The present PNP is mere perfume from its political past
Sunday, December 18, 2011
IN the summer of 1967 I met Gigi and fell head over heels in love with her. To me, she was the prettiest girl in the world.
Like me, she was 17, and on her birthday she presented me with a neatly wrapped package containing a perfume made by Avon called Wild Country. The relationship lasted for a little over a year and long after that when she had travelled abroad to find her fortune I used Wild Country until I embarked on another amorous mission.
Each time I got a whiff of it, it conjured up images of my sweet Gigi. Now, I have long forgotten what Wild Country smells like, but if it still exists and I should come into its closeness I would 'see' Gigi.
In reality, Gigi would now be 61, but if I want to keep my fantasy going, it would suit me not to meet her should she ever visit Jamaica. I have that image of her and that smell of her perfume and if I want to keep that dream alive it suits me to imagine her young, beautiful and untouched at 17.
Which brings me to the PNP, its past glory and the present whiff of its past when its leaders, though flawed like all humans, were unafraid to stand out in front and be the best that they could be.
Last week I was in discussion with a group of old 'PNP socialists' who, though concerned that their party is likely to lose the next elections, were however still contending that the PNP is the better of the two parties. My question to them was, 'which PNP?'
Was it the PNP of the past or is it the PNP whose memory is 'etched' in the whiff of a perfume.
Having had two of the best leaders in Norman Manley and his son, Michael, I find it difficult to place Portia Simpson Miller in the same company as these men, even though they are no longer with us. Both Manleys were proud of their intellectual traditions and believe those were best suited in leadership for the advancement of the people.
Both men, along with PJ Patterson, were never unsure of themselves and unafraid to face up to the burning issues of the moment. All were never shy of tackling the leadership of the JLP in critical assessments of current and long-term directions. Today, however, we see a PNP leader more comfortable with populist rants from the political platform and still believing that all one has to do is show up and the magic will reappear.
Some have said that the elder Manley was a bit of an elitist, as if somehow it was a sin to strive for the best for this nation. Like the late Professor Carl Stone who believed that Michael Manley squandered valuable political capital during the 1970s, I too share the belief that Michael, like no other leader before or after, had the best chance of addressing and dealing with our problems.
To me, he wasted too much of that time in incendiary political rhetoric and in stirring up class warfare without a consideration of the fallout, both here and in the global space.
Months ago the late Professor Aggrey Brown invited me to give a presentation to a group of graduate students visiting the UWI Mona campus. My presentation was titled, 'Jamaican Political Culture and Contemporary Jamaican Politics.'
At one stage of the presentation I suggested that Michael Manley was much too intelligent a man to have so misread the intentions of our great, powerful neighbour to the north, the USA. To me, the worst decision ever made by one of the best political leaders of this country was to tackle head on the USA.
And Michael, in his convenient political naivety, did not know that America would push back after his fiery rhetoric and promises to 'walk to the mountain top with Castro?'
After I had completed the presentation and was into the question and answer phase, when I was expanding on the political exigencies of the time and suggested that all political leaders in the Caribbean in the Cold War period of the 1970s should have recognised the 'might is right' Monroe Doctrine of America and that Manley was the very author of the American push-back and the likely presence of CIA operations in Jamaica, the late professor, seated beside me, turned to me and said, sotto voce, "But he was right though, he was right."
I understand a political leader being right with his conscience, but what about in the fallout felt among the people he leads?
That said however, even when Michael was on what some saw as the wrong path, he was never afraid to openly defend it.
PJ Patterson was helped by Eddie Seaga
I voted in the February 1989 general election for the JLP but in the next election in March 1993, I voted for the PNP.
What was it which prompted both decisions?
First, I had voted for the JLP before, in 1980, 1986 local and in 1989 when I did so again, it was because of two matters.
One, I was an admirer of Seaga's management of the economy in the latter part of the 1980s, even though much more could have been achieved, considering that during that period Jamaica was receiving from America the second highest economic aid per capita, bettered only by Israel.
Two, after the devastation wrought by one of the most vicious hurricanes of the century (Gilbert - direct east to west hit on September 12, 1988) Seaga's open management of that crisis made him, to me, the fitter man for prime minister than Michael Manley.
