Michael Manley 40 years on

Michael Manley 40 years on

Still Jamaica’s most popular politician ever

BY DELANO FRANKLYN delanofranklyn@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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TODAY, February 29, 2012 marks 40 years since Michael Manley's victory in his first general election as president of the People's National Party (PNP).

On February 29, 1972, he led the PNP to a resounding general election victory, which was its first since 1959. In that campaign he had inveighed against social injustice and inequality which, he claimed, pervaded Jamaica.

Michael Manley, thereafter, served as prime minister of Jamaica for 11 years - 1972 to 1980 and 1989 to 1992; leader of the Opposition for 11 years - 1969 to 1971 and 1981 to 1989; president of the PNP for 23 years, and served a total of 43 years in public life, before he passed away on March 6, 1997, at the age of 72.

When Manley died in 1997, a poll which was printed in The Gleaner of March 17, 1997 showed that 67.98 per cent of the Jamaican people believed he should be made a national hero. Up to three years after his death, a poll conducted by the Carl Stone Organisation and published in the Observer of December 1, 2000 showed that when the people were asked which prime minister had done the most to improve the lot of the people, 54 per cent said Manley.

His popularity and continuous impact was further captured in a March 16, 2006 Gleaner poll, nine years after his passing, which showed that 49 per cent of the people said that of the six prime ministers up to that date, Manley was the best. In that poll, he led his nearest rival by 34 per cent.

By the time Michael Manley became prime minister, in March 1972, at the age of 47, his philosophy had taken full shape. His passionate commitment to equality and justice was reflected not only in every aspect of his philosophy, but also in the causes for which he was to become deeply connected with the people that he served.

Whether the immediate concern was education, industrial relations, racism, gender equality, a new international economic order, crime and violence, national security, economic self-reliance, the deepening of democracy, foreign policy, sport, culture, the arts or any other issue in which he was absorbed, his outlook could always be traced to the wellspring of his philosophy, the touchstone of equality and justice.

This approach to life was clearly outlined in his first book, The Politics of Change, when he wrote: "The more that I have thought about the morality of politics, the more there has emerged for me a single touchstone of right and wrong, and the touchstone is to be found in the notion of equality."

It was this guiding principle which led Manley and the PNP Government to promulgate and execute what some have described as the most profound and wide ranging programme of social and economic reform in Jamaica's history.

Among the legislative measures, were the establishment of a national minimum wage; maternity leave with pay; gender equality in pay scales; the right of workers to join the trade union; the National Housing Trust; a national literacy programme; free education to tertiary level, the democratisation of education which led to students, teachers, and auxiliary workers being represented on school boards; the creation of the National Youth Service; free health care; The status of Children's Act that ended discrimination against children born out of wedlock; the building of the G C Foster College of Sport and Education which has led to the proliferation of coaches throughout Jamaica, thus the quality of athletes now being produced. By virtue of these actions, and many more, Manley championed the rights of the people not only to be seen, but also heard.

Progressive internationalism

In the 1970s, Michael Manley emerged as a world statesman of great authority. He was an avid regionalist who believed in the fundamental principle of the Caribbean territories either working together or suffering separately.

He along with Forbes Bernham of Guyana, Errol Barrow of Barbados, Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago and Vere Bird Sr of Antigua-Barbuda forged, in the face of strident hostility, a strong working relationship with the Fidel Castro-led Government of Cuba. He also drummed up, to much opposition, a relationship with Venezuela.

He was a critical player in the drive to create a New International Economic Order (NIEO) that prescribed for the world's nations the same fair play that he sought for citizens within the Jamaican society. He also rallied to the cause of the people of South Africa as he passionately opposed racial discrimination, especially as practised in its extreme form by the then Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Manley's sojourn as prime minister, however, was not all smooth sailing. At the birth of the PNP in 1938, its first president, Norman Manley, Michael's father, trumpeted the cause of Democratic Socialism as the philosophy of the party. This mission was further highlighted when the PNP won Government for the first time in 1955.

