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Elixirs and National Heroes

Sir John Swan confirms his return to politics at a press conference yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

So that’s it, it’s official. Sir John Swan was not really doing this as some sort of publicity stunt; the most senior of our senior statesmen is truly unhappy with the manner in which the country is being run, and with our politics, and is determined to do something about it — even if it means having to pound the pavements and knock on every door in Smith’s North twice inside the next 20 months. First for the by-election on May 22 and then, if successful and possibly even if not, for the General Election that must follow before the end of 2025.

For those with the slightest concern that at age 88 Sir John does not possess the stamina to slug it out with his grands and great-grands in the Lower House, there is plenty of global precedent to support this most indefatigable of politicians.

Samuel Young was 96 when he was the MP for East Cavan in Ireland in 1918, a distant time when the Irish were still part of the British Parliament. And, more recently on February 27, the Indian politician Shafiqur Rahman Barq died in office aged 93, having been re-elected as an MP in 2019 for the socialist Samajwadi Party.

The oldest serving MP in Britain is Sir William Cash, 83, a Conservative who has won the people’s vote at ten general elections, presides over the Stone constituency in the West Midlands, and gives every impression that he is ready to go on and on and on.

Sipping from a celestially ordained elixir, our favourite octogenarian gives that very same impression, whether or not he is successful in the by-election next month against Robert King, of the One Bermuda Alliance, and Lindsay Simmons, of the Progressive Labour Party.

The odds are that Sir John will rock the boat for both parties, splitting the vote in a constituency that in modern times has not been a shoo-in for either.

The estimable Michael Dunkley, whose retirement has made possible this latest round of fun and games in the tetchy Bermuda political landscape, saw off two fierce challenges from Ernest Peets in 2017 and 2020, having already sent two-times incumbent Patrice Minors (née Parris) into retirement after the 2012 election.

But rocking the boat is one thing; winning is quite another.

Sir John tiptoed into this three-man race, suggesting he wished to get a feel from the roughly 1,300 voters of Smith’s North before committing.

Apparently, he has. What next?

For now, he aims to become a trendsetter, forging a path for emboldened others to follow as prospective independent candidates — thus hastening a departure from the very same Westminster system that brought Sir John such success in his glory, glory United Bermuda Party days.

“The time has come now that Bermuda has to really seriously consider, does it want to continue with the system that’s not working?” he said yesterday when confirming that he would contest the by-election.

“We’ve got to a stage now where party loyalty is the No 1 thing and whatever the party decides or the leader of the party decides, people get behind and blindly follow the leader.”

How might Bermuda be different today had the people got behind Sir John blindly when as premier he presented independence as the way forward in 1995. The rejection was so stark that the National Hero-in-waiting fell on his sword immediately and resigned from politics.

In reality, though, he has never gone away.

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