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Consultant joins calls for change to political system

Corey Butterfield backs the idea of having more independent MPs (File photograph)

A political consultant has joined calls for a change in Bermuda’s political system, claiming that the constitution at present does not “enhance democracy”.

Corey Butterfield argued that Bermuda would be better served if governed by independent MPs who had no political party affiliation.

Mr Butterfield spoke out after former premier Sir John Swan announced last week that he was considering running as an independent candidate in next month’s Smith’s North by-election.

Sir John, who was premier between 1982 and 1995, said that Bermuda’s Westminster political system — in which winner takes all — had become toxic and tribal in the past 30 years, with MPs pressured into pursuing party loyalty rather than the interests of their constituents.

Sir John’s announcement has already won the support of former Progressive Labour Party MP Rolfe Commissiong.

Mr Butterfield has now also endorsed Sir John’s position, claiming that the PLP Government had “invincible parliamentary power” because of its massive 30-6 majority and a weak opposition One Bermuda Alliance.

Mr Butterfield was employed as a political consultant for the OBA during its one time in office between 2012 and 2017.

He was subsequently taken on by the PLP after its election victory in July 2017.

Mr Butterfield said yesterday: “Sir John’s call for independent candidates is both timely and familiar.

“It is timely because the current 30-6 ratio in the House does not enhance democracy, and some voters are actively seeking alternatives to the current system.

“However, it is also a familiar concept as the call for political parties to be discarded can be traced back at least 150 years.”

Mr Butterfield referred to a book published in 1860 by Thomas Godet in which the author argued that the divisiveness of party politics had “all but quashed public spirit”.

In the book — Bermuda: Its History, Geology, Climate, Products, Agriculture, Commerce, and Government — Godet writes: “It is utterly impossible for any one unacquainted with Bermuda to form an idea of the length to which party spirit is carried. It enters into the most private relationship of life.

“In private society too, the distinction is very strongly marked; families of different parties do not mingle; and even tradesmen find their custom affected in a considerable degree by these political divisions.

“Although party spirit is in itself so thoroughly unimportant and contemptible to all, excepting those who are under its influence, yet it deserves this notice in as far as it influences the state of society, in impeding the progress of civilisation and the march of improvement. It has extinguished public spirit, which exists only among a few, for the petty triumph of party is preferred at all times to the public good.”

Mr Butterfield rounded on the OBA, claiming that the party’s lack of an alternative vision cemented the PLP administration’s grip on power.

He said: “It appears that the Opposition is unable to produce the accountability, alternative ideas or the innovation that a robust, 400-year parliamentary democracy requires.

“Bermuda’s version of the Westminster system has given us a 30-6 House, and one where in the Seventies, the UBP held 31-9 in favour of that government; so, this is the second government with invincible parliamentary power and democracy suffered then as it does now.”

Mr Butterfield pointed to other jurisdictions that were thriving under a government of independent MPs.

He said: “Whenever I am asked about reform, I mention the Isle of Man, whose population size and economy is like ours. During a General Election, candidates run in constituencies, and the winners then meet to elect a Cabinet.

“That body meets and produces a throne speech for the ensuing year.”

The Isle of Man — a self-governing British Crown Dependency — has a population of about 85,000 and is located off the northwest coast of England. King Charles III is the head of state, who is represented on the island by a governor.

Its low-tax economy is largely service industry-based, with insurance and offshore banking being the main sources of revenue.

In its 2021 General Election, the Manx Labour Party won two seats and the Liberal Vannin Party won one seat. The remaining 21 seats were won by independent candidates.

Mr Butterfield said that the Isle of Man system had resulted in political stability and a boom economy — and was an example that Bermuda could follow.

He said: “Although both the UK Labour and Conservative parties have a presence in the Isle of Man, out of 24 seats, independent candidates hold 21. That has been the usual and approximate ratio of independent MPs versus party MPs and might be a useful example for us to analyse.

“Sir John is following in the footsteps of many of our predecessors who felt and knew this Westminster system destroys national unity while ensuring Britain’s control over its territories.

“I am glad the conversation about a new way has begun, and I look forward to our society’s consideration and discussion of this voting revolution.”

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