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A political pantomime

You don't need cartoonist Peter Woolcock's highly developed sense of the absurd to recognise the comic possibilities — and improbabilities — of Bermudian politics.

The House of Assembly has, of course, long been the setting for low farce as well as high drama.

But of late it's also become the venue for a type of degraded political pantomime.

Some recent Parliamentary sessions have been top-heavy with all of the slapstick, buffoonery, sexual innuendo, sneering villains and even audience interaction normally only associated with the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society's annual Christmas production.

Last Friday's debacle saw the panto elements reach a warped apogee of sorts. First, a member of the visitor's gallery almost coming to blows with Opposition Leader Marc Bean after they allegedly engaged in some unpleasant verbal sparring. Then Members of Parliament squared off for what almost degenerated into a full-scale melee outside the debating chamber.

These riotous scenes and what followed — a procession of indignantly self-righteous Opposition MPs marching to the Hamilton Police Station to report an alleged assault — might have had a certain dubious seasonal appropriateness. After all, this year's pantomime, The Pied Piper, has been delayed until January and audiences are probably pining for some traditional knock-about comedy at this point.

But that's the best which can be said for these antics.

Such cheap theatrics and risible posturing were entirely inappropriate by any other yardstick. Unparliamentary, undignified and completely unnecessary, MPs on both sides of the House brought not only themselves and the Island's political system into disrepute but smeared all of Bermuda by association.

Last week the eyes of the world were actively focused on us because of the announcement the 2017 America's Cup will be held here. So the vulgar conduct of our politicians hardly reinforced the image of a mature, sophisticated and polished micro-jurisdiction which we had unrolled to the global media just days earlier.

And with an increasing number of Bermudians, particularly young people, becoming not just disenchanted with politics but actively estranged from the entire political process, what have been described as the “Friday Night Fights” can only have further accelerated this creeping ennui.

Elder statesmen from across the Bermudian political spectrum were quick to condemn this ludicrous Parliamentary spectacle. All pointed out that a clear demarcation line exists between even the most heated cut-and-thrust which marks Parliamentary debate from time to time and the type of bare-knuckles thuggery we almost witnessed on Friday. All urged a more restrained, thoughtful and professional approach to handling the people's business. And all appear to have been roundly ignored by the shallow, self-absorbed mediocrities who now fill too many House seats.

Spare a thought when the House reconvenes today for Speaker of the House Randolph Horton, the man whose unenviable task it is to try and impose order on the increasingly chaotic scenes in Parliament. A veteran of the Bermuda education system, it's doubtful this firm but fair disciplinarian ever had to endure the type of systemic bad behaviour in our schools which he is now routinely confronted with by lawmakers.

Mr. Horton's job is made all the more difficult given the muted public reaction to last week's Parliamentary panto. Politics arguably remains the most popular team sport in Bermuda and too many of us are still willing to toadishly toe our respective party line rather than publicly take issue with our elected representatives even when they engage in the most reprehensible behaviour.

Frankly, this is another example of the collective bad faith we engage in too often, one of those occasions when everyone tacitly agrees to ignore or talk around what everyone knows to be true.

In future let's keep the pantomime confined to the City Hall's Earl Cameron Theatre. If our politicians want to demonstrate their rudimentary talents for broad comedy, rapid-fire double talk and, clumsy roughhousing, they might want to contact the BMDS. There might still be some openings for bit parts in The Pied Piper.

The House of Assembly ¬ Photo by David Skinner

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Published December 12, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 12, 2014 at 11:49 am)

A political pantomime

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