Reunite? Swan says it's up to the BDA MPs
United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan yesterday hinted he'd like to reunite with his former Bermuda Democratic Alliance colleagues telling The Royal Gazette: “The ball's in their court.”
But the BDA ruled out a return to the UBP in its current form, with deputy leader Kathy Michelmore reiterating it's become “enmeshed in its negative historical legacy”.
The UBP and BDA split the Opposition vote down the middle at Wednesday's Warwick South Central by-election, allowing the Progressive Labour Party to stretch its lead in the stronghold from 37 percentage points to 51.
That followed predictions the one-year-old BDA would claim much of its support from former UBP voters at the next General Election, paving the way for the PLP to clean up in former marginals and dominate the House of Assembly.
Mr Swan told this newspaper in a statement yesterday: “As far as the BDA is concerned, they set themselves up this past year as a separate party and I do not think they are of a mind to join with the UBP.
“Indeed their leader a few weeks ago said the UBP should ‘turn out the lights'. That's hardly an overture to some form of coalition. So the ball is in their court.
“As far as we in the UBP are concerned, we recognise Bermuda's best interest does not lie in a divided Opposition. People who cannot support the performance of this Government and there are many are frustrated because they do not see a viable way to replace them in the current situation. It's not healthy.
“The fact is that Bermuda needs the strongest possible Opposition today because the Government is failing in the three most important areas of island life: the economy, education and public safety.
“It is unfortunate that the BDA chooses to focus its political guns on the UBP.”
Dr Michelmore responded: “It is our belief that the UBP has been floundering as an Opposition party, and it is clear that this impression galvanised the BDA founders to step forward to offer an alternative.
“Sadly for the UBP, despite many capable and effective MPs, the UBP has become enmeshed in its negative historical legacy and as it currently exists cannot offer Bermuda a viable alternative.
“Kim Swan has criticised us for being of this opinion, but that is because it is a message the UBP leadership does not want to hear but many have said.
“Ultimately the BDA wishes to change the Government, and is prepared to work with those who recognise that real change is essential and are willing to recognise the obvious.
“We have not gunned for the UBP as Mr Swan is saying, but there must be severe disappointment in the UBP that 40-odd years gets you eight extra votes over a one-year-old entity.
“Nevertheless it is important that the Government is held to account and that the Country is given a strong Opposition. We will work towards that goal. Given the large numbers that did not vote, political parties have lots to do to enfranchise every voter.”
Marc Bean won for the PLP with 67 percent of the votes on Wednesday, against 17 percent for the UBP's Devrae Noel-Simmons and 15 percent for Sylvan Richards of the BDA.
At the 2007 election, then-Premier Ewart Brown claimed 68 percent of the votes but with no BDA candidate, the UBP's Roderick Simons was able to get 31 percent.
Last year, Shawn Crockwell, Donte Hunt and Mark Pettingill became founding MPs for the BDA after quitting the UBP in frustration at its inability to reform and shake off its elitist image.
But critics argue they have since failed to shrug off their tag as a breakaway from the UBP because they have not attracted any big names from the PLP.
Numerous sources say senior UBP figures have recently held talks with BDA members; at one point UBP members speculated Opposition Senator Michael Dunkley could switch parties, which he ruled out.
Former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons, now a PLP member, said yesterday: “After a year of existence and several weeks of targeting this constituency, the BDA has failed to distinguish itself as anything more than an alternative to the UBP for UBP supporters.
“The issues they choose to prioritise, the values they espouse, the language they use, their very approach, echoes the UBP. So to a swing voter or a traditional PLP supporter they are likely to be seen to be as untrustworthy, out of touch and unappealing as the UBP.”
Mr Simmons said an alliance between the two could stave off a PLP landslide at the next General Election, adding: “As it stands the BDA have virtually no chance of retaining any of their seats and the UBP almost no chance at forming the Government.
“I suspect that as an election draws nearer, the traditional base of the UBP will begin to solidify behind the party that looks most likely to have the best shot of preventing a PLP landslide. The money, manpower and resources will begin to flow to one entity and it will probably be the UBP.”
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