FRIDAY, APRIL 27: As its inevitable first general election sneaks nearer — next month? Next autumn? Next winter? — the One Bermuda Alliance must still deal with some pretty serious problems.
First off, there’s the unresolved issue of the United Bermuda Party, and independent candidates of UBP persuasion.
The OBA was originally designed as a merger between the UBP and the breakaway Bermuda Democratic Alliance.
But at the last minute, a handful of UBPers balked.
Most UBP MPs quit and joined the new party, which became the official Opposition. The UBP was left with only two MPs, and little prospect of retaining them (let alone gaining more seats) in the next election.
But the new party is going to have a big enough challenge winning the next election without the UBP interfering.
It will be impossible for the OBA to win St. George’s West, for example, if it has to split the vote with incumbent Kim Swan, the UBP leader.
It will be hard for the OBA to take Pembroke West with Erwin Adderley, who used to represent the area for the UBP, running hard as an independent.
And OBA MP Sean Crockwell might find himself splitting the vote with incumbent UBPer Charles Swan in Southampton West Central. That might well shift the constituency over to the hands of the PLP, who plan to run the former Cabinet press secretary Scott Simmons.
Former UBP branch chairman David Tavares, running as an independent, seems less likely to disrupt the OBA in Smiths South, where Cole Simons, now an OBA MP, won comfortably in the last election.
But taken as a whole, the OBA is very likely to lose seats it could have won if it wasn’t running against its UBP merger partner.
But there’s another serious problem that the OBA has not yet managed to resolve — and it’s much more fundamental.
That is the question of its own identity.
More than anything else, the UBP was killed by its inability to attract black voters, no matter how hard it felt it was trying, and no matter how poorly it felt the PLP was performing.
They were trapped: A lot of black Bermudians wouldn’t trust the UBP, let alone join it, because it was a “white party”.
But it couldn’t stop being a white party unless black Bermudians joined it.
How could you break that Catch 22?
First of all, UBP politicians tried to “reform” their party. That, inevitably, was an exercise in frustration because the only real reform that was needed was to the party’s image and reputation as Bermuda’s white party.
Which took them right back to their Catch 22.
The next step was to try to step away from the problem and form a new party. That was the genesis of the Bermuda Democratic Alliance. But it didn’t take more than a single by-election to demonstrate that it would end up running against the UBP, making the PLP Government almost impossible to defeat.
The next logical step, of course, was to merge the new BDA with the old UBP and call it something different. And hope the old UBP white stigma will drop away, at least a little, with a new name, some new faces, and the disappearance of a lot of the old guard.
The party has only managed to shake off a little of the “white UBP” perception. It has performed well in recent opinion polls, slightly leading the governing PLP in a way that the old UBP had been unable to do.
But a very large percentage of the electorate remains undecided or refuses to say who they’re supporting. This could mean that dissatisfaction with the PLP is not translating to support for the Opposition — the same problem that the UBP experienced. What’s worse for the OBA, polling shows it struggling, as the UBP did, to capture the confidence of black Bermudians.
According to a recent Profiles of Bermuda survey, 96 per cent of the PLP’s support was black, while 67 per cent of OBA support was white and other non-blacks.
If the OBA wins, it risks winning with the same demographic formula that kept the UBP in power for so many years — an overwhelming majority of Bermuda’s white voters combined with a minority of black voters.
More than anything else, the OBA was set up to try to break the stranglehold that race has had on politics in Bermuda and the two parties that have served as Government and Opposition for decades.
Despite all that history, it is a political formula that damages the country, its people, and the quality of its democracy.
As the OBA is discovering, there are no easy answers. But between now and its first election — be it next month or next winter — it needs to do everything in its power to break the tradition.
It might have only one chance.