Time for secret ballots?

“The membership is not going back to work until those two matters are resolved.”

So says Chris Furbert, the leader of the BIU who carries on to say that unless his demands are met, the America’s Cup will be in jeopardy.

I started with the quote because although Mr Furbert talks of the membership – he does not say, nor is it stated, how many of the membership actually voted for this course of action.

Here is the UK’s law on ballots, it says “A trade union can only call for industrial action if a majority of its members involved support it in a properly organised postal vote – called a ‘ballot’.”

And goes on …

Properly organised ballots

A ballot for industrial action must:

  • be supervised by a qualified independent person (a ‘scrutineer’ – often someone from an organisation like the Electoral Reform Society) appointed by the union if over 50 members are being balloted
  • be held before the union asks members to take or continue taking action
  • be open to all members the union wants to take action
  • be a postal ballot where members vote by marking a box on a voting paper and return it in a prepaid envelope
  • include information on what the ballot is about and where to post your vote

The union must tell everyone entitled to vote how many people voted, the number of yes votes, no votes or spoiled papers as soon as it can after the ballot.

It must also give the employer one week’s notice of the start of the ballot and tell them the result as soon as possible once it’s available.


Unions have -and should have – the right to strike. It is a fundamentally important part of their armoury. But is it fair – to the union members themselves as well as the public at large – to call a strike based on what appeared to be a few score people turning up at  a meeting?

I was Father of Chapel (the chair of the local branch of the NUJ) at a paper I worked for in the UK and knew that unless I could show that the majority of members were in favour of a course of action, I would laughed out of  his office, and, frankly, rightly so.

If a union believes that right is on their side, it is up to them to convince their members. If they cannot, they should back off and try a different way. If they do convince the members and there is a majority in favour, fine, everyone knows exactly where they stand.

Too often it has appeared that industrial action has not been sanctioned by the majority – or if it is, I don’t recall seeing proof.

That causes an enormous amount of sniping and suspicion aimed at unions and, in particular their leaders, who people accuse of acting only in their own, possibly  political, interests.

It does nothing for union support and does nothing to promote the unions themselves as an organization a person should aspire to join.

If they have a just cause they will get a majority vote. If they do, everyone has to respect that. What is there to lose by having secret ballots?






“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell, 1984

propaganda: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.





a. a riotous or disorderly crowd of people; rabble
b. (as modifier): mob law; mob violence.
2. often derogatory a group or class of people, animals, or things
3. often derogatory the masses

As  a professional wordsmith I am acutely aware of the power of language: how one word out of place can change an entire meaning; how language can be used to inflame as well as to inform; how propaganda can be presented as opinion.


The scenes of December 2 are not ones that anyone in their right mind would want to see repeated  but since then words such as ‘mob’ and ‘paramilitary’ have been casually bandied about as each ‘side’ (and make no mistake, there are sides) seeks to stake their claims to the high ground.

And as each side seeks an advantage over the other, the language becomes increasingly emotive, exaggerated and, ultimately,  misleading which only exacerbates an already fraught situation.

It seems certain that we will see December 2 repeated, probably on February 3 when the House of Assembly reconvenes. Before then, I am sure we will also see some form of protest over the decision not to give the Rev. Nicholas Tweed a work permit.

This article does not seek to explore any rights or wrongs about the two aforementioned events but it does seek to ask that people are mindful of the language they use:  on social media, on talk shows, in print, on comments, in opinions, in press releases, statements and editorials.

Every person has a right to express an opinion – as am I here – but please make that opinion based in fact, and please be mindful of the power of the pen.

Orwell said language can corrupt which is true – it can corrupt actions and if actions are said to speak louder than words, it is the words that have been the catalyst.






Mind your language


Here are two definitions of the work ‘mob’

  1. a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence: 2. a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence:

Here is a definition of paramilitary: “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence”.

This is the start of a Letter to the Editor “Yet another sad day for Bermuda. When I heard the news this morning (yesterday) that the House of Assembly has been adjourned until February, I was shocked that the people’s business has been hijacked by an uncontrolled mob, who, incidentally, are a minority of the electorate.”

This is a statement from the BTUC: “The statement likened the police support unit to a “paramilitary” group, saying they were “bent on destruction”. Protesters, said to be exercising their constitutional right, had been “savagely and barbarically assaulted”, with many “still complaining of injuries”.

I don’t think either is correct and I am sure that those who believe it was a ‘mob’ would disagree that the police looked like ‘paramilitaries’ and vice versa.

Yet we have seen those and many other inflammatory words printed and voiced and it is indicative of a society that is deeply split.

But that should not allow their use and abuse. People have to be careful about the language they use – or are allowed to use – and must think twice before committing them to text.

