Important gesture and the need for culture change

Monday, September 23, 2019

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Some will dismiss symbolic gestures as unimportant.

However, in politics it can make a huge difference.

This is why the more thoughtful members of the People's National Party (PNP) will have heaved a huge sigh of relief when recently re-elected party president Dr Peter Phillips and his vanquished opponent Mr Peter Bunting made a show of unity at yesterday's public session of their national conference.

After insisting that he will be president “for all”, with bias towards none, Dr Phillips offered his respect to Mr Bunting for a “spirited challenge”.

More crucially, the two embraced and joined hands on the platform as massed Comrades at the National Arena as well as a national television audience watched.

That gesture was all the more important since an arrangement made public beforehand for Mr Bunting to speak fell through due to what he said was pushback from some Comrades.

Regardless of that, it is obvious that the PNP secretariat and leadership have begun the process of healing after what was a most bruising and closely fought internal leadership election campaign.

As has been said over and over again, that healing must take place quickly if the PNP is to successfully challenge the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government in the next general election, which is constitutionally due in 2021, but which many expect long before then.

As the situation now stands, despite corruption scandals, continued sluggish economic growth, and persistently severe social problems, not least crime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government are riding a wave of economic optimism, backed by the smiling approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The positives from the Government's perspective notwithstanding, Dr Phillips found plenty of credible fodder to lash the Holness Administration on a range of issues, including the failure so far to meaningfully attempt a unified approach to crime.

Yet, the chord that struck deepest with this newspaper had very little, if anything, to do with adversarial politics.

The PNP president spoke to broken family life, which is severely afflicting a large segment of the Jamaican population leading to many, if not most, of the country's social woes, including violent crime.

As Dr Phillips put it, when “the family is broken, society is broken”, and “when the family is strong, society is strong”.

He made the readily understood point that broken families can't be legislated against, but that the next PNP Government, recognising that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, will make every effort to encourage respect for healthy family life and proper parenting.

Perhaps Dr Phillips's promise of a paternity leave law would assist the push to get more fathers to be responsible parents. However, it seems clear that nothing short of culture change will put an end to careless parenting, which has deep roots in Jamaica's history of enslavement, deprivation and ignorance.

Ultimately, it seems to us, it is education among the many areas touched on by Dr Phillips yesterday allied to people empowerment, which will bring about that culture change.


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