In many instances when concerned individuals or detractors, both outside and inside the People's National Party, have criticised that political organisation, reference is made of its founder, National Hero Norman Washington Manley and usually in a positive light. Indeed, there have been repeated calls for the party to return to the principles, philosophy and objectives that Norman Manley espoused.
Norman Manley was born on July 4, 1893. This means that Monday marked his 118th birthday. There was no fanfare or even prolonged discourse on this great Jamaican, even as the United States made much ado about that date which commemorates that nation's Independence Day which was first observed in 1776. Who really was Norman Manley and why has he been so revered by many well-thinking Jamaicans?
According to Dr George Eaton, author of Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica, in the context of colonial Jamaica, Manley spearheaded a nationalist movement via the PNP, a radical party. He was "a man whose training and achievement should have predisposed him to lead a conservative party. For Norman Manley, excellence of achievement was the norm. An outstanding high school athlete, Rhodes scholar, decorated World War I veteran, prize man of Gray's Inn, first-class honours in his Bar finals, mathematician and brilliant legendary at the Bar and the first Jamaican to appear before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council... A man who placed his skills of advocacy at the disposal of the downtrodden workers in 1938 and who, in spite of the fact that he held over 100 retainers representing nearly all of big business in Jamaica, when he entered politics, never appeared thereafter for a firm or employer in a litigation which involved worker interests.
"He never ceased to be a friend and counsel to organised labour; a man who had a vision of a new Jamaica that would be self-sustaining and rehabilitated from the ravages of colonial servitude; a man whose high standards of public utterance enabled him to articulate some of the most noble and inspiring sentiments about his country and people and his aspirations for both; finally, a man of great personal integrity who remained INCORRUPTIBLE (my emphasis) and unimpeachable until his death in 1969."
I must confess that outside of Sam Sharpe, Norman Manley is my most admired and beloved National Hero. If only our politicians of today of whatever stripe would take a few leaves out of his book, then Jamaica would be a better place by far. Needless to say, Norman Manley must be turning in his grave when he sees some 60 per cent of Jamaicans saying in a recent national poll that they would prefer to be ruled by Missis Queen! Here was a nationalist who in his last public speech at a PNP conference laid down the charge to successive generations, exhorting his people to pursue the path of attaining economic independence as his generation had fulfilled their dream of attaining Jamaica's political independence.
These were his words as he announced that he was demitting office as president and leader of the PNP at his 75th birthday banquet: "My generation had a distinct mission to perform. It was to create a national spirit with which we could identify ourselves as a people for the purpose of achieving independence on the political plane. I am convinced, deeply convinced, that the role of this generation is to proceed to the social and economic reform of Jamaica."
Even as we recall the many admirable attributes of this great Jamaican leader, we must wonder to what extent his ideals, aspirations and principles are being embraced by the PNP and the wider society. To what extent does the PNP's Progressive Agenda encapsulate this Jamaican dream which, if it had been followed relentlessly by successive leaders, would have taken this island state to the Promised Land, instead of us still thirsting in the desert of despair, hoping for meaningful and sustainable development on a level playing field to materialise even on the eve of the nation's 50th anniversary? It behoves Comrades, Labourites as well as Jamaicans of no particular partisan persuasion to emulate those qualities of Norman Manley that embody the true spirit of nationhood and nation building.
In this context, the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP ought to revisit the legacy of Norman Manley post-haste and use it as a template for the way forward. His magnanimous, mature and courageous approach to the issue of West Indies Federation was yet another fine example of statesmanship which is sadly lacking in the body politic today. In the end, "West Indian nationalism lost out to Jamaican nationalism" and even today that particular struggle continues with Caricom in the doldrums and the Caribbean Court of Justice still being viewed by some, especially in the ruling Jamaica Labour Party as a non-starter.
The PNP in its fledgling days was primarily a middle-class organisation. According to Dr Eaton, Manley had in fact wanted to establish a Labour Party akin to its socialist counterpart in the United Kingdom. Ironically, the name Jamaica Labour Party was reserved for Alexander Bustamante, an organisation which is more in line with the British Conservative Party! Owing to groundwork of OT Fairclough of Public Opinion fame, who helped to set up a historic debate which lasted for hours, by a narrow vote the decision was taken to call the party "national".
Today, many may well argue successfully that there is not much difference between the JLP and the PNP. In the 2007 general election, the middle class deserted the PNP in droves and over the recent years it is the poorer class of Jamaicans that have gravitated towards the party because of its social welfare policies. In the meantime, Busta's party which was built through the blood, sweat and tears of the working class and the labour movement has become a "big man" enclave. As these dynamics evolve on the political landscape, the vision of Norman Manley will not go away and will continue to haunt us until we fully accept and be inspired by his mission statement. Long live Norman Manley, a true patriot!