survive. Ford Motors stuck with the Model ‘T’ until the Ford Motor Co almost went out of business. It then changed. It survived.  The company paid a lot more attention to consumer needs and wants. It grew again. It’s still around today. And it’s still changing.

            If a business doesn’t change in the right way, it dies and disappears. Remember Olivetti? Pan American Airways? Austin Motors?

            Businesses that make bad mistakes or that are badly managed also disappear. Enron? Arthur Andersen Accounting?

            That has happened to companies that were even bigger than Bermuda. Bigger because their annual sales revenues dwarfed our entire Bermudian economy. Bigger because they had even more employees than Bermuda had people.

            So it stands to reason that we could have made a national strategic error in our Tourist Industry. Bermudian we may be, but we’re still human.

            Now that we seem to have come to our national senses, we need to take the next step.

            Cut loose from our past style of managing tourism. Let the sales and marketing people market whatever it is that Bermuda can still sell. Let the government concentrate on making this a safe and clean destination with good infrastructure. Let the government underpin, underwrite, and support those real initiatives that will really work for and in our best national interests.

            What, then, will work for us? Nationally?

            We do need to support and subsidize local arts programs so as to spark up and retain our fast eroding national Bermudian identity. So we’ll need to support musicians, artists, and entertainers. May even have to help train and groom them.

            We do need to support and sustain local initiatives to regenerate a retail and general service atmosphere of swift and friendly personal service in all areas of human interaction. We have to do this in order to provide a national ambience of good service that will fit the total ‘package’ that we’ll be trying to sell to our ‘upper income’ visitors.

            Maybe we do need to run our very own three plane airline – loss-making though it may be  – so that we can best influence airline ticket prices. Or we may need to subsidize the existing airlines so that ‘getting here’ costs are taken as low as possible so that we compare better with our actual competition.

            Oh, I know, some hands are already going up and some eyes are already rolling back in horror at suggestions of ‘subsidies’.  But I do recall – and do correct me if I’m wrong! –  that those Bermudians who made those first decisions that gave birth, eighty years ago, to our national tourist industry, did so by subsidizing Furness Withy & Co. Further, they continued to subsidize Furness Withy – and other hospitality industry entities – for forty years, right up to the 1960’s.

            And have we all – so conveniently – forgotten Bermuda-based Bermuda-owned ‘Eagle Airways’ that used to fly Viscount turbo-props from here to the UK and the USA?

            There are things that can only be done by the private sector. But there are other things that must be supported by government funding, though still actually accomplished by the private sector.

            After twenty years of ducking and dodging, if we’re really going to really move forward, the Minister may have to do some major amputations. As well, some major rerouting of funds and attention, some re-directing of energies. But above all else, some real trail-breaking!

            However, through all this, there must run an unbroken vein of honest thinking that weighs all options against our best national interests. The national strategic error of our national past was to think narrowly and to assume that whatever was good for this year’s ‘bottom line’ was equally as good for the country. That was our national mistake!

            The Minister’s most recent statements [around the 4th December] are like puffs of new air. It’s as if she’s going down a corridor and leaving, in her passing, the refreshing scent of new thinking. Rather like a woman who walks past you and leaves the air of her perfume lingering, tantalizingly, in your nostrils. It’s as if I’ve got a whiff, not of Nina Ricci’s ‘L’Air du Temps’,  instead, I’m getting the aroma of ‘L’Air du Renee’.

 

JURASSIC PAST

With the election and its furore and speculation just a month past us, I thought I’d reflect on some truths and realities that surfaced in the period surrounding the election.            An obvious and undeniable reality is that Bermuda’s heavyweight ‘daily’ – The Royal Gazette – has a dubious effect on the opinion of Bermuda’s majority population. Related to this is that the Royal Gazette’s reportage is not neutral reportage. But as I’ve reminded before, the Royal Gazette and its editorial and journalistic teams are under no obligation to be neutral. The Royal Gazette is a privately owned newspaper that is perfectly free to adopt whatever attitudes and display whatever values its owners wish it to display.            The problem with the Gazette, though, is that it sometimes claims to be politically unbiased. Bill Zuill [the younger] is perfectly free to make that claim anytime he wishes. It’s his paper and he’s free to write whatever he likes. But – like a tortoise – his paper carries the shell of a heritage of decades of bias.

            A dispassionate reader would recognize that throughout the lead-up and the election, the Gazette’s bias was for the UBP and against the PLP. With my writer’s mind, I would agree with that dispassionate reader.

