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Questions of patriotism

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” the great Samuel Johnson once said, and while it would be completely unfair to characterise the Premier in that way, her use of patriotism in attacking Shadow Finance Minister ET (Bob) Richards carried more than a hint of desperation.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with genuine patriotism and love of one’s country, and politicians can disagree among themselves all day without having that love questioned.

At the same time, a politician who constantly talks down his own country’s interest while talking up another country’s would probably have a very short-lived career.

But Ms Cox, in accusing Mr Richards of lack of patriotism because he said he agreed with some of what Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush said, did just what she accused Mr Richards of she played politics.

Ms Cox claimed that Mr Richards had disagreed with Bermuda’s approach to the European insurance directive known as Solvency II.

Mr Richards would have been within his rights to do so disagreements over foreign policy are not unknown but in fact he didn’t.

Where he did agree with Mr Bush was his comments that while Bermuda had talked about easing work permit controls and term limits, among other things, the Cayman Islands had done it, and therefore could be more attractive to foreign investment than Bermuda.

Mr Richards has the right to say this. It is not disloyal. In his role as Shadow Finance Minister, he has an obligation to say where he thinks Bermuda is falling short, and a responsibility to warn against increased competition.

That Ms Cox should first misinterpret Mr Richards’ comments and then attack him personally is a worrying sign for the upcoming general election.

Mr Cox and her party may well be able to make a case for the retention of term limits and other protectionist policies. But it’s not right to take statements out of context and to then use them to question your opponent’s integrity.

A great deal of that has been seen in the ongoing bloodbath otherwise known as the Republican presidential primary and anyone who thinks that process is good for democracy needs their heads examined.

Bermuda’s politicians should pledge now not to follow that route. The 2007 general election was bad enough, but one of the reasons Ms Cox was welcomed in as Premier was because she seemed to rise above the petty and ugly negative politics that characterised that PLP campaign.

In fact, the very aggressive attitude of the Cayman Islands leadership, both business and political, is worrying. That it too seems desperate is worth noting, but does not mean it should be disregarded.

Cayman and other jurisdictions would like to take Bermuda’s international business away, and Bermuda needs to ensure that does not happen.

Internal bickering does not always help, it is true, but the sometimes pronounced ambivalence of the members of the PLP towards international business and the expatriates that staff it is precisely what is being used by places like Cayman to lure the business away.

That’s where Bermuda should be focusing its attention, not on artificial fights over who is more or less patriotic.

ET (Bob) Richards

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Published February 24, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 24, 2012 at 7:53 am)

Questions of patriotism

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