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Is this the beginning of the end for David Burt?

David Burt, the Premier, with his hopeful charges, Curtis Dickinson, left, and Curtis Richardson, on the eve of their by-election challenges in June 2018. Dickinson was successful in Warwick North East before being moved to the safer Pembroke South East in time for the 2020 General Election (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Picture the attendant photograph for a minute. Taken at a Progressive Labour Party family fun day, it represented everything that was fresh, young and, let’s say, progressive, about a movement on the rise: the green machine.

A tsunami that swept up everyone and everything in its path, for better or for worse, destroying any imminent hope for political equilibrium, and leaving in its wake a creaking Opposition that was suddenly shorn of some of its best and brightest, facing an uncertain future.

But there has been a gradual unravelling — some of it caused by the strains of the global pandemic, the rest by a haughtiness that is attendant with statistics such as 24-12, 25-11 (triggered by the resignation of Jeff Baron, the One Bermuda Alliance MP) and 30-6.

And in the past fortnight, those numbers appear to matter nowt as it has all come crashing down amid a sea of the very same uncertainty that had engulfed the OBA — Quo Fata Ferunt, if you will — leaving the PLP facing its greatest crisis since the autumn of 1985 when MPs Gilbert Darrell, Austin Thomas, Lionel Simmons and Walter Brangman were among six dissidents expelled for standing up to the leadership of Dame Lois Browne-Evans.

Since the July 2017 General Election, Curtis Dickinson’s is the fifth resignation that the Premier has forced or “reluctantly accepted” — six if you include Carika Weldon.

The most apt word to describe the first four — Wayne Caines, Zane DeSilva, Rolfe Commissiong, Curtis Richardson — is “embarrassing”.

Caines and DeSilva, whose pantomime characters might be feline for all the lives they’ve had, lost their Cabinet posts in national security and tourism respectively for breaking the very same laws on Covid-19 that they helped to draft. And for allowing themselves to be recorded while doing so — giving a new but still salacious meaning to the term Blu movie.

If their “dismissals” seemed harsh at the time, history has shown — with the loss of 121 Bermudian lives to date — how grave the situation would become.

Commissiong, long a thorn in Burt’s side for his effusively outspoken manner, had to go when his skeletons of inappropriate behaviour towards a woman somehow found their way out of the closet on the eve of an election.

Embarrassing, yes, for Commissiong but where the embarrassment began for Burt — who was roundly praised for the manner and haste with which he handled the Caines-DeSilva affair — was that the longtime Pembroke South East MP was not quite gone yet.

In a jaw-dropping few days, Commissiong went from persona non grata to Government Senate Leader and Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, an astounding show of tone-deafness from a premier who had hitherto presented himself to be among the most woke of leaders in this modern era.

Commissiong did not go quietly into the night, as is his wont, sparking debate in circles that his downfall was triggered internally, despite an “agreement” to step aside from Constituency 21 so that the very same Curtis Dickinson could move into the safe seat, having earlier kept young pups such as Jason Hayward at bay.

Hayward’s appetite was sated when Pembroke Central became available after the sudden passing of the sorely missed Walton Brown — and even then there was internal consternation, as party leadership overruled the wishes of the branch in C17.

But that’s another story.

Then we come to Richardson, representative, like Dickinson, of the fresh young things in politics who were in thrall to the youngest premier in Bermuda’s history.

He started so brightly in not only accepting the challenge to win an unwinnable seat in Paget East, but also in making a genuine fist of it against Scott Pearman after Grant Gibbons retired in 2018 — polling better than any PLP predecessor during the 2020 election.

That Richardson was one of only six candidates who were beaten on that “gloriously green” October 1 day was irrelevant; he came across as a winner.

Until we learnt that he doesn’t like to pay his rent. And, worse, that he has a predilection for intimidating old ladies.

How much of this the Premier knew when he appointed Richardson to the Senate is not certain. But he knew something. And that, again, reveals a disregard for or tone-deafness about public perception.

Then we come to Dickinson.

The worst anyone can say about the now former finance minister was that he allowed himself to become a pawn during the “insider trading” that resulted in him filling the void that was left by Commissiong’s departure from Pembroke South East.

But that’s politics and the PLP may feel that the ends justified the means if it meant that one of its big hitters was now immune to the vicissitudes of a fickle electorate.

On the flip side, Dickinson will go down as the most roundly respected of the PLP higher-ups. No one, not even the most cruel of our sometimes cruel commenters, have a bad word to say about a man who dispensed with the politics of his appointment and got on with the job with a vast degree of knowhow and integrity.

One of the benefits of the House of Assembly sessions being held remotely during Covid is that we do not have to be subjected to some of the most boorish behaviour imaginable — all on the people’s dime. To his credit, such conduct was beneath Dickinson and we suspect will remain so as he joins some heavyweights in the shadows.

The handling of the Caroline Bay affair was among his finest work, determined as he was that the unpaid contractors would get what was owed to them and that the Government would not go down a path that might leave the taxpayer holding the bag.

It is this same cussedness which makes plausible that disagreement on the way forward in the Gencom matter might have caused a fissure that could not be welded, leading the finance minister to do the honourable thing and retreat to the back benches.

That he has not retired from politics altogether is telling, prompting a view among some that he could either mount a leadership contest at the upcoming delegates conference or be counted on to lend support to someone who might.

While he’s not the guy to challenge Burt outright, having a man of Curtis Dickinson’s standing in your corner is a powerful thing for a wannabe party leader and premier.

Whither the fates carry us.

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Published February 16, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated February 16, 2022 at 2:43 pm)

Is this the beginning of the end for David Burt?

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