Michael Manley's reaffirmation of Democratic Socialism in 1974 pitted his assault against inequality and injustice in the society against those who saw it as too radical a vision for societal change. Despite Manley's relentless defence and explanation of his Democratic Socialist beliefs and approach, his detractors consistently accused him of being communist or attempting to introduce 'communism'. This charge and countercharge deepened the ideological polarisation within the society.

Michael Manley and the PNP's drive for social and economic transformation during the 1970s was also exacerbated by crippling economic challenges which the Government faced at the time, particularly from 1976 to 1980. This was compounded by the fact that in the 1970s Manley and the PNP had to deal with an oil crisis in 1973, a global recession in 1973 to 1975 and a second oil crisis in 1979.

These challenges were seized upon by an alliance of local conservative interests, led by the conservative Edward Seaga who was elected to lead the JLP in 1974, and equally hostile external forces which, coupled with an upsurge in electoral violence, led to Manley's and the PNP's electoral defeat in 1980.

Return to power

When Manley returned to power in 1989 the world had changed. In response to the paradigmatic shift in the global construct, with market forces assuming the dominant position, Manley's programmatic approach shifted from that of a statist orientation to a more liberal outlook.

According to Denis Benn, 'the changed geopolitical circumstances and growing dominance of neo-liberalism as an economic ideology forced him to modify his earlier radical stance and to embrace neo-liberalism as a philosophical guide to governmental changes'.

To Manley's credit, he was able to get the PNP to make this seismic shift in ideological orientation without any serious fallout in the party. In fact, the shift engineered by Manley and which begun in 1989, continued under the other two leaders of the Party, P J Patterson (1992-2006) and Portia Simpson Miller (2006 - 2007) and (2011 to date).

Lessons to be drawn

As we look back on the 40 years since Manley first came to power there are a number of lessons which can be drawn from his period in and out of office:

* That where serious imbalances and social inequalities exist in a society, policies and programmes to correct such a situation, if they are to benefit the majority of the people, must be people-centred.

* That ideological antagonism makes it literally impossible to achieve national development, and that such divisiveness must be replaced by a political construct which allows for a deliberative process leading to consensus building.

* Opposing forces during the period of Michael Manley's leadership to many of his programmes came about not because they were not worthwhile, but due to partisan politics. The JLP for example, scrapped free education and free health care in the early 1980s and, ironically, promised free education and health care as part of their party campaign platform in the 2007 election. The JLP even began to trumpet Manley's self-reliance programme of 'eat what you grow and grow what you eat'.

* That the advancement in social policies, inclusive of a proactive and pro-people legislative process will become a serious challenge, if they are not supported by sustainable economic growth.

* That the foreign policy pursued by Michael Manley which was predicated on the notion that it is the right of Jamaica to determine for itself with whom and under what conditions it should engage with other countries, and that all countries must be considered equal in the world of nation state, is a correct policy.

* That without strong and effective leadership at the Caricom level, the search for a stronger and more meaningful regional body will become elusive and questionable as, regrettably, is the case at this time.

* The bitter dispute which the opposing forces waged against Jamaica's embrace of Cuba and Venezuela, were shortsighted, as Cuba, by providing us with training in the area of sport, doctors, and nurses and Venezuela, by way of the San Jose Accord and then the Petro Caribe arrangement, have proven critical to Jamaica's national development.

* Michael Manley is no longer with us, but the footprint of his legacy is all over Jamaica. Many of the positive achievements in the Jamaican society today, have their roots in the Manley administration of yesteryear. No wonder despite the bias shown by some towards him, every opinion poll since his passing, asking the public to rate Jamaica's political leaders, shows Michael Manley ahead of the field by a commanding gap.

Delano Franklyn, an attorney-at-law, is a former senator and current chairman of the Michael Manley Foundation.


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