Testing times: Does Parliament’s reputation hang precariously in the balance, with public support sagging? *File photos, montage by Gary Foster Skelton
Testing times: Does Parliament’s reputation hang precariously in the balance, with public support sagging? *File photos, montage by Gary Foster Skelton

The worst personal attacks in half a century.

That’s how political veteran Terry Lister has described what came his way from Marc Bean on Friday. The two engaged in a gloves-off row that was made all the more bizarre by its mix of coded language, hypotheticals and pointed analogies. 

There were allegations of moral failure and malfeasance. There was mudslinging from which no one emerged clean.

Mr Lister says some of the barbs directed at him represent the most inappropriate, personal attacks he has witnessed in his five-plus decades of observing Bermuda’s parliamentary
politics. Mr Bean has declined to comment. 

But the question remains: is such acerbic political rhetoric undermining the public’s trust?

‘These are unprecedented attacks’

Lister reflects on bitter spat; Bean declines to comment

Independent MP Terry Lister has doubled down.

Asked if he regretted any of his comments from last week’s weirdly coded tit-for-tat with Opposition Leader Marc Bean in which both men appeared to impugn the character of the other, Mr Lister said: “I can’t find anything I would regret. Everything I said was true. You can stand by the truth.”

The row came during a debate over a committee report recommending Bermudian legislators be drug tested.

Mr Bean, who declined to comment for this story, spoke in a string of anecdotes, asking hypothetical questions such as, “What if I was an elder in a church, but got kicked out for stealing from the church while committing adultery on my wife?”

He rattled off a series of these questions. One where he asked how his fellow MPs would react if an employee of his was imprisoned for drug smuggling. In another, he asked what the reaction would be if he was hospitalized after getting beaten for committing adultery.

While Mr Bean centred such hypothetical questions around himself, Mr Lister clearly thought such comments were aimed at him. 

He countered with his own hypotheticals, asking similar questions about purchasing marijuana behind a market and drinking and driving; statements ostensibly aimed at Mr Bean.

“Our Parliament is over 390 years old,”  Mr Lister told the Bermuda Sun yesterday. “I haven’t been around for that long. But I have followed Parliament since 1966 and in all those years I’ve never seen these types of personal attacks in Parliament. It is unprecedented.”

He added, “What Mr Bean did is lace statements with lies and half-truths. 

“It was not right and not appropriate. His behaviour is totally unbecoming of public office. This is three weeks in a row where he’s made controversial statements.

“Three weeks in a row, you really have to wonder what political goal in conducting himself as he does. Your first goal should be to help Bermuda. I’m at a loss as to how these actions and comments do that.”

Former Premier Alex Scott said yesterday such vitriolic rhetoric can undermine public institutions like the house.

He stressed he was “not speaking to any particular individual or debate”  before comparing  political debate to swordplay.

“If you handle your sword badly, you get injured. If you manage your verbal cut and thrust debate badly, you will get injured.”

He added: “It also demeans the decorum of Parliament; under the decorum of Parliament, we refer to ourselves as honourable men and women. 

“I would think that honourable men and women would take a lesson from the historic origins of Parliamentary debate and realize that we may not use swords, but they can injure themselves and injure the tradition of the House.” 

What do you think? Is it healthy for MPs to make personal attacks in public or does it undermine our democracy? Email reporter Danny McDonald: dmcdonald@bermudasun.bm or comment below.