Running the gauntlet: Premier Brown and his wife Wanda were close at hand to hear the criticism levelled at him for bringing the Uyghurs into Bermuda, at a public protest at the Cabinet Building a little more than a year ago. *File photo
Running the gauntlet: Premier Brown and his wife Wanda were close at hand to hear the criticism levelled at him for bringing the Uyghurs into Bermuda, at a public protest at the Cabinet Building a little more than a year ago. *File photo
Judge me by the enemies I have made.

Dr. Brown’s self-written political obituary is perhaps the most profound single sentence summation of his premiership we are ever likely to get.

Conflict has been a defining characteristic of his four years in charge.

To his fiercest critics, he has relentlessly pursued a personally motivated agenda of racial payback and self-promotion at the expense of Bermuda’s best interests.

To his most adoring admirers he has been black Bermuda’s backbone, the strong leader who has stood up to history and finally begun to dismantle a power structure rooted in prejudice.

But between these two absolutes is there a more plausible truth? A middle ground that puts his fractious four years into its proper historical perspective?

Let us do as he asks and judge the Premier by the enemies that he has made.

Among the most vocal, and perhaps the group Dr. Brown would be proudest to call his enemies, are a fringe of largely white Bermudians who see conspiracy and corruption in his every move.

Are these Bermuda’s teabaggers? Our island’s version of the U.S. protesters who want to dial the clock back to 1776 and ‘take back America’ from Obama?

The marchers who protested against Corporation reform flirted with similarly coded sloganeering in their ‘save our city’ campaign.

Many feel they have legitimate grievances against the Premier.

He remarked in BBC interview early in his four-year tenure that “the white population of Bermuda really doesn’t need a great deal of reassurance”.

Politically it was probably true. But the wording was interesting. White people in Bermuda may not have needed much in the way of social policy from the Premier but it seemed that an acknowledgement that they mattered was probably what they craved the most.

For Sun columnist and political commentator Tom Vesey a little more diplomacy in that respect would have gone a long way.

“There is a significant white population in international business alone, which our economic interest depends on, and it hurts Bermuda if they perceive their Government is unconcerned about whites in general.”

Irrational

PLP Senator and radio host Thaao Dill says some critics took their dislike of the Premier to an irrational level: “It requires a real commitment to the suspension of critical thinking to express such righteous indignation at almost everything he did.”

During one of the most vociferous demonstrations that followed the Uyghur controversy, a marcher held a banner bearing the slogan ‘if its Brown flush it down’.

That became the policy of that fringe of the anti-Ewart movement. Any plan or proposal that could be attached to the Premier was assigned an elaborate conspiracy theory and ‘flushed down’ in a vacuum of speculation and innuendo.

 “For some people, if Dr. Brown wiggled his little finger it would have some sinister meaning,” Mr. Vesey said.

“He got into that situation with a lot of Bermudians — black and white. I think, to a degree, it is human nature. When you are suspicious of someone you do tend to latch on to anything that reinforces that view. But I think some people did lose some perspective.”

But was their fury a self-defeating strategy?

Do the conspiracy theorists drown out the more considered critics — just like the U.S. ‘birthers’ whose persistent demands for Obama to prove he was born in the U.S. solidify support for the President among liberal critics who feel he has yet to fulfill his promise of genuine ‘change’? Rather than associate themselves with the crazies, they fall into line.

There is an equivalent in Bermuda. The quiet critics who fear that the ‘Big Conversation’ is actually all talk, and who worry that no meaningful policies of black empowerment have emerged over the past four years. They remain largely silent but when they do speak up, are less easy to dismiss.

“Conversation is great but what people really want to see is policies and actions that benefit those who have been denied opportunities,” says Ashfield DeVent, the MP for Pembroke South East.

“His style and what he has done — or hasn’t done — have alienated quite a few working class, core PLP supporters. Talk is cheap. The way a lot of people see it is ‘you’ve got one hand held up in a black power salute, the other is handing out some pretty large contracts to some wealthy white boys’.