By 1993, however, much had changed. Nationally, Seaga proved to be worse in opposition than in government. He brooked no internal opposition and ran the JLP as if it were an extension of his backyard.
As 1993 rolled around, the Manley-led PNP Government elected in 1989 was on the verge of being the first one-term Government. The zinc scandal, the furniture scandal and especially the Shell waiver scandal were conspiring to tear the PNP apart.
Manley had detected illness of body in 1986 and it had grown worse by the early 1990s. The Shell waiver scandal had demoted Patterson, but when Manley recognised that his health would not allow him to be an effective prime minister, in 1992 there was an internal election for PNP president.
As of a not so recent past, Portia Simpson was the people's favourite, but in the delegate race she was bettered by Patterson. Prior to being elected by PNP delegates to the PNP presidency, Patterson had faced Portia Simpson in a national debate.
The debate was an absolute disaster for Simpson. It indicated that she had no grasp of any of the important issues. At one stage of the debates when she was fumbling badly in attempting to unravel a question, Patterson stepped in and rescued her by suggesting that what his 'comrade' colleague was trying to say was... and then he went on to speak on her behalf, in a debate!
All of Carl Stone's polls changed rapidly from November 1992 to February 1993. And it all had to do with a new PNP leader facing off with a JLP opposition leader who was perceived by many members of the public to be much too belligerent and dictatorial.
As much as I voted PNP in March 1993, it was not a vote for the PNP as much as it was an anti-Seaga vote. To me, Patterson as a leader did not fit the bill of 'transformative', but Seaga made him appear much better than he was. Also, Patterson being no student of sociology as Seaga was, tended to have a more instinctive understanding of the people. After all, he resembled them and shared much more socio-culturally with them than Seaga.
PJ Patterson could also defend himself publicly, and even though he was a most boring speaker, he had a grasp of the major issues, PNP style.
In the present PNP leader is a person who, as a first resort, is much too uncomfortable in facing up to important and pressing current issues squarely. Where competent leaders tend to have a ready-made squad of second tier political personnel delegated to handle lesser matters, one gets the sense that Simpson Miller doesn't delegate, she hides instead from the public because she is unsure of herself.
The number one question is, what had she been doing all of these years since 1976? The other questions are, where is her own, personal development and what has she done with it in an effective manner since that time to assist her in national leadership?
Very little, by my estimates.
Facing up to Andrew Holness
Unlike any of the current crop of political leaders, the JLP's Andrew Holness is the only one in many years to have come to this nation and opened up with anything resembling the raw, unvarnished, unpalatable truth.
Where America is hurting and European nations are delicately balancing their advanced economies on a knife edge, the PNP is prepared to tell us that, 'Things will be nice again' because it (the PNP) is inherently disrespectful of the electorate, of which many have wised up to the global and national realities.
Granted, there are still the political diehards who want white rum and curry goat, but over the last 15 years those have been joined by a growing army of informed voters who simply want to be told the unvarnished truth. I am not saying that the JLP has suddenly grown a conscience. The fact is, it is still a difficult party to manage and the mindset of some is still in the past.
What I am heartened at is more than the whiff of change where Holness is prepared to walk out in front and take charge and declare that he is the one responsible and the buck stops with him.
His handling of the JDIP scandal is food for thought. Contrast that with the Trafigura scandal of 2006 when Mrs Simpson Miller was prime minister. She retreated, and for about 10 days handed responsibility for outing the fire to her PNP gurus.
Going back further in time, when the Shell waiver scandal broke at the beginning of the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Michael Manley was on the airwaves taking charge like any leader should do. When the minister under whose portfolio the scandal arose (PJ Patterson) was forced to resign and then declared, 'I shall return' the nation was in no doubt as to who was in charge -- Michael Manley.
When the JDIP scandal broke, in similar fashion, the young no-nonsense Andrew Holness made the critical and difficult decision and Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry resigned, and the nation was in absolutely no doubt as to who was leading from the front, who was in charge -- Andrew Holness.
When Trafigura broke in 2006 and then Information Minister and PNP Gen Sec Colin Campbell resigned, one sensed that it came after PNP gurus had met and deliberated. The face and the voice of party leader and then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller were conspicuously absent. No one was in charge!
It is my belief that Jamaicans will be voting for a leader who is unafraid to make the tough decisions and make them while in touch with the people. The people will vote for a leader who is unafraid of his shadow and who will walk out in front and represent their collective resourcefulness and talents.
