Tarred and feathered: who would be a governor, eh?
John Rankin has had a pretty rough time of it from the moment he was sworn in as Governor of Bermuda — a mere ten days after civil unrest, literally on the streets of Parliament.
Starting from the fallout of December 2, 2016, a date that will be infamously and long recalled as the Pepper Spray Protests, “the man on the other Hill” has found himself catapulted from one contentious issue to the next.
P.T. Barnum’s human cannonballs have had it better.
George Fergusson, his predecessor, couldn’t have got out of Dodge soon enough. But before he left, the former governor might easily have penned a letter that pointed out what Rankin should expect:
“Dear John, Bermuda is a wonderful place. Spectacular views, nine months of summer, with beaches and waters to die for. It is also full of interesting and highly intelligent people — some would say brilliant. However, please be prepared to expect an unhealthy dose of xenophobia, homophobia, Bible-bashing, political misconduct, arguments started in empty rooms and, the most egregious of all, governor-bashing. Yes, that means you. In between, you will be required to give assent to the very people who will stick it to you the hardest when your back is turned. Good luck. George.”
In his introductory interview covered by this newspaper, Rankin had “the gall” to declare his support for same-sex civil unions. Big mistake when attempting to win over the masses in a new jurisdiction who had declared their distaste for all things gay.
Whatever else he had to say in that interview was obsolete — this governor is one to be watched.
History has shown that Rankin’s faux pas was not such a big mistake at all, but a reflection of a man who believes in all citizens being treated fairly. As they should be.
Bermuda is much farther along the road of being universally accepting of all our people. However the government appeal goes against Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s ruling that sections of the Domestic Partnership Act are unconstitutional — opening the door to same-sex marriage, again — we are much better off as a people than the embarrassingly homophobic recent past.
This debate will stay the course of the Governor’s term in Bermuda. And if it were only same-sex marriage that has had him tossing and turning on Langton Hill, in between many of the other rather mundane ceremonial duties he has to perform, you would think he could negotiate that.
Even the unpalatable thought of giving Royal Assent to the DPA — a full eight weeks after it passed through the Houses of Parliament, stopping off as it did at the doorstep of British foreign secretary Boris Johnson — would pass in the hope that progress is not so much in our distant future, but in our midst.
But, no, this is Bermuda. We are rarely happy; at least not for any extended period of time. Put it down to the racial issues of the past, the perceived racial issues of the present, the struggle for economic parity among the races.
Race, race, race.
The Governor has also had to entertain:
• Controversy over new Civil Service rules and the role of the Public Service Commission
• A letter from Ewart Brown, requesting a commission of inquiry over the police investigation into him that has gone on since he officially left politics as premier eight years ago
• The calamitous debacle of Freddie Evans, the former Commissioner of Education, who ultimately took an unspecified government payoff before being stuck in a back office in one of the Government’s least high-profile departments in budgetary terms
• Request for Royal Assent to the Domestic Partnership Act — belatedly given
• Public criticism from the Premier over the naming of Narinder Hargun as the next Chief Justice — no reason was given, but it was eventually made clear by Members of Parliament, who referred to Hargun first as a South African and then as an Indian
• Being tarred with guilt by association by the Minister of National Security in the naming of a non-Bermudian as the next Commissioner of Police
• Being uninvited to Cup Match, if a certain Cabinet minister has his way
• Being called on to pardon a man for a “wrong” committed more than 100 years ago
Let’s focus on the last two, shall we? The rest have been done and dusted — on the presumption that Brown’s request for a CoI has fallen on deaf ears.
Having already created and been afforded emotional funding for running the Ministry of Rubbing People The Wrong Way, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch has outdone himself by openly promoting enmity with Government House.
Over a wall.
Somerset Cricket Club have been right to resist Burch’s personal grudge with the British over the years, and it is to be hoped that Vashun Blanchette will not mark his first Cup Match as club president by making a decision that at its heart would serve only to sow the seeds of division — not the inclusion that the Annual Classic has come to be known for.
What would be next? We accept tourists but no white Bermudians allowed through the gates of Somerset CC and Wellington Oval; in particular, those descendants of slaveholders?
That would be as odious as the unwelcoming signs that can be seen at one of our long-established private clubs: “Members Club Only. Keep Out. Tourists Welcome”.
Burch hopes a precedent could be set, with St George’s Cricket Club to pay it forward in 2019, thus airbrushing the Governor and his successors from the centrepiece of the most cherished period on the Bermuda calendar.
Rankin, who could no doubt do without the hassle, said he would respect the wishes of the clubs. But he should not be put in such an invidious position.
Not in 2018. Not in the age of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, for all that group’s shortcomings. Not when we want to be having “the conversation”.
After all, the Progressive Labour Party election slogan reads “Putting Bermudians First”, not “Putting Black Bermudians First”. If the latter is indeed the intent, someone needs to be upfront and say so, for only that can explain Burch’s obsession with making life uncomfortable for the Queen’s emissary.
Slavery was a horrible thing. Just dreadful. It is a stain on this country’s past that lingers on into the present.
While it is right that we should never ever forget, and also that we educate our youth of its origins and impact, it is not right that we act out looking for vengeance like tempestuous schoolchildren.
The Premier’s ambition to right the wrongs of a clearly racist past by having the Reverend Charles Vinton Monk pardoned posthumously, now that’s an attempt at revising history that we can all get behind — black and white.
Central to David Burt’s urgings was his seeming support of the fourth estate: “ ... journalists have a job to do and where they do it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, their work should be respected and a truly democratic society cannot be said to prosecute, persecute or move to silence the media ...”
A collector’s item of a passage for local hacks, especially those in this parish, to enshrine and hang above the mantelpiece.
It is difficult to see the Governor turning up his nose in typically British fashion to such a well-argued and well-researched request; likewise it is difficult to foretell that the Premier or another member of his Cabinet will cease taking potshots at Langton Hill when they don’t get their way.
The thin line between love and hate, which is so Bermuda, will endure.
Rankin recalled his previous posting as British ambassador to Nepal as a “baptism by fire”, having arrived only six days before a 7.8 earthquake rocked the South Asian outpost in the Himalayas. Those who commit fully to the notion that Bermuda is another world would have retorted with a cryptic cheekiness: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”