            A PLP supporter will claim that the Gazette is heavily biased against the PLP. But – as generally happens – a UBP supporter will still deny that the Gazette and its reportage always favours the UBP.            Over at the Mid-Ocean News, in Tim Hodgson editorial domain, it’s clear to all that he is an issuer of vitriol and venom – all directed against the PLP. Tim’s brand of vitriol is so strong that it has a most unusual effect.            It works against him!            When poured over the delicate social fabric of this island, Tim’s vitriolic venom burns and scorches its way through that fabric. It burns black Bermudians with its views and opinions that can only come from Bermuda’s ‘hard right white’ population. It scorches black Bermudians – in every vitriolic issue and with every venomous word – with its strong reminders that extreme prejudice still thrives in some corners of white Bermuda. Tim’s weekly searing reminds black Bermudians that they must always be on guard so that those who support Tim’s views are never again allowed to sit in the seats of power in this Island.            Almost every issue of Tim’s newsletter from Bermuda’s Jurassic past, reminds black Bermudians of that Jurassic era.             Between them, then, did these two newspapers influence the election?            Yes. But not as they thought they might.            Tim’s venom helped to keep black Bermudians ‘in line’ with their Bermuda heritage and history.  So did the Gazette’s editorial choices, style, and balance of reportage. The Gazette was simply more muted – muted, that is, relative to Tim’s scorchers.            The Bermuda Sun – and I say this with my writer’s mind and not to please the Editor – was the only paper that followed the generally accepted principles of western journalism and stayed neutral.            So Bermuda’s whole print media, in combination, doesn’t have the clout that the US, UK, Canadian, Jamaican, etc… press groups have.             That lack of influence is an indictment of their ‘professionalism’.            The electorate? In swallowing the midstream leader change, this electorate has proven that it is more mature and astute than it was in the 1980’s.             This electorate was given or received all the information that it could possibly get about allegations of corruption and inefficiency and waste. Yet this electorate, inputting its own knowledge of its own persons and its own organizations, weighing its own interests against its own perceptions, its own heritage, and its own future; determined that the best interests of the majority population would be best served – for the time being – by keeping the PLP in power.            In the 210 days between 1st January 2003 and 29th July 2003, this electorate matured. The electorate showed the effect of all its maturing in that critical five-day period between 24th and 29th July 2003.            The biggest reality from this recent election is that Bermuda’s electorate and general population is now mature and sophisticated. The next reality is that the greatest part of Bermuda’s print media is stuck – either deep in a Jurassic past, or in the ‘no mans land’ between that Jurassic past, the new realities of August 2003, and the months and years that lie ahead.

            Changed the government in 1998. Changed leaders in 2003. Can the media change in 2004?

 

ROSY PAST’ERS

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.

 

HUMP DAY

Some call it ‘hump day’, others Wednesday. It’s the middle day of the week with as many days before as after. It’s that way now for the next election. Of course, under our Constitution, the next election could be next month or any three weeks from now. So I’m looking way down the down road when I say that January 2006 is ‘hump month.

            Only one person really knows when the next election will be called – and he ain’t telling; but if this Parliament does go the full five, January 2006 will be ‘hump’ month.

            This particular hump month, about the ninth ‘hump month’ that we’ve had since the 1968 Constitutional Order, finds a situation that’s much changed from those first eight humps.

            Hump one, way back in 1970 found this island still a tightly run oligarchy – not a true democracy. The 1968 election was the first election in which there was universal suffrage for anyone twenty-one and over. The UBP, then just two years old, had a stranglehold on the government The PLP, just five years old was struggling to attract votes from a population that eight years earlier, had just begun dismantling some parts of a system of legally supported segregation.

            This hump finds some people seeing all that as ancient history – as distant and remote as dinosaurs and mastodons. However, in human affairs, the past does tend to leak into the present.  This happens here, and it’s best seen in the huge contrasts between Hump Day One – in 1970; and Hump Day Nine – in 2006.

            Then, a relatively quiescent population. People, generally, were not inclined to be too vocal or too demanding. Now, this community is a huge and wide-open ‘talking shop’ with a much wider range of sometimes pungently expressed opinion as part of its steady daily diet. Then, people tended to be circumspect. Now people are direct.

