Of disparaging statements followed by pseudo-apologies

Of disparaging statements followed by pseudo-apologies

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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When the drum beats too loudly it is about to crack. — Shona proverb, Zimbabwe

While on the political hustings in Portland Eastern last year, Damion Crawford, then a candidate for the People's National Party (PNP), spewed what has been appropriately described by many well-thinking Jamaicans as “classist”, “sexist”, and “misogynist” diatribe about his political opponent, Ann-Marie Vaz. Among other things, The Gleaner of March 4, 2019, reported: “If you look at potential, the furthest this lady will go is Mrs Vaz. If you look at potential, how far can I go and how [far] will you come with me?” Crawford stated, also declaring that, “If this lady beat me, it will be a travesty!”

At the time when Crawford made these comments scientific polls had indicated that he was the most popular politician in the PNP. That reality, plus the fact that the PNP had not lost the Portland Eastern seat in 30 years, did not help the PNP to win the April 4, 2019 by-election. The vicious attacks on Vaz, among other things, hurt the PNP in the by-election.

The political trashing which the PNP got in the Portland Eastern by-election should have served as a teaching moment for Norman Manley's party. Has the PNP forgotten the crucial political lessons from Portland Eastern already?

Recall that, despite the fact that the PNP's candidate Damion Crawford, a vice-president, gained 1,000 more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield in 2016, that was not enough to overcome the just over 3,000 additional votes, or 50 per cent increase, for the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Ann-Marie Vaz. This trouncing should have taught 89 Old Hope Road that a new type of politics is being demanded by the electorate.

It seems the historic defeat has hardened the PNP's resolve to merrily continue along a path that will only continue to deliver diminishing political returns. How else must the country interpret the homophobic statements that were reeled off last Sunday at a PNP meeting at which Dr Winston De La Haye was formally introduced as the party's standard-bearer for St Catherine East Central?

Three high-ranking members of the PNP descended into politics to the lowest depths. PNP deputy chairman and Member of Parliament for Clarendon Northern Horace Dalley is known for his affability. I don't think he is wearing a mask. Last Sunday, however, the country was exposed to a side of Dalley that was hitherto hidden from the general public. Dalley made these infelicitous utterances, “We nuh guh down, we guh up. Weh PNP guh, PNP guh up! PNP guh up! [repeated twice]. And we straight. We guh up and we straight. We nuh bend up, bend up. When we are walking up Duke Street. I want to look to my left and I see Comrade Dr Winston De La Haye representing you.”

These unsavoury comments by Dalley give even greater credence to an observation which I made in this space some two and half years ago. That is, the PNP is suffering with advanced Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome. It is clear to me that this Peter Phillips-led PNP is fully absorbed in political desperation.

A long time ago I said here that the PNP was suffering with an appalling famine of ideas and lack of talent. I have been proven right. The PNP has evidently run out of creative ideas to grab and hold the attention of the electorate; therefore, its members grovel to the lowest political denominator.

I have seen this movie before. The end was almost always the same. The political antagonist suffered a crushing political demise.

Recall the incendiary “Boom, bye, bye” comments of Edward Seaga, the then leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, on the campaign platform in the run-up to the 1993 General Election? Seaga was drawing on lyrics from then up-and-coming dancehall star Buju Banton.

For context, Seaga was defending himself against systematic demonisation by the PNP. For nearly three decades Seaga had been branded by the PNP as the de facto father of political violence in Jamaica and his constituency, Kingston Western, was stigmatised as the “mother of all political garrisons”.

Neither is true.

I pointed out in this space some time ago that credible scholarship has shown that political violence germinated in the 1940s. Initially it was mostly unfriendly banter in the 50s; thereafter, nasty epithets and vitriol descended into stone-throwing; and later distribution of assorted weapons, inclusive of Molotov cocktails, also known as petrol bombs or poor man's grenades, in the 60s, and by the 70s and 80s guns were brought into the deadly political descent.

The key player in the infancy of political violence in Jamaica was a clandestine PNP-affiliated gang called Group 69. It was hatched in Kingston Western.

Political violence in Jamaica had its genesis in vitriolic words. Words which incited Jamaicans to alienate their countrymen/women because of differences in political views.

Willie Lynch, from as far back as 1712, promoted difference as a means of controlling slaves on sugar plantations. It is very sad that many are still trapped in this mental warp.

When Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern and Opposition spokesperson for finance Mark Golding said last Sunday that, “I know seh Terrelonge when him see the straightness of the man who is coming against him, will be wobbling and quaking in his boots tonight,” he was seeking to engage the gears of the old political vehicle of differences.

I believe Mark Golding would have gained some urgently needed political traction for the PNP if he had used his time on the stump last Sunday to discuss how the PNP will create more and better-paying jobs, reduce crime, and stimulate additional development in St Catherine East Central.