“It adds insult to injury when you see that some of those contracts didn’t go out to tender so any aspiring black businessman didn’t even get an opportunity to vie for them.”

Critics of the Premier point to more substantive voices of dissent about the absence of genuine progression in the key areas that affect people’s lives.

Education, by the Premier’s own admission, is the biggest disappointment of his tenure.

Crime — by any measure — has got significantly worse over the last four years.

The economy is in worse shape than it has ever been with Bermuda $800million further in debt and the annual budget now over $1billion.

For environmental activist Stuart Hayward, the Premier should be judged by his “unintended enemies”.

“A 50-year-old man looking for work, a mom who has lost her son to gang violence or a homeless person wondering when the new shelter will get built should all count as collateral victims of a lack of progress in key areas,” he says.

Asked about these disappointments, the Premier suggested global factors such as the economic recession and rising international crime were to blame.

He said his job, to an extent, had been about damage limitation and insisted he had sown the seeds of change – that the fruits of his policies would be seen in future years.

“There is no question that my Government has spent a lot of money and has incurred debt but I can think of no more honourable pursuit than to do those things for the people,” he said.

Will future generations look back, as the Premier suggests they might, on initiatives like Mirrors and FutureCare and see them as policies that turned the tide on crime and healthcare for seniors?

Will they look at free college education or free daycare as groundbreaking moves that helped lay the platform for social change?

Will they look to the Mincy Report as the point at which Bermuda began to get to grips with the problems experienced by young black males?

Or will they be too busy paying for those initiatives to judge?

Glenn Jones, who was Dr. Brown’s press secretary for two-and-a-half years believes the Premier’s long-term approach means it’s too early to judge the success or failure.

“Brown-era policies and programmes were never really focused on band-aid approaches because, like a physician, he was focused on long term health. So it’ll be a while before we know for certain whether he made the health of the country better or worse as a result of his time in office,” he said.

One fact few dispute is that the Premier threw himself into the job of leading the country with a vigour and appetite for work that is almost unprecedented.

“A lot of people love to hate Dr. Brown and they have that right,” says former PLP chairman David Burt. “But I don’t think anyone can doubt that he has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Bermuda.”

Islandwide, Dr. Brown’s approval ratings may have sunk to record lows, but Mr. Burt believes he remains a hugely popular, talismanic figure within the party.

“He was a lightning rod for the PLP. He wore it as a badge of honour and the party was very grateful for that.

“There may have been many occasions that caused people to question him and caused him to develop more and more enemies. But he did his job and did it well.”

When you boil it down to goals accomplished, some argue that Dr Brown will be remembered as a better leader of the PLP than he was of Bermuda.

Paying off the mortgage on Alaska Hall and reforming the party’s candidate selection process have made the party stronger materially and politically.

The virtual collapse of the UBP, the demise of the Mid-Ocean News (hastened, it can be argued, by the withdrawal of government advertising) and the reform of Hamilton Corporation (considered to be one of the last bastions of white power), make up a potent political hat-trick on his watch.

That’s part of his PLP legacy; nationally things aren’t as clear cut. His successes might be more obvious a generation from now — but so, say his critics, might the cost.

The financial sustainability of relatively high cost programmes like Mirrors and Futurecare, in particular, has been called into question.

And almost every tangible achievement of the Premier’s regime carries that caveat that he has spent more money and incurred more debt than any other Premier in history.

“Nothing is free. It is easy to be generous with other people’s money, which is what Dr. Brown has been doing,” says Robert Stewart, author of The Economy of Bermuda.

“He has mortgaged the future of Bermuda’s children with his reckless spending.”

That financial cloud is compounded further by the continuing questions over accountability on capital projects.

From the Cruise Pier at Dockyard to the new Police/Court building and the Transport Control Department, issues of financial accountability have surrounded almost every major build the Government has undertaken.

Former auditor general Larry Dennis is someone who falls clearly into the category of ‘enemy’ in the eyes of the Premier.

