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Reflections on independent candidates

Sir John Swan on nomination day for Constituency 10 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dear Sir,

Here’s a question: “Who would win a football game between Pelé, the greatest player of all time, and a team full of amateurs?”

The answer is easy: the amateur team. Because one player alone, no matter how great, cannot beat a team of 11 players. The same is true for baseball, basketball or rugby because they are intrinsically team sports.

Although government is not a sport, it most certainly is a team effort — not by choice, but by necessity. Even a dictator cannot do everything alone. The dictator needs others to carry out the boss’s demands.

The form of government called democracy is also a team effort, whether it be a parliamentary democracy such as ours or a congressional democracy like in the United States.

In our version of parliamentary democracy, a team or multiple teams are envisioned in the document that governs the government — the Bermuda Constitution. Our constitution says the representative with the support of the majority of the members of the House of Assembly shall become the Premier and be asked by the Crown’s representative to form a government. The members of the House who step forward to support the Premier are, in fact, a team.

But the words “form a government” have a special meaning, too. The Premier will choose a smaller team to “form a government”. That team is the Cabinet, the executive branch of our government. So there is also a team within a team.

How does a would-be premier demonstrate to the Crown’s representative that he or she has the support of the majority of the House? Usually, it is because the members supporting the leader are part of an even bigger team, a team of individuals that have demonstrably come together and adhered to a certain ideology, set of principles or policy objectives that they wish to see enacted. This wider group of people, this team, is the political party.

At present, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in our country. Various remedies have been proposed to improve the situation, one of which is to have so-called “independents” elected as Members of Parliament. It is argued the party system is the problem. Well, once upon a time, before 1963, Bermuda’s Members of Parliament were all independents. Let’s see how that worked.

First, before political parties, most Members of Parliament were connected to the so-called “40 Thieves”, whose control of Bermuda’s economy, political system and social constructs was virtually complete. Despite the racial demographics of the 1950s, parliament was about 80 per cent white. The remaining Black members were featured in Eva Hodgson’s book Second-Class Citizens, First-Class Men.

But even among the independent, ruling, White oligarchy, those members divided into smaller “teams”. Beneath the veneer of members’ independence, the White members divided into two broad camps corresponding with the leading institutions of the day: the Bank of Bermuda/Trimingham’s/CD&P camp versus the Bank of Butterfield/Smith’s/AS&K camp. Even during the era of “independents”, they gathered into groups and functioned and competed in a similar way as political parties do today.

Why? Because governing, by necessity, is a team endeavour. Individuals cannot do it alone. There is no “i” in team.

Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once said: “War is politics by other means.”

Wars are fought by teams; they’re called armies, navies and air forces. One can think of politics as a contest of words, ideas, ideologies and moral values. And politics is contested by teams, by our political parties. Parties are groups of broadly like-minded people, who come together, promulgate policies, plans and strategies to run countries and carry them into the future.

In Bermuda, when we are dissatisfied about something, we often blame the “system”. That’s because, in a small community, it is easier to blame the system, an abstract inanimate thing, rather than the people involved. It is easier to focus anger at the system, than to focus on someone, perhaps someone you know. Such people could be our relatives, friends, former schoolmates or folks you are bound to see on the streets on occasion. You never have to make eye contact with a system that you have criticised.

And yet it’s not about the system. It’s about the people who run the system. It’s about whether they are people of integrity, whether they are competent, whether they have enough humility to listen to others, whether they can bring people together and whether they have a practical vision for the future.

People complain that the calibre of people in the public square is not like it used to be. Look at the “first-class men” who featured in Dr Hodgson’s book, virtually all of them were professionals or prominent businessmen. Where are such people today? The answer: sitting on the sidelines.

Granted, the intensity of mission for those 1950s men, on a scale of 1 to 10, was a 10. These men were staring down apartheid! The sense of mission today is not remotely the same. That is not to say there is not an urgency to improve things today. The urgency is real and the complexity is far greater.

Moreover, none of those “first-class men” were doing it for the money. The compensation was almost invisible. In fact, their fight took them away from their “day jobs”, thereby costing them money. Unfortunately, there are several present Members of Parliament who have no other sources of income, and therefore are not likely to rock the boat.

This is not a systemic problem; this is a people problem.

After all, in a democracy, people get the government they vote for. If the country is dissatisfied with the calibre of Members of Parliament, the problem is not with the Members, it is with the folks that voted them in. If you voted for someone because he is your cousin, or belongs to your church, or is a nice guy but does not have the ability to meaningfully contribute to a brighter future for Bermuda, then perhaps you should be more thoughtful about your vote next time.

The dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in Bermuda is because too many people treat their vote like their support for a football team: football fans will support their team whether they are champions or well below average. When people realise their vote is not like cheering on their favourite football team, we might get a better calibre of people in our parliament.

To all of those who are dissatisfied with the state of our country, get involved. But if you want to make a real difference, you have to join a team; otherwise, your efforts will be wasted.

It should be remembered that even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone. He had Tonto.



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