Burden or blessing? John Barritt, who has taken the helm of the fledgling One Bermuda Alliance, might have been weighing the pros of party leadership when we photographed him at a press conference yesterday. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Burden or blessing? John Barritt, who has taken the helm of the fledgling One Bermuda Alliance, might have been weighing the pros of party leadership when we photographed him at a press conference yesterday. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

The new leader of the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) yesterday praised the UBP — which he quit to help form a new force in Bermuda politics.

But he said that the 47-year-old party’s image as the preserve of a white elite had become a handicap in rebuilding a power base to represent the whole of Bermuda.

Political veteran John Barritt, who was a UBP MP for 18 years, said: “Each member of the OBA has stepped out of their comfort zone to be an agent of change.

“That is my particular commitment to the One Bermuda Alliance and to change.

“... They put aside party loyalty and identity to put Bermuda first. That is no small thing.

“For example, it is natural to feel some sense of loss at giving up a lifelong association or a more recent association that held such promise.

“Past members of the UBP can reflect on that party’s long list of achievements — from desegregation of schools, the creation of Bermuda College, Commission for Unity and Racial Equality (CURE) legislation, health care and pensions legislation, sound economic management and full employment to name but a few.

“On the other hand, I recognise that other people will continue to see the UBP associated with a historical legacy of white privilege and the failure to do enough to benefit the black Bermudian and Portuguese community.

“Even today the legacy of slavery, segregation and institutionalised racism persists.

“As a former member of the UBP and as a member of the wider Bermuda community, I recognise and acknowledge this and carry into the OBA the commitment to work for an equitable and fair community.

“The OBA welcomes people who have been discouraged and disillusioned by the old, tired ways of doing politics and who are looking for a new home to chart a new course for change.”

New Senator and OBA deputy leader Craig Cannonier will join former BDA deputy leader Kathy Michelmore and ex-UBP Senator Michael Dunkley in the Upper House.

Invoking the past

He said: “There are those that will try to downplay or define what is happening into something negative.

“They will want the people of this country to think that the OBA is nothing more than business as usual — that we’re old wine in new bottles. They will invoke the past rather look to the future.

“They will want to distract from the declines that are gripping Bermuda and the lack of effective leadership that provides no real solutions.”

But ex-UBP Opposition leader Kim Swan, who led a legal challenge to the merger of the two parties, which sparked a mass resignation of seven MPs to form the new party, said he would continue to serve as a UBP MP for his St George’s West seat.

Mr Swan claimed that proper procedure had not been followed and that the merger process was “deeply flawed.”

He said: “The United Bermuda Party still has a responsibility to the people it courted at the last general election and must still go out to the wider community and do what the dissidents failed to do – which is provided for in the UBP constitution.

“At this point, it would not be fair to say what the people’s views will be — albeit there are many up and down Bermuda who have expressed dismay, they still deserve to be considered and heard.

“I intend to serve out the balance of my term in accordance with the covenant that people elected me on and continue to fight for the issues and provide quality representation for all people, both in the St George’s community and the island at large.”

The race factor

Rolfe Commissiong, a long-time PLP supporter and consultant to Premier Paula Cox, said that the 2007 general election was a crushing blow for the UBP — and led directly to the creation of the BDA: “But the fundamental problem of the UBP was race.

“Its inability to attract enough African Bermudian support to attach to its overwhelmingly white support base meant that they could not have any chance of winning an election any time soon.”

And he added that the defection of prominent black UBP members like former leader Wayne Furbert and ex-government minister Maxwell Burgess underlined its problem.

Mr Commissiong said that the UBP had two choices — to reform and remove “reactionary elements” or to undertake “a glorified re-branding exercise”.

He added: “The new party will have some prominent new faces such as Cannonier and Michelmore... but substantially nothing will have changed.

“Both in the underlying ideology, the key players and the overwhelmingly Anglo and Portuguese voting base will remain the same.

“In that sense, what we’re being presented with is not new as my colleagues in the Progressive Labour Party have asserted. In many ways they’ve remained true to their roots because what we tend to forget is that the emergence of the UBP in the early sixties was in part also a re-branding exercise.z”

A PLP spokesman also downplayed the significance of the launch.

He said: “The Progressive Labour Party continues to focus on the issues and challenges facing our community.

“Our members remain actively engaged in their communities and will not be distracted as the Opposition parties reunite.

“Our supporters know the core values of the PLP and count on us to ensure that we continue to serve the interests of all Bermuda.”