Candidate: The UBP’s Devrae Noel-Simmons, above, is a former bodybuilder who was convicted of cocaine possession two years ago. *File photo
Candidate: The UBP’s Devrae Noel-Simmons, above, is a former bodybuilder who was convicted of cocaine possession two years ago. *File photo
If a week is a long time in politics, what is 12 years?

More than enough time for the United Bermuda Party to show it has the wherewithal to continue.

Does it? Or has the time come, as Bermuda Democratic Alliance leader Craig Cannonier said last month, for the former leaders to “turn out the lights”?

Many of the UBP’s most passionate sympathisers — and a lot of Progressive Labour Party veterans — argue that it takes time to recover and grow.

Look at the PLP’s own 30-year trek through the wilderness, they say.

But was the PLP ever really in the wilderness?

From the advent of party elections in 1968 to the PLP’s first election victory 30 years later, there were only two elections that did not see the PLP make significant gains.

Pragmatic

Even in its bad years, the PLP was enthusiastic and determined.

It was convinced it was destined to correct huge social wrongs in Bermuda.

The party’s supporters had a strong sense of mission, even when defeated at the polls.

The UBP, meanwhile, always prided itself on being pragmatic rather than driven by any clear-cut cause.

There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, Bermuda would be better served if the PLP Government was a lot more pragmatic than it is.

But pragmatism is an uninspiring, joyless kind of thing, especially if you are in Opposition.

Crusaders need a cause to sustain them during their long and lonely journey.

Being sensible and responsible is not enough.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that the PLP, in its long years of Opposition, never suffered the way the UBP has done from a humiliating parade of defections.

Even the former PLP MPs who formed the core of the short-lived National Liberal Party in the 1980s always insisted they never quit the PLP — they left because they were kicked out. Those walking away from the UBP, on the other hand, have attacked the party in the two areas where it felt the pain most acutely — charging that the party is controlled by whites and that it is unable to change.

Many of the specific complaints were completely illogical, in my view.

But perception is everything in politics, and the attacks focused on the two areas the PLP has used most successfully to stereotype its opponents.

What the dissatisfied defectors probably felt — in addition to the usual misery of being out of power — is the frustration of being caught in a trap.

Here is the UBP, widely perceived as out-of-date and way too white.

It needs new people to ‘modernize’ the party.

It needs new people to help it shed its white image.

But the UBP cannot attract these new people because of the way it is perceived.

The party is caught in a kind of Catch 22. What can possibly break this impasse?

The party tried modernizing its constitution. It changed the way it selected candidates.

It made a conscious effort to place more black candidates in safe constituencies.

None of this made a difference.

Even the biggest blunders and scandals of the PLP Government have not attracted new people to the UBP.

Defections

Bermuda Housing Corporation, cost over-runs, damning reports by the Auditor General, outrage over the Uyghurs brought in from Guantanamo Bay, even big slumps in the popularity of PLP Premiers… none of this resulted in any corresponding boost for the Opposition.

After 12 years there is no indication that things are coming together for the UBP.

The party has not managed to forge a clearer, stronger public identity for itself. It has shrunk, not grown.

The defections have clarified nothing for the public. The UBP still seems lost.

The next general election, presumably, is a long way off.

But the December 15 by-election in Warwick West Central is fast approaching.

The UBP’s candidate inspires no confidence that the party is beginning to find its way.

There is no chance of the PLP losing this seat, which former Premier Dr. Ewart Brown held for 17 years.

But it is an opportunity for the UBP — and the new BDA — to prove that people are itching for change and that they have what it takes to lead.

So it is mind-boggling that the UBP has chosen to run as its representative an untested bodybuilder given to sporting a brightly coloured mohawk, who was convicted of cocaine possession less than two years ago.

No matter how intelligent, erudite and articulate he may be, he is hardly the person to reconstruct the party’s image.

Not surprisingly, the selection has upset many within the UBP at a time when it needs to build unity.

More significantly, the frustration felt within the UBP — over the by-election and over the party’s performance in general — is shared by the public at large.

Has the time come, as the BDA’s Mr. Cannonier has claimed, for the UBP to “turn out the lights”?

Next month’s by-election might provide an answer.

After 12 years in Opposition, it is clearly time for the UBP to make visible progress towards becoming the kind of Opposition that Bermudians want and need.

If it cannot, then Mr. Cannonier is right — the time has come to move on.

Opinion polls make it clear that citizens are not especially happy with the ruling PLP, not very happy either with the UBP, and not swept away with the new BDA.

The people of Bermuda need good government.

They also need an Opposition party that provides a viable alternative.