On April 4, 2017, the Old Lady of North Street carried this headline: 'Phillips appointed Opposition leader; promises to secure a better future for Jamaica'. Where is Phillips and the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy, Golding? Dr Phillips has promised to build a better Jamaica for all Jamaicans. The country is anxious to hear how this will be done.

Some people will doubtless say that the deplorable utterances from Mark Golding and other PNP high-ranking members last Sunday are mere words, just undeliberate jiving on the political stump; 'rum talk', even, meaningless banter, or innocent political hazing. I beg to disagree.

I recall in 2005 then Prime Minister P J Patterson declared on the Breakfast Club, a morning radio programme hosted by Beverly Anderson-Manley and Anthony Abrahams inter alia: “My credentials as a lifelong heterosexual person are impeccable.” The spreading of sordid rumours about what some perceived was the sexual preference of Patterson did not help Seaga and the JLP one bit. Seaga and the JLP were soundly defeated by Patterson and the PNP in the general elections of 1993, 97 and 2002.

Messrs Dalley, Golding, and other PNP officials might not have been aware of this important bit of history during their tirade last Sunday.

The rant of Dr Dayton Campbell, Member of Parliament for St Ann Western, is not to go unnoticed. Dr Campbell spoke these hapless words last Sunday: “The likkle fake Rastaman weh over here. Weh all, all mi hear him talking about is toxic masculinity. Mi ask him, 'A wah dat?' Every day him get up him deh pon toxic masculinity, toxic masculinity. I doan know what is dat? We want to give you a Member of Parliament that will represent the issues of the constituency. So we endorse fully the candidacy of Dr Winston De La Haye.”  

Dr Campbell is a person of considerable schooling. He is a trained medical doctor and I gather he is also a trained lawyer. Surely Dr Campbell should have taken the time to inform himself on the matter of toxic masculinity — a term which is now frequently used in media and other fora.

Dr Campbell, in a future PNP Administration, will likely get a Cabinet post. Is his seeming public celebration of ignorance something we can feel comfortable about? I think not! Ignorance is not bliss, Dr Campbell.

The PNP needs to stop trying to resurrect the politics of the past. They will continue in the political doldrums as long as they continue to ignore the political currents of today's Jamaica.

I believe one of the major reasons the PNP finds itself on the political ropes is because of the lack of courageous leadership at the top. Déjà vu.

Recall, a deputy general secretary of the PNP, Basil Waite, at a rally in St Elizabeth only days before our Emancipation and Independence holidays, made these deep-seated self-loathing utterance, “And some of the likkle nasty nayga dem who ah call themselves Labourite...” The video of the event circulated on social media showed Dr Peter Phillips was seated on the very podium only metres away from where Waite delivered the despicable comments. Phillips did not grab the microphone from Waite and tell him to stop what he had been saying. Neither has Dr Phillips, since the incident,  dissociated himself from Waite's contemptible remarks.

Recall also these incendiary remarks by Dr Dayton Campbell at a PNP gathering in Port Antonio days before their by-election last year: “East Portland, let's do this. We gonna do this for a fallen soldier. Ah never sick Dr Bloomfield sick and dead. A kill dem kill Dr Bloomfield in ah the middle of the battle. If dem think seh dem a guh come kill wi doctor and then come tek wi seat, dem mek a sad mistake.”

Dr Peter Phillips and other high-ranking members were also on the platform at the time. None interrupted Campbell. That tells a whole story.

Whether some want to admit it or not, the aorta of the PNP's election strategy is impaired. Many in the PNP are still caught up in a largely discarded political past in which they were 'petted and powered' by large sections of academia and the media. A major strategy, then, was to encircle the PNP wagon each time the PNP did wrong. Those days are over and done.

Last August, I said in this space, among other things: “In our political context, it is the norm for one's intended political objective to be achieved on the hustings, even if it means the use of acidic references; and then you appease the general public with pseudo-apologies.

“I have long contended that these so-called apologies are little more than a manifestation of what George Orwell and other analysts of dystopian mindsets called double-acting — essentially, you believe one thing, but say/act in the opposite way, and/or hold two diametrically opposite views which are utilised as crutches of convenience in different settings.” (Jamaica Observer, August 11, 2019)
I stand by those comments.

The PNP statements of regret for the homophobic slurs that were retailed in St Catherine, last Sunday, fits the mentioned scenario like a hand to a glove. I believe it was an insult to the intelligence of well-thinking Jamaicans. We have made seismic improvements in the management of our electoral affairs over the last 40 years. Our current electoral system is the result of great sacrifice, maturity, and the implementation of diligent reforms designed to protect our democracy.

Our present electoral system is seen as a democratic beacon around the world. We must nourish and cherish this important national accomplishment. Those who are attempting to bring us back to the brink of the political abyss through the resurrection of differences must be democratically resisted.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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