The PLP is peddling ‘alternative facts’
“You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave — alternative facts.”
— Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway
Bermuda has once again been provided with an excellent example of American politics that is immediately relevant to our state of political affairs. On January 21, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer made a claim about attendance at the presidential inauguration that was impossible to believe:
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”
His statement was impossible to believe because there was so much factual evidence that contradicted what he provided. But, contradicting factual evidence and defending half-truths is entirely common in this era of post-truth politics, and this is precisely what Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, attempted to do.
In the Bermuda context, we will once again turn to the Progressive Labour Party's good governance press conference. During that event, Opposition leader David Burt made a claim that was just as preposterous as Spicer's was. With hardly a flinch or the blink of an eye, Burt had the following to state about the PLP's good governance track record:
“Throughout our history the PLP has always pushed for better governance and better government in Bermuda. Almost every progressive democratic reform that has taken place in Bermuda has been due to PLP pressure while in opposition, or by PLP action while in government.”
A part of me was waiting for the sound of a punchline rimshot, but Burt was dead serious. To support his position, he listed many initiatives that proves, in his mind, that the PLP has an enviable track record with regard to integrity. But, the PLP's actual track record paints a far different picture. In particular, Burt's final three good governance examples fall squarely into the category of alternative facts.
For example, according to Burt, the PLP enacted public access to information legislation. The facts, however, are that the PLP first raised Pati under the former Premier, Alex Scott, way back in 2003, but it was arguably deprioritised under the new Premier, Ewart Brown.
Pati also did not get much farther under Premier Paula Cox. Whatever it is that the PLP may claim to have achieved between 2003 and 2012, the fact of the matter is that Pati was brought into effect by the One Bermuda Alliance in 2015.
Burt's second-last example is a claim that the PLP enacted good governance legislation. Although that much is true, Burt has deliberately failed to mention that the PLP's good governance legislation was created to address multiple concerns raised about poor governance within the ranks of the PLP.
Back in 2010 and 2011, the Auditor-General issued two special reports, one that specifically addressed the misuse of government funds. With an election on the horizon, Cox had little choice but to do what she could to try to clean up the party.
Burt's final example was the PLP's introduction of whistleblower legislation. Again, that much is also true, but Burt has failed to speak to the political climate at the time. Going back as far as the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal in 2002, we can find multiple claims, rumours and even investigations, about PLP ministers allegedly abusing their powers to manipulate contracts or taking financial kickbacks. Common sense tells us that Cox implemented whistleblower legislation to offer protection to persons who had the courage to come forward.
Bermuda must also weigh Burt's claims against the recently concluded Commission of Inquiry. No matter how many alternative facts he tries to present to the public, it is impossible to believe that a government that practised good governance could have such an appalling appearance before the commission. When MPs were not failing to appear as requested, they were offering the most twisted excuses for lapses in good governance. And, when they ran out of twisted excuses, they retreated to claims of racism and sought to paint the commission as a racist body engaged in a “witch-hunt” or a “lynching” with intent to destroy the character of black MPs who supposedly tried to level the economic playing field for black Bermudians.
Even if the commission concludes that there was “unethical but not criminal” conduct, as was the case with the BHC investigation, one would have to be wilfully blind not to see that the PLP track record is not one of affirmative action, but one of extreme cronyism regardless of the colour of their friends' skin.
In summary, Burt is trying to paint a picture of a political party that has proactively looked after the public's finances and has had an unquestionable record of integrity. The PLP track record is, however, quite different from Burt's alternative facts.
In my strong opinion, the Opposition leader needs to get in touch with reality just as Kellyanne Conway does. What NBC's Chuck Todd stated to Conway is equally applicable to Burt's revisionist history of Bermuda:
“Alternative facts aren't facts, they are falsehoods.”
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