Who is left to keep our leaders in check?
Like it or not, only members and supporters of the PLP can criticize the government
Friday, January 04, 2008 11:42 AM
The PLP successfully dismissed its critics over the last year, but it did more than that: It completely trashed them.
The UBP was "morally bankrupt" and its criticisms were the "ravings" of desperate people.
The Accountant General was a "vigilante" and a "criminal". The man who leaked damaging BHC documents was a "demented deviant."
Business critics were "alarmist". Guest workers should be afraid to make comments on politics, the Immigration Minister warned.
People who criticize their employers' policies "would expect to be dismissed," the Immigration Minister warned, when a doctor was sacked for criticizing the closure of the hospital's medical clinic.
As for the media, they were "in cahoots" with the UBP and controlled by whites. The Premier rarely agreed to be interviewed, and then only with reporters of his own choosing.
He would not, of course, answer "plantation" questions.
There were critics - both ordinary citizens and Government planners - over planning and development issues. But the Government sidestepped those by issuing Special Development Orders.
Even the criticisms of the highest court, the Privy Council, were shrugged aside when it ruled against the Premier and his Government: "I am protected," the Premier proclaimed, "by a higher power than the Privy Council."
There were plenty of critics, of course, among ordinary voters. But these criticisms were dismissed in the most effective way possible: They were outvoted.
Like a lot of other Bermudians, I was hoping that voters would send the current PLP leadership a message - even just a small one - by lowering the popular vote percentage just a little.
That didn't happen.
The PLP held on to the exact same number of seats it held before the election, and slightly increased its popular vote as well.
The election victory effectively quashed any criticism from voters, but also from the Opposition. Its leader lost his seat and is no longer the leader. The party is struggling to find a new leader, and many of its members and supporters now think its best move would be to completely disband.
So where does that leave our Government.
Are all critics "vicious and vile opponents"? Is there any room left for well-meaning criticism?
Their advice, to put it gently, has been discarded.
Yet every Bermudian knows that every Government is burdened with faults.
Governments need to be questioned and challenged, criticized and opposed. Critics need to speak out. That is the safeguard of democracy. It is what separates us from, say, sheep and North Koreans.
But who will our leaders listen to?
When the opposing voices of an official Opposition, and the media and the courts and the foreigners and the civil servants and the white people are dismissed as biased or corrupt or wrong or out of touch or otherwise irrelevant, who is left to hold Government to account?
The answer, like it or not, is the PLP itself.
Until now, there has been a kind of self-defensive paranoia surrounding the PLP leadership, a kind of all-for-one, one-for-all mentality to defend itself against the forces of evil arrayed against it.
The critics have been defeated. The enemy now will be silence and accommodation - going with the flow, instead of standing up against things that are wrong and fighting to get them changed.
The Opposition can't do it. The media can't. The auditor general can't. The voters can't, at least for now.
Now the most effective critics of the PLP Government will be the PLP itself.
Party members and supporters need to be clear with their MPs about what needs to be changed and improved.
MPs need to be just as firm with their leadership, and Cabinet Ministers need to have the courage to criticize as well - even when it puts their Cabinet Minister's incomes on the line.
The Premier, meanwhile, must be willing to listen, answer questions of every description, and be flexible enough to change course when the things his Government is doing prove unpopular or unsuccessful.
The Government has no need now to fear its critics. What it needs to fear is the delusion that it is always right.