Yesterday’s men: death knell for the UBP

  • Charlie Swan, left, and Kim Swan, the last men standing for the United Bermuda Party at the Throne Speech in 2012

    Charlie Swan, left, and Kim Swan, the last men standing for the United Bermuda Party at the Throne Speech in 2012

The United Bermuda Party had been a mainstay of Bermuda’s political scene for 47 years when it finally disappeared in early 2011.

Yet, even though the UBP had ruled the island for 34 of those years — winning eight straight General Elections between 1968 and 1993 — barely a tear was shed when it died.

The party had proven itself unelectable since its historic 1998 defeat by the Progressive Labour Party: despised by many because of its perception as a vehicle to keep white elites in power, and maligned by others for its failure to offer a realistic alternative to the PLP.

A string of leaders were unable to arrest the slide of three consecutive election defeats by wide margins, including the most demoralising of all in 2007, when PLP leader Ewart Brown triumphantly crushed his enemy. High-profile black members, including Jamahl Simmons, Wayne Furbert, Darius Tucker and Gwyneth Rawlins, quit around that time claiming a white clique was running the show.

The end was nigh in January 2010 when MPs Shawn Crockwell, Donte Hunt and Mark Pettingill resigned, saying they were sick of race-based politics, and formed their own party, the Bermuda Democratic Alliance.

It was a venture that lasted a little more than a year. A Warwick South Central by-election in December 2010 showed that, far from offering hope of a “better way” of politics, the BDA merely split the old UBP vote and allowed the PLP to stroll to an even easier victory.

Observers predicted if that happened at every seat at the next General Election, the PLP would end up winning no fewer than 30 seats.

By May 2011, the two sides had reunited under the umbrella of a new organisation called the One Bermuda Alliance.

Only two UBP MPs refused to join the OBA: Kim Swan, its final leader, and Charlie Swan, who continued carrying the UBP banner for more than a year, before finally becoming independents in November 2012.

Initially led on an interim basis by former UBP MP John Barritt, and with old guard figures such as Grant Gibbons, Michael Dunkley and Bob Richards remaining at the forefront, the OBA faced accusations from the beginning that it was a UBP in sheep’s clothing.

But a new broom appeared in September 2011, when the OBA membership elected Craig Cannonier as its first leader. With an ability to rally a room through a preacher-style delivery, a clean political slate and, crucially, no UBP connections, Mr Cannonier offered the fledgeling organisation a chance at glory its MPs could never have anticipated during their decade of struggle on the Opposition benches.

For a while at least, the future for the OBA looked bright.

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Published Jan 10, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 10, 2020 at 8:00 am)

Yesterday’s men: death knell for the UBP

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