            On that Hump Day, black Bermudians were looking ahead hoping to be able to gain a wider participation in Bermuda’s economic and political life; and seeking some social gains. On this Hump Day, black Bermudian capital is buying up businesses once considered to be white-owned.

            Then, Trimingham’s and Smiths – both the shops and the names – were business and political powers. Now, gone.

            What was once a tight little controlled community is now almost a ‘wild west’ town. Looked at another way – it’s as if we were all sitting in Sunday School in 1970 and in 2006 we’re all at a booze-up with a ‘dark and stormy’ in each hand.

            That’s how big a change I see.

            With that change has come a subtler deeper change. On Hump Nine, all Bermudians – excepting only those whose heads are stuck in the sands of the past – now know, for sure, things that they didn’t know on Hump One.

            Now Bermudians know that change is not disaster. They know that if you change political parties and those political parties change leaders, the sun will still rise and set in the same place each day.  They know that big businesses can go bust, and that other businesses can arise, and the ocean rollers will still roll.  Most importantly, Bermudians have now learned, through national experience, that sometimes what appears to be change isn’t really change at all. That a new voice coming out of a different mouth is often delivering the same message.

            Hump Nine finds a community in which the fear of the 20th Century has been replaced by the openness of the 21st Century. On Hump Nine, the small Bermudians who used to be cowed and silent are now large and vocal. On Hump Nine, the once small men and women who used to sometimes squeak like mice, have now developed the roar of the lion. A once quiet electorate has grown up, it has flexed its muscles, and it has seen the effects and impacts of its actions. This Hump Nine electorate is a now a changed and different group. More confident. More willing to argue – and argue back. More ready to consider more change.

            Just half a generation on, Hump Nine finds Bermuda a free-for-all wide-open more individualistic community that is forging its own new rules and is clearly unafraid of change.

            The little man has grown up, got himself the big sticks of confidence and knowledge,  and he’s not afraid of the bogeyman anymore…

WORDS AND VALUES

For the first time ever, after fourteen years of writing, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Editor of the Royal Gazette. For the first time ever!

            My stand is in support of, and in agreement with, his response to the ruling of the Human Rights Commission on the use, over the airwaves and in context, of the words ‘house nigger’. So that there is no doubt or confusion over what Bill Zuill [the younger], wrote, here are his opening sentences:

             “Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert is a house nigger. So is Shadow Finance Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin. All black members of the United Bermuda party are house niggers.            By extension, Premier Alex Scott is, presumably, a field nigger.  So is Works and Engineering Minister Sen. David Burch. All black members of the Progressive labour party are field niggers.            All white Bermudians are honkies”.

            Bill Zuill has captured, precisely, the core issue.

            The Human Rights Commission, in its ruling, actually supports the use of the word and supports its use in the context in which it was actually used. To formally describe its use, in context, as insulting or unwise or distasteful or any other word except the simple word ‘wrong’ was and is wrong!

            Language is the means of communication between individuals. It’s the primary means of communication between groups of people. It’s also the means through which many human values are communicated. Language is also a political tool.

            Black Americans stood together and fought their way out from the ‘nigger’ laden world of ‘Jim Crow’ though the ‘March on Washington’ and on to Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and Osaka Barama.

            Newer black Americans, pursuing American dollars, have taken themselves back into the ‘Jim Crow’ human value days by re-introducing the words ‘nigger’ in referring to black men and black people. Of course, taking commercial license with language, they actually write and display the word as ‘nigga’ or, plural, ‘niggas’.

            These newer black Americans also use devaluing language in describing their own black women as ‘whores’. Again, taking the same kind of commercial license, they actually write and display the word as ‘ho’ or, plural, ‘ho’s’.

            Seventy years ago, the Nazi Germans took the simple word “Jew” or “Juden” and, without ever changing the word itself, turned that single unchanged word first, into a term of opprobrium, and then, into a sentence of death.

            In a side column on page five of the Mid Ocean News of Friday 19th May 2006, an American travel writer was extolling the virtues of Bermuda as a travel destination. He spoke of our having a $69,000 per capita GDP – amongst the highest in the world.  

            I made a flash connection between that outsider’s view of Bermuda and my insider’s view of the use of language. I thought that Senator  Burch’s use of language, in context, was on exactly the same plane of usage as the language used by dollar-rich heavily blinged  black American rappers who strut and jump about their stages – raking in American dollars – by calling and demeaning themselves and all other black Americans – depending on gender – as ‘niggas’ or ‘ho’s’.