Mr. Dennis was portrayed as a political pawn of the UBP following a series of reports highlighting lack of oversight in the spending of Government money.

Such was the enmity between the Premier and the Auditor General that when his replacement Heather Jacobs Matthews issued an equally critical report questioning oversight and conflicts of interest in the new Transport Control Department, all Dr. Brown needed to say to hint at political motivation was “the style reminds me of the old auditor general”.

Glenn Jones raises a red flag: “I’m not sure how far he’ll go with that. It’s not going to fly, to use the same arguments on a second person.”

For others, the reports of successive auditor generals are  blots on Dr. Brown’s tenure.

But shooting the messenger, say critics, has been a hallmark of Dr. Brown’s political strategy.

Anyone who has offered public criticism of the Premier — Mr Dennis, anti-Uyghur leader Janice Battersbsee, PLP supporter/Brown critic Larry Burchall — have been moved under the heading ‘combined opposition’ and had their credibility and motivation questioned.

When Phil Perinchief, a former ally of Dr Brown, issued a lengthy and damming press statement classifying his former colleague’s term as a failure, he was dismissed by the Premier’s staff as “more bitter than an ex-wife”.

Assessing the success or failure of Dr. Ewart Brown’s premiership, then, depends to a large degree on how you judge the credibility of his enemies.

Dr. Brown will be gone by tomorrow night, but the debate is sure to linger on.

DR. GRANT GIBBONS — the UBP MP and former party leader has sparred with the Premier on many occasions in the House of Assembly.

A debate in December 2006 was particularly full of vitriol after the UBP criticized the fundraising efforts of the PLP and Dr. Brown’s wife, Wanda.

Dr. Brown accused Dr. Gibbons of being an “uninformed representative of Bermuda’s racist legacy”. He went on to make comments about a “racist dog”, although apparently this did not directly refer to Dr. Gibbons.

LARRY DENNIS — former Auditor General.

Mr. Dennis was arrested in June, 2007 on suspicion of handling a ‘stolen’ police file into alleged corruption at the Housing Corporation. A second Police raid on his offices was carried out five months later.

In his report the following year, Mr. Dennis raised concerns about political interference and later said: “I feel my arrest was an attempt to discredit me and was politically motivated.”

Mr. Dennis’s 2007-8 report also criticized Government for financial mismanagement.

It led Dr. Brown to accuse him of political bias.

PHIL PERINCHIEF — Former Attorney General, axed from Dr. Brown’s Cabinet following the 2007 general election.

He released a statement last month accusing Dr. Brown of being “a personification of narcissism on steroids”.

“Dr. Brown, in a self-centered, orgiastic and narcissistic flight of materialistic avarice and greed; has in four short years respectively brought this country and the PLP to the brink of financial disaster and internecine disunity.”

Dr. Brown did not respond but a Cabinet spokesman said: “The former Attorney General to Bermuda in his remarks sounds more bitter than an ex-wife.”

CHARLES GOSLING — Mayor of Hamilton.

Shortly after being elected city mayor, Mr. Gosling was embroiled in a battle with Government over its plans for corporation reform.

Mr. Gosling said he believed the plans were an “intent to take us over”, and posters urging the public to ‘Help save our city’ were erected throughout Hamilton.

Government’s Municipalities Reform Act was passed into legislation this summer, imposing electoral reform on the corporations for the first time in 90 years.

It also cut off the city’s revenue of $7.5 million a year in wharfage and port fees.

STUART HAYWARD — Environmental campaigner and Sun columnist.

Mr. Hayward was ousted as chairman of the Sustainable Development Round Table by the Premier, who appointed Arthur Hodgson instead.

Mr. Hayward claimed Government had broken its promise of consulting the SDRT and that, “if you speak out, you will be dumped”.

He went on to head a grassroots environmental movement, the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce (BEST).

BEST has challenged Government on the issuance of Special Development Orders (SDOs) and other sustainable development issues.