It may be time for the UBP to cast aside its white "old guard" in order for the party to move forward, the party's chairman said yesterday.

Speaking ahead of a UBP retreat this weekend, Shawn Crockwell said that the party must discuss pushing young black members to the fore, while "drawing back" older white elements.

Mr. Crockwell stressed that it was regrettable that such a conversation would have to take place, and said that it would likely cause machinations within the party. However, he said it was necessary because the UBP appears to be unelectable in its current guise.

Underscoring just how combative this weekend's conference is likely to be, Mr. Crockwell was later rebutted by the party's acting leader Patricia Gordon-Pamplin. Mrs. Gordon-Pamplin told the Bermuda Sun that the party would be making no promotions or demotions based on race, and that to do so would compromise everything the party stands for.

Mr. Crockwell said the priority this weekend would be to prepare the party to enter Parliament on February 1. He said: "We have to put the strength of Bermuda's democracy first. I expect us to have a new leader early next week, and we will appoint our senators so that the UBP will be a vociferous and effective Opposition on February 1."

However, looking further ahead, Mr. Crockwell said that the party may well need to be renamed, and also has a duty to look at more radical options. He said that the electorate had "sent the party a message" by voting so heavily for the PLP despite what he believes was the UBP's stronger policies.

He said that the UBP's historical reputation is holding it back. "Maybe certain individuals are more responsible than others for giving the party that image [as the party of white oppression]," he said. "Maybe it's time to move away from that old guard. That is one of the options. We have to put that option on the table in good faith. That would be regrettable because many of our white members really play a crucial role. But we saw during the election that there is a perception problem. Let's look at something new: something totally different from the old UBP."

Mr. Crockwell said that he, Kim Swan, and Donte Hunt were the kind of young black faces that will take the UBP forward with the right image and ideas. He said: "We represent the future of the party. I think we will take a leading role. Personalities make up a political party and shape a political party. The UBP has this influx of new, young talent and we can change the party from within."

Mr. Crockwell stressed that it would be "regrettable" if older UBP figures get pushed aside, but said that it may be necessary for the good of the party and democracy in Bermuda.

He said: "The political arena is very unfriendly to white people right now. The PLP set out to make it that way. Now, of course, we can continue to fight the good fight. We can refuse to have this dictated to us by other people. But I hope we can be mature enough to look at this as it is. The electorate sent us a message. I now think it's going to be expected that certain people are going to have to draw back."

Asked what kind of conflict may be caused within the UBP if the white "old guard" are asked to step aside, Mr. Crockwell said: "There could be trouble, yes. Some very difficult decisions will have to be made."

Mr. Crockwell, who has ruled himself out of the leadership race because he says he needs to gain more political experience, said that he has given his specific support to John Barritt. However, he said his opinion "might change" if acting leader Mrs. Gordon-Pamplin would agree to take on the role. (See panel on this page.)

Mr. Crockwell said that John Barritt would make a fine leader because he is "a great parliamentarian, a tremendous debater." However, he hinted that the party may need to try its hardest to pick a black leader. He said: "Unfortunately he [Mr. Barritt] is white, and he's a Barritt, and that could create an issue, as it appeared to with Michael Dunkley."

Mrs. Gordon-Pamplin challenged Mr. Crockwell's assertion that the party may need to push forward a young black image. Mrs. Gordon-Pamplin said: "People should be pushed to the fore on the strength of their talents and their talents alone. Have we really reached the stage in this country where the only consideration is the color of someone's skin?

"If I made a decision based on someone's race I would be compromising my core values and the values of the party. If we compromise our values we may as well pack up and go home."