It was always going to be an uphill battle - now the chances of the UBP winning the next election have been crushed.

The consensus among key political observers is that the race row swirling around Jamahl Simmons has all-but handed the PLP victory at the next poll.

Our sources - senior UBP figures among them - told us the Opposition had little chance of winning back power even before Mr. Simmons made his extraordinary claims about racism in the party's ranks. Now, even though Mr. Simmons's overall credibility is bound to come under scrutiny, it will be impossible for the UBP to attract the level of support it needs to win back the government, sources say.

Adding to the Opposition's misery is news of the resignation from the UBP of long-time member David Dunkley. Mr. Dunkley has attributed his decision to white racism as well (see separate story, below).

Despite comments made by Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert at a damage-control press conference on Tuesday and the upbeat sentiments of the party deputy Michael Dunkley, Mr. Simmons' criticism has done "irreparable damage" to the party, a supporter who did not wish to be named told the Bermuda Sun yesterday.

Another senior UBP figure, who also requested anonymity, conceded that the UBP had little chance of winning the next election. He said that party was having difficulty attracting strong candidates of either race because it's now in opposition.

He also said black candidates in marginal constituencies were probably feeling "very uncomfortable" in the wake of the treatment meted out to Mr. Simmons, who is a new recruit and a sitting MP in a safe UBP seat, Pembroke West.

The party member seemed to give weight to the comments of Mr. Simmons, who blasted the UBP for allowing a small white group within his constituency to pursue a campaign to push him out and replace him with Erwin Adderley, who is black but more to their liking.

The veteran UBP figure said that whites, who vote en masse for the UBP, "have not come to grips with a new Bermuda."

The 'new Bermuda' is one in which blacks, who are in the majority, are in the driver's seat. It's been the case since 1998, when the Progressive Labour Party ended the UBP's 30-year tenure as the ruling party.

Yesterday, pollster and political commentator Walton Brown said Mr. Simmons' criticism of the party "will not change the outcome of the next general election."

Based on the results of the polls he has been conducting over the last six months, the PLP will win the next election, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Simmons' comments could increase the PLP's margin of victory, he said.

He explained that Mr. Simmons, who is one of their best and brightest MPs, had denounced a group of whites within the party for racist practices.

"It's an embarrassment to the UBP," he said. "They have put themselves forward as the party of racial unity."

Mr. Brown would not go as far as to say - as some have observed in the wake of the controversy - that Mr. Simmons' criticism is the nail in the UBP's coffin.

But Mr. Brown said: "It raises criticism about the long-term ability of the party to attract sufficient support to return it to power."

Meanwhile Mr. Simmons was standing by his comments yesterday, saying: "I think the UBP has to get serious about race."

He refused to reveal his future plans, although he said he has been told the UBP plans to kick him out of the party.

He had strong words for Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert, who released to the media e-mail correspondence between him and Mr. Simmons, in which Mr. Simmons expressed support for the party.

Mr. Simmons retorted that he has e-mails as well, but he had "more integrity" than Mr. Furbert and would not make them public.

At a press conference, Mr. Furbert continued to express support for Mr. Simmons.

Disappointed

Later, Michael Dunkley said Mr. Simmons' decision was unexpected and the party was very disappointed. But he insisted: " I am sure the United Bermuda Party will certainly rebound from the negative criticism because it's just not true. One of our strengths in the UBP is our diversity. I don't think the PLP can say that. When one of your strengths is diversity, one of your weaknesses can also be that same thing, and unfortunately we have an issue and somebody comes out and says their opinion, it touches on a nerve that everybody in Bermuda is always very wary of.

"We stand by being a diverse group, one that is very tolerant and accepting of people's views."

Mr. Dunkley also said that at the next election voters will be looking at policies of the two parties and how they affect their everyday lives. n

What do you think? Can the UBP recover and go on to win the next election? E-mail the editor: tmcwilliam@bermudasun.bm