            Senator Burch’s use of the language, and the Human Rights Commissions decision on the use of that language were both wrong.

            Since April 1992, I have written over 460,000 words in more than 600 newspaper columns. I have castigated the previous government; been critical of this current government; fought – very publicly – with government Cabinet Ministers; tangled with other newspaper columnists; had a long running battle with the previous editor of the Royal Gazette. Through all of that, I have written as what I am. A proud black Bermudian man.

             I never have, and I never will, use the word ‘nigger’ to describe my fellow black Bermudians – even if they do disagree with me or if I don’t like what they are saying.

            Persons in public office, or persons speaking or writing in public forums should always use language that is appropriate and acceptable to all listeners and all readers – even if those listeners and readers strongly and angrily disagree.

            If not, put your too-big baseball cap on sideways, wear a too-big T-shirt outside your too-big pants, drape yourself in bling, and go “shuck and jive with the rest of ‘em”.

            With the Human Rights Commission ruling now in, the one certainty is that we have all seen a true and unpleasant demonstration of one person’s set of core personal human and political values; and a questionable set of values in another group of people.

 

GARGOYLES

During the Middle Ages, when those craftsmen built their cathedrals and other high churches, they added embellishments that, while they looked scary, actually served a useful purpose. The ‘gargoyle’ is an example of this kind of embellishment.

            The idea of the gargoyle, as I understand it, is that the gargoyle was deliberately given an evil face so as to scare off or ward off evil spirits. That was the gargoyle’s spiritual task.

            The gargoyle’s earthly task was to act as a means of directing roof caught rainwater away from the sides of the building. This was done in order to prevent the effects of water erosion caused by volumes of fast moving water running down unchanging paths and thus eating away the sides of these lofty and laboriously built structures. Those ancients were smart….and those ancients did all that without computers or even ‘leckalight. Just hand tools and commonsense.

            Nowadays, we have plenty of ‘leckalight, but we seem to go about the business of gargoyle creating in a different manner.

            Take politics, for instance. I wouldn’t have thought that anyone would see a need to create a political gargoyle – a political creature with an evil mien and a mean demeanour. It seems to go against the grain of the political process wherein the more often stated aim is to do things, or go about matters so as to garner maximum public support.

            In free and democratic societies, most normal politicians seem to smile, not grimace. Most politicians seem to ask for some kind or some show of public approbation. Most seek to present a congenial face to the public that either elects them, or gives them some kind of support.

            Of course, in some other flavours of democracies, the kind where you either support the GOTD or get jailed or otherwise badly and roughly handled; politicians see less need to smile and seek support. In these kinds of democracies, the politicians – usually operating well outside the limits of their written national constitutions and ignoring the laws of economics – see no need to do anything other than exactly as they please.

            In these democracies, as, for instance in Zimbabwe, the answer to financial difficulties is quite simple. Need more money? Print more money! No problem. Like the Germans in the 1920’s, just use a wheelbarrow instead of a wallet to carry your money around.

            So here, in my Bermuda, in a vote giving free democracy, I find it odd and most unusual that we seem to have a gargoyle politician. A politician – one politician – who finds it so incredibly easy to issue insult and spew slur. A true evil-faced political gargoyle.

            Gargoyles are attached to buildings. Mostly to high cathedrals. This political gargoyle is attached to a political party. Just as there are many facets to a cathedral, there are many other members of the political party. Just as one badly performing gargoyle will let evil spirits or water erosion damage the cathedral, so will one gargoyle politician damage all the other politicians. Even if they think – foolishly think – that they have nothing to do with him. That he is speaking only for himself.

            In the end, voters do have to put up with the politicians that the political and electing process sets over them. However, unlike worshippers in cathedrals, voters do not have to wait until the sound of Gabriel’s Trumpet and the Second Coming before change can be wrought; or before some other form of salvation arrives. Instead, at least once in every five years, voters have a chance to deal with politicians who are seen to be un savoury gargoyles. As well, voters can go even wider – if they so choose – and rid themselves of the whole bunch if they are unsatisfied with those who seem determined to support political gargoyles.

            In 2006, there is one thing that this Bermuda electorate now knows and knows absolutely. In 2006, this electorate knows that it gives power and this electorate knows that it can take that power away. This electorate has now done both. This electorate also knows – unlike the scary bogeyman promise of the ‘olden days’ – that the world won’t end if the government changes.

            But does the gargoyle and those determined to support him understand that? I think not.   Too bad!