Scott sacking is bad politics
Politics isn’t Sunday school, Lawrence Scott said after he was unceremoniously sacked from the Cabinet last week.
But this was still a surprisingly ruthless move from David Burt, the Premier, and even for Mr Scott, who saw his own father forced out of the Cabinet Office in an internal coup, this had to hurt.
Along with the sacking of Ernest Peets as culture, youth and sport minister and Senate leader, it is also difficult to understand from a tactical perspective, let alone a strategic one.
Mr Burt had just survived, with perhaps less ease than he would have liked, a challenge from Curtis Dickinson, the former finance minister.
If Mr Burt was surprised that one in three of those voting in the Progressive Labour Party delegates conference wanted him out, he might been expected to do one of two things.
The first would have been to try to heal the obvious wounds within the party and to draw its disparate wings together. Indeed, Mr Burt discussed this before the vote, saying the party needed to go through a process of reconciliation.
The other option would have been to reward his supporters and exile his opponents in the wake of the vote, thus sending a message that you are either with Mr Burt or against him — and the way to advance a political career is to be with him.
Mr Burt did not remove any ministers who might have been suspected to be opponents.
Instead Mr Burt sacked two of the people who supported him, and rewarded Owen Darrell, his Chief of Staff, with a Cabinet seat.
It may be that neither minister was fully up to the job and, having secured his own position, Mr Burt decided to get rid of them.
This, inevitably, was not how Mr Burt explained it. Applying an inapt football metaphor, he explained that this was part of the rotation of his large squad, but this does not hold water since if he was a football manager, his failure to put on a sub after pulling Mr Scott left him a player down on the field.
Mr Burt explained that this was a cost-saving measure while Bermuda faces difficult economic circumstances. This will get him some credit from those who begrudge ministers their big salaries and GP cars.
But even if this was an economically sound decision — and that is debatable since a ministerial salary does not change things much when the Government owes billions of dollars — it was still a strange political one.
Why make unnecessary political enemies, especially of Mr Scott, who was historically one of Mr Burt’s biggest backers?
Perhaps Mr Burt genuinely wanted a smaller and more effective team. And in fairness, Mr Scott had a mixed record in transport. While he successfully steered the ministry through the difficult waters of Covid, he was out of his depth dealing with sanctions on Bermuda’s aircraft and shipping registries at the beginning of the war in Ukraine and had confrontations with the bus and taxi sectors that a more adept minister might have avoided.
Against that, Mr Scott seemed to be performing better, and this was still an unnecessary making of an enemy.
Dr Peets’s demotion seems more clear-cut. Mr Darrell has been a pitbull for Mr Burt where Dr Peets is less confrontational and comes across as a kinder individual. Apparently, Mr Burt prefers aggressive politicians to decent human beings. This demotion may redound better to Dr Peets’s character than it does to Mr Darrell’s. As Mr Scott said, politics, especially internal PLP politics, is not Sunday school.
Like some other leaders, Mr Burt may like the idea of being unpredictable, and of pitting the various PLP factions against each other.
But this is a dangerous game.
This newspaper warned in 2020 that a big majority is not an unalloyed blessing. Restive backbenchers and increasing numbers of former ministers are a dangerous combination, especially when party discipline is less critical than when there is a small majority.
To date, Mr Burt has been quite adroit at handing out patronage and board chairmanships, which ensure there are few idle hands doing the devil’s work.
But in sending Mr Scott to the outer reaches, Mr Burt may have created a new enemy, and one with deep family roots in the PLP.
Worse, as The Royal Gazette reports today, it looks like Mr Burt broke his word. That will not build loyalty within the party.
It goes without saying that no one gets a Cabinet seat without earning it every day, but it is also true that making enemies for no good reason, and looking petty in the process, is bad politics.
Mr Burt may come to regret this move.