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‘Courageous’ FDM deserves a hearing

Viewers of the old yet still startlingly accurate British TV series Yes Minister will know that when the hapless hero, Cabinet minister Jim Hacker, came up with a bold new idea, his civil servant, Sir Humphrey, would quickly damn it with praise in a very British way.

If the idea would cost votes, Sir Humphrey would describe it as “very brave”. If it would cost the Government election, it was braver still. It was “very courageous”. And Sir Humphrey would then work to ensure the policy never saw the light of day.

It is tempting to describe the Free Democratic Movement's platform as somewhere between very brave and very courageous.

To do so would no doubt get a few cheap laughs, and it would be easy to go on to ridicule certain elements of the platform. There are some elements that, taken in isolation, may be deemed to be a little flaky, or, God forbid in these times, idealistic.

In part, too, this is because the leader of the new party, Marc Bean, has a history of making intemperate remarks, some of which doubtless cost him the leadership of the Progressive Labour Party. Those who wish to Google him can and, again, they could get some cheap laughs.

But if voters take the time to read the FDM's platform carefully, and time is running out, they may be in for a surprise. It is breathtakingly honest in some of its analyses of Bermuda's problems. As Mr Bean has since done in the leader interviews this week, it lays bare the utter hypocrisy of the PLP's leadership on the question of same-sex marriage.

It is courageous to the point of political suicide on immigration reform, essentially laying down a path to citizenship that requires little more than seven years' residence in Bermuda.

It would, to a much greater degree than the supposedly pro-business One Bermuda Alliance, open Bermuda to a measure of freewheeling capitalism and enterprise, which suggests Mr Bean must have been in a minority of one on economic issues when he was in the PLP.

Some of its proposals require fleshing out. It advocates eliminating payroll tax, but does not explain how it would replace the lost revenue, apart from through a relatively dramatic shrinking of government.

But other policies are remarkably innovative and would potentially spark an economic revitalisation and expansion of the middle class that Bermuda has not seen since the heyday of the Swan Administration in the 1980s.

The FDM would set Bermuda's schools free by introducing academies and individual school autonomy, which would end the mediocrity that has condemned public-school children for decades. The dead hand of the Ministry of Education would be replaced by a smaller ministry responsible only for setting a national curriculum, while an independent inspectorate would monitor standards and achievement.

In healthcare, the FDM proposes a mutually owned insurance company in which the policyholders would be the owners of the company, and savings in healthcare would be returned to the owners through lower premiums. For-profit health insurers or a single-payer, taxpayer-funded model — the two models most frequently debated — would be gone.

There is more. The FDM rightly says Bermuda's government pension schemes are headed towards bankruptcy. The FDM would raise the retirement age to 70, which would immediately delay that problem, while converting the schemes for new employees to defined contribution plans. Which would solve it.

Some of the FDM's ideas may prove to be unworkable; others may turn out to be too politically costly. But the FDM deserves credit for this — it is willing to raise and discuss new ideas. Its first response to new thinking is not “no”. And it is willing to say where Bermuda's challenges really lie.

At a time of unprecedented challenges, the island's two main parties have campaigned on the same recycled policy solutions, the same noncommittal language packed with escape clauses, the same incremental changes that in fact change almost nothing. These unimaginative policies have seen the island stumble through more than a decade of recession or stagnation, while a permanent underclass of the unemployed grows and Bermuda's brightest young people never return.

It is becoming obvious that David Burt, the Premier, not only called the election to take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis, but also to strangle the FDM — a genuine threat to his office — at birth.

At least the FDM is willing to recognise that Bermuda needs new ideas and bold thinking, and is willing to admit some hard truths about our island home. Regardless of how its candidates perform today, FDM's ideas should not be allowed to die.

Get out and vote!

There have been some remarks on social media and elsewhere asking if there is any point in voting today.

For some, there is an assumption that if the PLP is going to win handily, as polls predict, then there's either no point in voting for an opposing party or there's a complacency that the present government does not need more votes.

It can be argued also that choosing not to vote is in itself a political act: that the best answer to the paucity of choice in this election or to the unspeakable arrogance of calling an election in the middle of hurricane season and a pandemic — while disenfranchising many first-time student voters at the same time — is to protest by boycotting the whole sorry spectacle.

All these assumptions are wrong. If the last decade has taught the world anything, it is to expect the unexpected. There were those in Britain who assumed a vote for Brexit would never happen who now find themselves on a fast train out of Europe. And there were Americans who thought that there was no real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, so they either did not vote at all or wasted their votes on third-party candidates. There appears to be less appetite for that kind of decision in 2020.

In Bermuda, the choice between the main parties may be unappetising for some. But as stated earlier, there is a third party that does offer some new ideas and there are distinct differences between the main parties.

There will be voters who wish to reward the PLP for its management of Covid-19. There will be others who may feel the Government did what any government should, but who recognise that a large majority or an ineffective opposition is never healthy for any community. And some may simply wish to issue a warning to the main parties to stop being so complacent. There are other alternatives. But by not voting, none of these things can be achieved.

More importantly than that, choosing not to vote means that this vital right is being taken for granted. Even though it is a right, it is not guaranteed. There are millions of people around the world who have no say in how they are governed. Bermudians do — and they should exercise it at every opportunity.

Until 1948, no women could vote in Bermuda. Until 1963 and most fully since 1968, only people who owned a certain amount of property could choose the Government of the day, rules that disenfranchised many black Bermudians and poor whites as well. Mary Prince, Gladys Misick Morrell, E.F. Gordon, Eustace Cann, W.L. Tucker, Roosevelt Brown and many more fought hard and risked all so that we could choose our government in free and fair elections.

When we choose not to vote, we dishonour ourselves and we dishonour their legacy.

So vote today.

Worth a look: Marc Bean, leader of the FDM, has some interesting proposals for Bermuda (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published October 01, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated October 01, 2020 at 9:04 am)

‘Courageous’ FDM deserves a hearing

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