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Division and opportunism

We are more divided than we have ever been is the claim. But a claim is all it is, all part of the theatre of politics brought on by the pandemic in which we find ourselves. There are no actual means by which such claims can be substantiated. The greater majority are silent and compliant.

Hundreds march on the Cabinet building in protest of the Government’s Covid restrictions and protocols (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

End of story? Sadly, no. The one thing that is clearly evident is that any division is certainly pronounced, although arguably no more pronounced than we have seen in the past on other issues. Public protests are nothing new.

There are, however, some noticeable differences these days.

Traditional political and racial fault lines appear to be blurring. While it may be way too early to draw any firm conclusions, this may ultimately turn out to be a good thing. People are now focusing on issues rather than colour or party. Today it’s about the efficacy of vaccinations, or the need for quarantining — where and how, and for how long — and masks or no masks.

One other significant difference is the role social media now plays. Users get to pull down and advance any conspiracy theory they fancy and pass it off as fact. Add to this the ferocity and vitriol of commentators who advance unfounded assertions behind anonymous pen names — sometimes one person using multiple handles.

Meanwhile, as the old saw goes: readers are not trolling for information, but for affirmation of their preconceived views.

But before I go any further, let me end the suspense for those readers who want to know and may not want to read any farther once they do know. I am supportive of our government and what it is trying its best to achieve. It is, in my view, acting on mainstream medical science and adopting the advice of its medical advisers based on what has happened here and elsewhere in the world.

In short, the Government is simply addressing the pandemic as a major public health issue — which it is.

We are all aware of the disagreement surrounding the pandemic and the responses it has prompted. Disagreement is a healthy sign in any democracy. There needs to be meaningful means to express that disagreement and have it taken into account.

The silver lining to the Covid cloud that has enveloped us is that we should focus on how we can improve on those means.

First, credit here to those who take their challenge of the quarantine law to our courts of law rather than to the streets. Appeals to the judicial process, which is independent of the executive and impartial, is the cornerstone of a sound democracy. That right is enshrined in the Bermuda Constitution Order: to make the case that an infringement on our rights is neither reasonably required nor reasonably justified. There is the opportunity for full, open argument on the facts — and we, the public, get to listen in as well.

The one drawback is that constitutional challenge doesn’t come cheaply. OK, agreed: so let’s work on a way to make this option more accessible. This option is important if we want to be a community of laws and order where justice is available to all.

Then there is the politics of it all. Oppositions tend to do what oppositions do, and that is where there is discontent: look for a wedge, exploit it and, if possible, ride the tiger’s tail into power. It has worked in the past, but it is very short-term response and not a long-term solution to a deeper problem.

Quick question: had the Opposition been the Government would it have acted contrary to the advice and recommendations of its medical advisers within the Ministry of Health? Deep down, we all know the answer to that question.

What there needs to be in our system of governance is greater opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. This includes the right to put questions to those who are advising the Government, and to those who have a hand in making and carrying out policy. Witnesses may be called who hold contrary views. Ideas and solutions can be probed and tested, and all in the public eye. Technology today makes this possible — and desirable.

This should be the work of a cross-party parliamentary committee of backbench MPs, Government and Opposition. Press conferences have their limitations.

I have made the argument before and there are no apologies for making it again. Parliamentary opportunities such as this ought to become standard operating procedure on all issues of national importance.

Bermuda needs a deliberate shift in direction towards greater co-operation and collaboration. This is the way to build community — and a greater sense of community, which is that we are responsible not just for ourselves but for others, is what is needed in times such as these. Unfortunately, as we have seen here and elsewhere, it takes only a few to ruin it for the rest of us.

I love the song, too, but Bermuda is not another world — at least not on this case.

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Published July 20, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated July 20, 2021 at 7:52 am)

Division and opportunism

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