Such a leader does not now exist in the PNP and it will be the PNP's undoing come December 29.
Debates can move the independent voter
As the debates earn discussions nationally, we are increasingly learning that the best speakers are capable of giving the worst information through the most eloquently couched answers.
It is not automatic that the lesser skilled debaters are ill-equipped with knowledge, only that they are deficient in using deception as well as the better presenters.
I am reminded of an incident which took place in the 1970s during a time when workshop representation was sought in boardrooms in the new 'democratisation'.
A union delegate short on brains sat through a board meeting during which time the discussions floated over his head. The poor man did not understand almost all of what was said. When he was asked to make an input, he simply said, 'I have nothing to add.'
As he returned to the shop floor his fellow workers surrounded him. 'So, how it go man?' they asked.
Totally befuddled himself, he turned to his fellow workers and said, 'It nuh mek no sense mi tell onnu. Onnu nah go understand anyway!'
He escaped by conferring on his fellow workers, ignorance when it was he who was so afflicted.
The intelligent voter tends to be one who has no automatic attachment to a particular political party. He may have a preference but it is never carved in stone. Where both the JLP and the PNP tend to be driven by the face of the leader, the intelligent voter is more moved by knowing that the party leader can articulate a coherent vision for the country.
It is not enough that a leader in a debate 'Gi a good talk.' It must be wrapped around a firm intellectual understanding of the human and physical resource constraints of the country and the global space within which that polity must participate. Loving the people is good, and compassion is never an overworn attribute. But in political leadership much more is needed.
Holness's resumé matches his years but he has, in the last few weeks, indicated that he intends to add much more to it where it counts. It could be that too many of us are building another dream, but what else do we have available to us? The political card pack is there, and presently we cannot invent any new cards.
We are forced to work with what we have.
LIME, Lasco and good corporate citizens
AT this time of the year when some who have it all will be content to keep it all, there are many among us who will always be moved by the spirit of giving at Christmas.
Individuals will give to those who are in need, especially at this time. It comes with the tradition of Christmas, but with a Jamaican touch. A plate of food here, toys for the children there, and just generally lifting the body and the soul of someone in need.
I have mentioned LIME and Lasco in the title because over the years I have been following the leadership directions of both companies. Lascelles Chin of Lasco is one of the most complete corporate citizens I know.
He is compassionate, but absolutely no pushover in the boardroom. His corporate 'giving back' operates right throughout the year and I know that at this time his company is touching the lives of many.
A reader sent me a letter transmitted to the newspapers in which he suggested that numerous companies, including LIME have been assisting in numerous ways.
Said a part of the letter, 'LIME caught my attention when the company executed its back-to-school event in Portmore before the beginning of the school year assisting parents and youngsters from all over Jamaica. The company provided these students with school supplies and even got the help of other organisations to conduct free immunisations, eye examinations and dental care at the event. After this very notable act of philanthropy, the company later opened a community park in Portmore, a facility set up to uplift the spirits of the people of the area.
'In its latest outreach programmes, the company has been extending helping hands and joyful cheer to the disabled. In November the company brought gifts to the Enos Barrett Resource Centre for Persons with Multiple Disabilities along with Christmas cheer. LIME donated to the resource centre a computer, a bookshelf filled with reading material and a year's supply of cooking gas. I can also recall reading in the newspaper that the Edgehill School of Special Education in Port Maria was a part of its Christmas of a Lifetime Moment project. A kind donation of a refrigerator, standing fans and a computer was made to the learning facility, which caters to almost 50 children with learning disabilities.
'The company and staff members must be commended for these heart-warming charities. LIME, in my opinion, has been setting an admirable pace for other well-supported companies in Jamaica and I hope they will continue doing so.'
It was also suggested that Supreme Ventures, Jamaica National (I am always getting its newsletters), Red Stripe and Pepsi Cola are companies that 'don't wait for a special occasion' to do good.
I know that a company like Carreras, though under pressure from the strong anti-smoking lobby that has rightfully recognised the dangers of smoking, especially in public spaces, has done well in its scholarship outreach programme. I even sat in on one such scholarship committee.
Other companies are encouraged to do more and I have no problem in mentioning such outreach programmes in this column.
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