There’s still a chance

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You have to admit, Mr Acting Editor, that the idea of inviting a member of the Opposition to sit in the Cabinet had broad appeal — and most likely to that good majority of voters who want to see the two parties working together for the good of Bermuda etc, etc. It was a grand gesture, and I do not doubt for one minute the genuineness of the offer, but it wasn’t ever likely to actually work. It would take a brave member of the party opposite (or foolhardy, depending on which side you are on) for it to even get off the ground.

The reasons are obvious. The member would be expected to adhere to Cabinet confidentiality and to toe the Government line when it comes to decisions of the Cabinet. That would not be easy. On the contrary. It would be downright difficult, most especially as an elected Member of Parliament sitting on the front benches, having to endure and respond to criticism of the Government from colleagues on the Opposition benches. I expect that an entire new code of conduct would have had to have been drawn up so that everyone, and not just the member, knew where he or she stood, on what was expected and what was acceptable.

That was no reason not to try though. The more easier route might have been to appoint a member of the Opposition to the Cabinet via the Senate. A defeated candidate for instance, who was prepared to see out his political career with a particular Ministry for a specific purpose for a specified period of time. The member would therefore owe not just his appointment to the Cabinet but his seat in the Senate to the Premier; further, the Senate is not the House and does not typically feature the same robust debate featured up on the Hill.

But it’s no matter now. All the places around the Senate table have been filled. However, there is still a chance to try and work some bipartisan magic in the House. There is talk of making a member of the Opposition the Speaker.

Actually it is more than just talk from what I hear. There’s a concerted push to make it happen and the One Bermuda Alliance Government has the votes to make it happen, if the member is willing. He is an obvious choice too. Randy Horton served a short apprenticeship in the last House, having been appointed Deputy Speaker in May 2011, and by all accounts he not only liked the job but performed well.

There are no other apparent candidates. The most senior member left on the Government benches, and thus possible candidate by process of elimination, is Cole Simons, who has had a long tenure as a Whip and Shadow Minister but never as a committee chair, which provides some training and some exposure for those who might be interested. Members of the Cabinet are not eligible.

However, acquisition by attrition of an important post like Speaker cannot be seen as wise on any view, political or otherwise. So the OBA must be confident then that Mr Horton will accept the nomination.

Funny that. There is the Westminster tradition that the person selected be unwilling or reluctant to take on the job in the first place, a reluctance that is played out in the quaint tradition of having the Speaker-elect dragged to the Chair by his proposer and seconder.

He or she is then also expected to renounce all party affiliation and have nothing further to do with party be they meetings, discussions or formal gatherings of any sort. You get the picture. Party expulsion would only cement the impartiality and neutrality he is supposed to represent once chosen as Speaker.

The upside for the OBA with Mr Horton — and this is strong motivation admittedly — is that they will get a little more breathing room when it comes to votes. The numbers on the Hill effectively become 19 to 16.

The Speaker very rarely gets a vote, except in the event of a tie (if he’s in the Chair) and then tradition (that Westminster system again) has it that he should vote to maintain the status quo which could mean, and should mean in most instances, a vote against the Government. That’s the upside for the Opposition because any defeat on a Government Bill could lead to a motion of no-confidence and a successful motion of no-confidence to a possible return to the polls.

But all ins and outs aside, the most important part of the job of Speaker is to be able to take control of the House and exert that control with a fair and a firm hand, showing a consistency and a fairness in both the application and interpretation of the rules, without fear or favour. It is important then to have the support of a majority of members, but unanimous is even better.

On the other hand, there are those who think it too much to ask or to expect from someone, anyone, who has sat in the House as a partisan party politician to serve as Speaker and that the better route is to have the person selected from candidates from outside the House.

`But that, Mr Acting Editor, is a another debate for another day, and possibly another place ie a constitutional conference. For now, we live and work with what we’ve got.

* The title of the column has been changed (slightly) to View From Off The Hill for obvious reasons. Any comments, suggestions or questions are welcome. E-mail jbarritt@ibl.bm

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Published Jan 11, 2013 at 8:15 am (Updated Jan 11, 2013 at 8:15 am)

There’s still a chance

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