All that is achieved is a heightened sense of injustice and, let’s face it, at the end of the day you are no better than each other.

A winter of political discontent?

The ramifications of Friday’s protest will go on for some time yet. We will hear, hopefully, of the police investigation into what happened and why.

I am sure we will hear much more from those who were directly affected by the pepper spray, social media will keep us abreast of all the latest rumours and the politicians of both sides will try to make capital out of what happened.

But what of the future of both parties? What of the future of the Premier?

Sean Crockwell has already quit Government after the debacle of the last time MPs were shut out of their workplace, the protest over immigrations reform.

Mark Pettingill nearly quit after the same sex marriage debate and is again thinking about his position as an OBA MP.

Leah Scott is keeping all her options open – nothing is on or off the table.

A source close to her told me that her interest is in serving the country. The source said “At the end of the day the decision she makes will be the one that she is settled in my her soul about.”

If both quit to stand as independents, that will mean the PLP and OBA both have 16 seats – I think it is safe to assume that the PLP will win in Marc Bean’s old constituency plus the Speaker of the House, Randy Horton, a PLP MP.

Jonathan Starling pointed this out: “Theoretically the Speaker could also resign and rejoin the PLP benches. The Deputy Speaker would then fill in the role, losing the OBA another seat. In that scenario I wouldn’t be sure of a vote of no confidence winning (the independents coming from the OBA side may not be convinced to vote with the PLP on that), but the OBA would definitely have to govern as a minority, try and cut deals with the PLP and independents, but never being able to guarantee a vote. It would be unstable and the OBA would likely go to the polls even without a no confidence vote.”

There are other scenarios but the point Jonathan was making is that there could be some very real political instability.

Another source told me that a decision to stand as an independent MP would, in their opinion, would not be an easy one to take.

The source said: “If they followed their heart they would have long gone Independent.  I do not believe that there are other OBA MPs considering the same but I do know that there are other MPs calling for Dunkley to resign.  The obvious problem is who will replace him?”

If true, that is a bit of a bombshell.

Bbut due to a lack of alternatives he’s likely to stay, so the OBA finds itself between a rock and a hard place with a Premier desperately trying to please potentially three sets of people: his supporters, his detractors and the independents.

That is not a sustainable situation. It is going to be an interesting few weeks.


Democracy at work? updated

I posed this question on Facebook: is the demonstration today democracy at work or is it stopping democracy from working?

Of course, taken literally the answer is both, but the point being made is whether it is acceptable to use your right to freedom of speech to stop those who are democratically elected by the people from doing their job.

Regardless of what or who you believe, regardless of who you voted for, the OBA was elected by a majority to be the Government of Bermuda.

All the MPs were elected in a democratic process to carry out the people’s business.

I would never support any move to take away the right to freedom of speech, or freedom to demonstrate, but having thought about it for a long time – and ever since the last time this happened – it is difficult to support an action that stops those who were elected by the people from doing the people’s business.

Those that are stopping the people’s representatives from working should remember that they do not represent the electorate and that while they have every right to demonstrate and to make their case, they should not stop MPs from doing the job they were elected to do.

There are many people with many concerns about the airport deal – and come the next election they may exercise their right to make those concerns heard at the ballot box.

Clearly that will not stop the deal going ahead but it is sound warning to those in power that this kind of deal will not be tolerated in future by the majority of the people.

Carry on demonstrating, carry on making your voice heard, carry on trying to sway the argument, but let those who were elected by the people do their work.

UPDATE: who authorised the use of riot gear and pepper spray today, of all days?





What a sad state to be in

“What we have done is hire an international construction company to verify value for money before any deal is signed or ground broken. Let’s face it, the traditional tendering process has not worked well for Bermuda.

The Berkeley Institute, the Dame Lois Browne-Evans building, the Sylvia Richardson building, the old departure terminal at the present airport, Heritage Wharf — they all resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of overruns. I’m giving up the tendering so that I can have a guarantee of performance, and I think that’s a good trade-off.”

These quotes belong to Finance Minister Bob Richards from this story.


It’s been overlooked in noise about the airport but if you stop to think about it, it is pretty appalling.

Basically it says that no-one within Government can be trusted to make this happen on time and on budget.

It also says that this Government cannot be trusted to deliver projects on time and on budget.

What a sad thing to have to admit, what a sad state to be in.




The need for quality journalism

I am wondering whether the next four years could represent a huge milestone where we re-learn what actually matters from the mistakes that will, inevitably, happen.

Not for one minute do I expect a Trump Presidency to be smooth sailing – already the die seems to be cast with his appointment of Bannon as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor.

The headline on this editorial in the New York Times gives us a clue as to what might lie in store, as does Russia’s renewed and intensified bombing of Aleppo just hours after Putin talked to Trump on the ‘phone.

