Bermuda's Reality check: Ewart Brown's stormy premiership
Print article 1/13/2010 9:26:00 AM Politics: Report card on the Premier
Reality check: Ewart Brown's stormy premiership
Part I of II
Swaddled in hopes and swathed in dreams, he returned.
Dr. Ewart Brown had long lived outside Bermuda and had built up a successful medical practice. He was known to be an intelligent and well-educated man. That was proven by his success in his chosen profession.
With hopes high and dreams bright, we opened our arms and our hearts and we welcomed him 'back home'.
In 1993, first time running, he unseated a UBP Cabinet Minister, won a seat in Warwick, and became an MP in the PLP which was then in Opposition to the still deeply dug-in UBP.
After the PLP November 1998 takeover, he became a Cabinet Minister. As anticipated, his intelligence and life and business experience showed through. The energy and drive that he brought to his ministries made him a standout minister. Rapidly and rightly, he earned a reputation as a minister and a man who "got things done".
After five years as a Cabinet Minister, in 2003, he attempted to win the premiership. For the first time, he came up against a Bermudian factor with which he was not fully familiar. His run for the premiership went awry and he lost to Alex Scott.
He learned from that mistake. He ran again in 2006. This time, far better prepared and having done the hard and necessary groundwork, he won easily.
As Premier he started well. With his ability to articulate, he strode onto the national and international stage and set many wheels in motion. The Hopkins Report, Jet Blue, the Big Conversation, revised medical care practices for the indigent, a promise to revamp on-island tourism, the hope of getting some new hotels built, and more...
Calling an election for December 2007, he orchestrated a campaign that, departing from recent practice, placed a heavy and obvious emphasis on racial matters. Setting the example, and followed by several candidates, he dug into Bermuda's racial history and pushed the idea that a vote for the UBP would mean a "return to the plantation".
That "return to the plantation" turned out to be the marker for the beginning of the colouring and shaping of his premiership. He took on the printed media, treating The Royal Gazette and Mid-Ocean News as the 'combined Opposition'. This approach saw him eventually order a government-wide reduction in contact with these papers.
In the uppermost reaches of government, he avowed that he, as Premier, and operating under Bermuda's 1968 Constitutional Order, found it difficult to work with an incumbent British Governor. In overseas relationships, he established what seemed like a close relationship with then Premier but now disgraced ex-Premier Michael Misick of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
This close relationship with a distant non-Bermudian was in marked contrast to his highly adversarial relationship with the home-grown Bermudian Larry Dennis - Bermuda Government Auditor.
In a small but growing series of little incidents, thread by thread, things began unravelling. The first little action was the personal choice to make a contribution - a national contribution made on behalf of all Bermudians - to an American charity at a private party hosted at Hugh Hefner's girlie house Playboy Mansion.
By itself, this was a nationally unimportant matter. However, in dealing with proper and expected public enquiries, a streak of personal arrogance entered the public discussion. This streak of personal arrogance showed even stronger in the whole handling of the investigations into the finances and operations of the Bermuda Housing Corporation.
More arrogance came with the later refusal to answer 'plantation questions'. This response and reaction was, though, completely understandable. He was, after all, a 1960s era racial rebel.
As an undergraduate, he had participated in demonstrations at Howard University. For a time, he had associated with Bermuda's Black Beret Cadre of the 1970s. Later, he successfully built a medical practice in the hothouse racial environment of Los Angeles, California. He was in LA during the 1992 'Rodney King' riots.
Though he was a born Bermudian, he was far more closely attuned to racial life and racial strife in the U.S. However, black/white race relations in the U.S. and in Bermuda are different.
In the U.S., blacks are an eternal and shrinking minority. They are condemned always and definitely to be outnumbered and surrounded by a white world that does not need them - and that frequently, sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly, reminds them of that.
Black/White race relations in Bermuda are different. Leaving behind the friction filled 1960s and growing into the 1990s, black Bermudians - always the demographic majority - realized their racial value and began throwing their racial weight around. Most black Bermudians realized that they were the core Bermudians, and in this respect were quite unlike their eternally condemned African-American counterparts.
In November 1998, black Bermudians smashed through this last barrier and seized political control. Eight years later, in 2006, when he took over as Premier, black Bermudians were wearing their suits of power with ease and comfort. Black Bermudians now understood that white Bermudians were an almost powerless minority - but were still fellow Bermudians.
Dr. Brown's 2007 return to the politics of 1960s style open racial division was a rollback to a Bermuda past that had passed. Probably because of his deep and long American experience, he seemed far more comfortable with clear and public racial divisions.
He used the power of his office to recreate, in part, the clearly divided racial world that he knew best. He sought to alter the evolved Bermuda situation and re-position black Bermudians as victims of a still potent white power structure - which mirrored the eternal African-American situation.
Leading a party that - as a national political organism - had not matured much since taking power in 1998, he partially and easily succeeded. However, in succeeding he stepped away from the real Bermuda that had evolved; from his own Cabinet; from the broad mass of his own party; and from a Bermuda that had undergone a radical but publicly unexplained social change and advancement. Little of this social change and advancement, however, was easy to see or discern.
The watershed moment came June 10, 2009 with the four Uyghurs. This whole episode displayed a Premier who ignored Bermuda's Constitution, ignored the Governor, ignored his own Cabinet, ignored the Attorney General, ignored the Commissioner of Police, ignored the senior civil servants who are responsible for giving advice, and, finally, ignored his own party members.
The Uyghur incident showed a man who - empowered only by the phrases and clauses of the Bermuda Constitution - chose to ignore all those things and act entirely on his own.
This act of arrogance and misuse of power was closely followed by the double deceit of the Gaming Bill, wherein he said that the matter would not be debated, then - despite statements made just the night before - he decided to table the matter for debate.
In the national fuss that followed, and through the summer of 2009, he and his small but highly vocal band of core supporters reacted by accusing whites of massing against him simply because he was a strong black man.
Neither he nor his core supporters were fully correct. Many blacks were offended and turned off by his behaviour.
Late summer polls showed that he had lost much of the wide public support that he once had. Faded hopes and national disillusion blended at the annual PLP Delegates' Conference of October 2009. He agreed to step down in October 2010.
Meanwhile, Bermuda's economy was under steadily growing threat as government was over-spending; national debt had almost doubled in just 24 months; tourists arriving by air dropped to levels not seen the 1960s; spending by cruise arrivals fell; Bermuda was down to three major hotels; public education was still unfixed; a rising wave of anti-social behaviour; armed house invasions, weekend shootings, and weekend killings became ho-hum events.
Dreams dashed. Hopes gone. Disappointment all round. A now obvious mistake.
column by former PLP campaign manager,Larry Burchall
Summary: Ewart Brown : the worst leader in Bermuda's 400 year history
Ewart Brown's check list of "accomplishments"
Kill tourism - CHECK
Kill retail - CHECK
Screw Front Street - Check
Screw St. Georges - Check
Screw - Taxis (work in progress)
Screw - IB (work in progress)
Screw Bermuda - (90% complete)
Screw - independent truckers
Leave Office - MY WORK IS DONE