Debates, ads and the traumatic fight for power

Debates, ads and the traumatic fight for power

Mark Wignall

Thursday, December 22, 2011

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TO those so disposed, it may be seen as nit-picking for me to begin this column with a mention of Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller's suggestion in the leadership debate that, as a replacement for our attachment to the British monarchy, Jamaica could have its own queen.

The 'replacement queen' model has never been really studied. In fact, I am quite sure that it has never been proposed before. Was it simply a gaffe (as we were forewarned by the opposition leader a few weeks ago that debating is not one of her strong points) on her part, or was it an egregious misunderstanding of the country's foundational structure of government which no leader should ever display?

Take your choice. Frankly, going into the debate, Prime Minister Holness had much more to lose. In our misreading of what a debate is — that it should end up with a winner and a loser — JLP supporters were expecting Holness to score with a knockout punch. First, even if his debating skills were superior to Simpson Miller's as they were, overkill on his part would be seen as ungentlemanly behaviour.

Second, although the one-hour duration was severely limited, one expected him, as leader of the ruling party, to seize the time to expand on his immediate or short-term plans for job creation. If there are none, it should have been clearly articulated. The JLP platform of 'continuity' and 'stability' may be pleasing to the ears of the regional IMF bosses, but it provides nothing for the man and woman at street level.

If there are no jobs to be had in the short term, what then? Must the people be told the harsh truth or should they be pampered, petted and promised truckloads of jobs where none exist?

In one week's time this country will either re-elect the JLP or re-invite the PNP to form the next Government. In the pursuit of this, the vast majority of the voting population, about 90 per cent, will be voting along traditional lines. Born PNP will be voting PNP. In yards where 'all di dawg a JLP,' the vote will be JLP.

Anywhere between five per cent to seven percentage points of the vote will constitute 'issues' voters. In a turnout in the high 60 per cent, that may count as 10 per cent of the actual vote. Both political parties need to snatch 100 per cent of their 2007 votes and then go for the share of that 10 per cent whose party preference is not rooted in any fierce attachment to party colour or tradition over substance derived from the issues at hand.

The matter of job creation will feature big among that 10 per cent. If 'stability' and 'continuity' can translate to a sound springboard to job creation, that is, investments, significant numbers of that 10 per cent will buy the JLP mantra and the JLP will win. If it is seen as just another fancy, macroeconomic intangible which cannot bear meaning to reality, it will be rejected and the PNP will win.

Many of those in the 10 per cent will have a fair idea as to which party they will be voting for. In a leadership debate, cues are taken and the initial party attachments are firmed up and voting decisions strengthened.

In terms of political ads, those studying the psychology of them would have us believe that they contain two messages. One, the more overt, in-your-face part, exhorting you to vote for this party, and the other, the subliminal, moving you with a message that you are not even certain you understand.

I confess to having little understanding of the psychology behind advertisements. It seems to me that both the JLP and the PNP are driven by each other's ads and no party can lose the 'presence' and the ad war. The media houses make some money and hope that the campaign would last for six months, but even if a 'bang for the buck' should be researched after the election, that would not be enough to quell what is thought to be the significance of political ads during an election campaign.

G2K has loudly complained that its 'Portia Anger Management Ad' has been pulled by RJR/TVJ and that it was pulled after a complaint by Dr Peter Phillips, the PNP's campaign director. Even the editor of this publication supported the decision on the basis that Prime Minister Holness's indication towards a new politics and the ad are incongruent.

One very important question is, who is the author of these ads? Other questions are, are the ads fictional and hence, defamatory? As I saw it, no, and hence the ads have been authored by the subject of the ads and not by fancy technological cut and paste in an engineering studio.

Political leaders from both sides of the fence need to be embarrassed by their misdeeds, missteps and misstatements of the past. And anything else which falls in-between. If a politician chooses to act un-leaderlike, why should he or she be given a free pass a few years later because of someone's nebulous, convenient arrival at a new place of decency and civil politics?

Civil politics! Wow!

Last week, I told readers about a JLP diehard complaining about not getting any of the 'bullo wuk'. A few days ago, I was in conversation with a young woman in her 30s, a PNP diehard. She had been in conversation with a small shopkeeper, a JLP diehard. She complained of being hungry and, to make matters worse, she had a bad swelling beneath her right eye. She had been in a fight again with her boyfriend.

The shopkeeper joked, 'Mi nah trus no PNP nutten today. Dem fi pay cash!' The girl shrugged it off and said, 'Yu cyaan come up a my mountain wid dem green ban pan yu han. Wi chap dem off.' Both of them laughed.

A dread nearby asked the woman, the PNP diehard, what PNP stood for. She replied, 'PNP'.

He asked her again and she gave the same answer. In recognising her severe limitations, I said to her, 'PNP means People's National Party'.

In response, she said, 'Den nuh dat mi did say'.

I have suggested that a lot of what the politicians on both sides have been doing and will continue to do is bamboozle the people because too many of our people are not that much interested in truth or facts. They desire tales from Mother Goose and are not too perturbed at leaders making asses of themselves on the political platform.

Tuesday's debate may have been a 'win' for Andrew Holness, but in the end, it was shallow, vague and much too short in duration. In any event, many of our people want showmen.

At the stage where buyer need meets seller exhortation, we have an election. Even if, perchance, some sense creeps through, it is the better show and the brighter lights that will win.

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