Trump and The Media

There are mistakes that have been made already – and one crucial one involves the media and how it has, largely, become a voice of the liberal elite for the liberal elite.

By and large the media is staffed nowadays by university-educated people who tend, by definition, not to be in touch with working class/lower middle class ideals whether right or left of the political spectrum.

That is not a criticism, it is an observation, but it shows when I see opinion pieces and even news stories which tend to quote the usual suspects – but usual suspects who tend to be on the same kind of class level as the authors.

Liberal elites tend to inhabit Government (don’t think Oxford or Cambridge here – in the UK, the majority of the civil service is drawn from the middle and upper-middle classes – not from the working classes – and MPs are very often public-school/university educated) as well as organisations that the media turn to for comment.


Add to that the web-driven splintering of channels which has not only eroded the media’s reading base but has also seriously eroded its advertising (revenue) base and a picture emerges of smaller staff, at worst, chasing clickbait stories and at best, trying to sustain the output expected when staff was twice the size.

The latter means that journalists will look to the quick and easy options which almost always lead to quoting the usual suspects and …  liberals quoting liberals.

Of course this is a generalisation and there are journalists and media organisations out there which will not fit into this assessment.

Sadly, I fear that they are increasingly in the minority as more and more media organisations prioritise resources on reporting things like the X Factor, the Great British Bake off or shit-stirring on Prince Harry’s latest girlfriend.

Sadly? Yes. Not just because it means the erosion of a great industry that has boasted multiple examples of brilliance that have literally changed the course of history but because I fear whether it will learn from the mistakes highlighted by the orange turd’s march to victory.

It was massively out of touch.

Can it learn from its mistakes and change? Can it up its game on fact-checking? Can it be more analytical? Can it reach out more to the ‘common man’? Can it (once again) say it has its finger on the pulse?

The answer? Yes.

How? I’ve always maintained that content is king and that is has been since the cavemen learnt to paint pictures. We all love a story and journalists are the best story tellers.

There is no-one better equipped at stripping a story down to its most basic – and most important – parts and then rebuilding it in a way that is informative and very easy to read.

That is a bit simplistic and the rebuilding process can very be hard – fact-checking, getting access to those who need to be questioned, following the paper trail etc can be a long process.

But at the end of it, there is a story that can stand the test of time; that is representative of differing views, cultures and classes, that is informative and which has its finger on the pulse. It is quality.

What happens when we stop producing quality journalism? What happens if people stop supporting quality journalism? https://medium.com/@ashadornfest/this-is-what-happens-when-we-stop-paying-for-quality-journalism-9be9c8d49dea#.pmckdz6h6

One answer is that we let in a Trump – or that at the very least, we are surprised that we let in a Trump. We are surprised that Brexit boiled down in large part to immigration.  We are surprised by a wave of anti-Semitism. The books have been burned, the propaganda machine has been allowed to run unchecked.

Now the most important question of all, can it happen?


How? If we have learned one thing from Trump it must be the importance of being properly informed. If the public want to be properly informed they must support the organisations and individuals that do that, not out of any altruistic sense but to ensure ‘Trump the Sequel’ does not happen again.

In turn, media organisations must look at the way they operate and ask if their priorities are right. Do they want to pursue clickbait journalism or do they want to pursue what I would call ‘proper’ (read quality) journalism?

Of course, the first question they will ask is whether there is a mass market for ‘proper’ journalism? Can they sustain their profit margins?

My belief and hope is that that can happen, that it can be a popular and important antidote to the thousands of inane words spent on trivia. As I’ve said, we’ve enjoyed stories since the caveman and journalists are the best at story telling.

If it does not? Well, be prepared to be Trumped.

When is it not propaganda?

Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”.Propaganda is often associated with the psychological mechanisms of influencing and altering the attitude of a population toward a specific cause, position or political agenda in an effort to form a consensus to a standard set of belief patterns.

The rest of the Wiki definition is here.

Now watch Government’s video on the airport redevelopment Check out some of the wording, lots of ‘nots’, difficult’, ‘expensive’, ‘crippling’, ‘shut down’, ‘destroyed us’.

When it was published several people emailed me to express exasperation that this film was nothing more than outright propaganda.


There is about 45 seconds of people asking questions – enough to perhaps give Government a tiny amount of wriggle room over propaganda accusations – but there is no come-back on the answers and the film is 15 minutes long.

Plus, of course, none of the questions really go to the core of the issue.

To use CITV for this purpose has crossed a line and turned it into nothing more than a Government mouthpiece – something that, if it happened under the PLP, would have people screaming to high heaven.

We expect spin – all Governments do it – but we don’t expect, or want, publicly-funded propaganda.

It must stop and the media must assist by not running it.