Well, yesterday saw mass defections from the UBP to the BDA parliamentary caucus, with the BDA itself being officially dissolved today and replaced with the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), which is officially being sworn in as the Official Opposition today at Government House, with John Barritt becoming the new Leader of the Opposition.
The UBP continues to exist for the timebeing, with two MPs, the former Leader of the Opposition (and presumably still the UBP Leader) Kim Swan, and Charles Swan, still in the House of Assembly, and Senator Atherden clinging to her Senate seat (the other two UBP Senators defected to the BDA/OBA yesterday and resigned their seats accordingly). I don’t see how Senator Atherden will be able to keep her Senate seat though, as our Constitution does not allow it; she will likely be removed by order of the Governor and replaced by OBA Senators over the course of today.
The BDA’s Failure
I’ve said before that I think the BDA-UBP merger is a mistake. While I have no love for the UBP (perhaps some nostalgia in as much as I’m so used to the PLP-UBP dualism), and I didn’t support the BDA, I thought the BDA should have kept developing itself. It was going to be a long road, and there was the possibility of dividing the vote and going down the slow death spiral that the NLP did over the 1990s. All possible. But the NLP only declined because the PLP increasingly took its platform and political niche and the NLP failed to defend its niche – or develop a new one – with the superior organisation and resources of the PLP winning out. There can only be room for one party in these niches.
As long as the BDA failed to differentiate itself from the UBP it was always going to compete for the same resources, membership and support base. It needed to become something new or, alternatively, outcompete the UBP. It may well have been able to outcompete the UBP in time, but they gave up too soon in my opinion. Nor did they seem to place any serious effort on differentiating themselves. Instead, they seem to have lost their nerve and conviction and instead we have this frankenstein of a party, composed of pieces from two political corpses, in essence.
Death Spasms or Flesh Wound?
It’s not clear what will happen with the UBP now. There is no question that they have been severely wounded by the defections of most of its parliamentary caucus. Presumably they will also have lost important numbers of their party cadre and financial backers. They still exist, and still have some resources, but their organisational structure is in crisis, and their potential for financial support is slim, with the OBA likely to take those resources and benefit from the human capital of defecting UBP cadres.
This does not mean that the UBP is doomed. It does mean that they may be doomed, and no one would be surprised at this point if they are unable to recover from this blow. They do however have the potential to recover, although it will be a slow one. They will likely have to regroup and redefine themselves, with their organisational reach being curtailed. If they continue it is unlikely they will be able to field a full set of candidates in the next election, and will probably focus on keeping what they have and maybe making one or two gains elsewhere. They will continue as a rump political party if they do this, at least for the next elected parliament. However, if they can survive in parliament, even with two or three seats in the next election, they may well recover, and the influx of new faces, a neccessary consequence of these defections, may well be to their benefit.
Such an approach will mean a long and difficult road for its remaining membership. Their leader will have a thankless task and will need a clear sense of purpose and conviction with which to guide the party back from the wilderness. I do think, though, that if they can take this situation as an opportunity for redfining and reconstruction, they may well benefit in the long-term. Having said that, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they collapse and go the way of the NLP following the next election.
At the moment the OBA has had one of the worst possible of starts, even worse than the BDA’s poor planning of a genesis. They do however have the benefit of the experience of the BDA, and its organisational structure with which to graft on the defecting human and financial capital of the UBP. As such they have the potential to become a fully functioning Official Opposition very quickly. One expects there will be minor disputes resulting from the jockeying for positions and influence that the influx of UBP MPs and cadre will cause, but I don’t expect these to seriously threaten the new party’s existence, although they may provide fault lines for the future.
As things stand the OBA really do suffer from the same criticisms that were levelled at the BDA. No one knows how they differ from the UBP in anything but name. In terms of parliamentary representatives they are all MPs that were elected under the UBP banner in 2007. Membership wise and financially they appear to be a reunification of the fractured UBP, albeit with potentially a few new faces resulting from the ill-fated BDA saga. They may even recapture membership and support which left the UBP but never subsequently pinned their colours (or membership dues) to the PLP or BDA. But does this make them anything more than a rejuvenated UBP? And is this ‘new hope’ substantial or just a short-term bump of false hope? And can they really move beyond the UBP in other areas than name?
I don’t know. They have the potential, that is true, but can that potential overcome organisational and ideological inertia left over from the UBP? I’ll keep an open mind in my judgement of them (I severly doubt they will attract my support mind!), but the onus is on them to disprove critics who claim they are just a rebranded UBP.