The 1970s: Tumbling of the feet of clay (Part 3)

Edward
Seaga

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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Problems seemed to be following Dudley Thompson. On May 30, 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that his July 18, 1978 nomination as a candidate for the by-election to contest the St Andrew Western seat was “unlawful and unconstitutional”, as was his election to the House of Representatives on August 3. The decision was based on the outrageous conduct of some 1,000 supporters of Mr Thompson who barred the way of other persons seeking to register as candidates for the election.

The day after the Supreme Court decision, May 31, PJ Patterson, acting for Prime Minister Michael Manley who was abroad, transferred the national security portfolio to himself pending the return of the prime minister. Manley, on his return, announced the reinstatement of Thompson on June 11 “with immediate effect”.

Thompson appealed the decision of the Supreme Court but the attempt by the Appeal Court to consider the matter in September was thwarted by the attorney general, using delaying tactics to prevent a decision before the general election.

The Opposition was alarmed at Manley's contemptuous and arrogant disregard for the law and the Constitution. I issued a statement calling for the decision of the Supreme Court to be honoured which would mean that Thompson should vacate his seat as a parliamentarian. Thompson was still attending the House despite the court ruling and calls from the Bar Council for him to cease until his appeal was heard.

The Opposition decided to take political action. I gave notice that the Government was neither above the law nor the Constitution and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of the House would boycott Parliament unless Thompson withdrew, pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. To do otherwise would be to legitimise the “illegality and condone the unconstitutionality of the Government”.

Thompson vacated the seat and soon after left for Cuba for medical treatment where he remained until October.

By mid-1980, it was noticeable that leftist organisations in the country had become hyperactive. The Workers' Party of Jamaica (WPJ), the principal communist group and other fellow travellers, were becoming more involved in the campaign.

The People's National Party (PNP) had been receiving tactical and strategic support from leftist groups in the campaign with Manley's knowledge and complicity. The far left, a nest of small communist-front parties, some openly recognisable, others hiding behind deceptive pseudonyms, moved into a higher gear of strategy and tactics which were carefully kept under cover, but not sufficient to be completely hidden.

Their ally was the radical left in the PNP who gave them room to operate within the broader PNP campaign structure, much to the objection of PNP moderates. This third group posed a conundrum. It was operating within the PNP, as well as outside of that structure on its own.

After decades of confrontation and conflict, both parties, the JLP and PNP, knew the modus operandi of the other. With the frequent instances of violence, both parties could recognise where their own supporters were possibly involved. But what about the growing incidence of senseless and brutal acts of violence in which neither party could recognise any links?

A Gleaner columnist, using the nom de plume Claire Warner, spelled out this intriguing dilemma of a third force and its motivational intent in a column entitled: “Who stands to gain” ( Gleaner, July 23, 1980). It read thus:

“While the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party are placing upon each other the blame for the escalation of violence in politics, it seems that there is a third force which stands to gain more than either of them from the lawlessness which prevails. Strangely, the Government is not looking in that direction at all; and one cannot help recalling that when Special Branch, the central intelligence agency of Jamaica, sought to find out more about these people, it was the prime minister himself who called off the investigation.

“Of the three political groups operating in the country today the Labour Party has the least to gain from the murderous attacks upon innocent citizens, policemen and their stations. The PNP, it seems, has much more to gain from it, but there is another group which has nothing to lose and everything to gain from the chaos and disorder; the frustrations of the people and the collapse of the institutions of democracy.

“The Labour Party leads handsomely in the public opinion polls. It has got there by persistently and consistently demonstrating that it has a better grasp of the economic complexities facing the country. It has done so by skilfully mobilising public opinion against the Government; and it has been aided in this by the Government itself which has shown a remarkable failure to understand the mood of the people and a basic inability to cope with the problems of the country. The JLP owes none of its success to violence and the party leadership must be acutely aware of this fact.

“In these circumstances it would amount to the greatest act of folly for the JLP suddenly to resort to the burning down of houses, the slaughtering of women and children, the terrorising of whole communities, the alienation of the security forces and the general intimidation of the electorate. It would be total nonsense for the JLP to do anything to undermine a fair electoral process for which it has fought so hard over the years; an electoral process which promises to give it a resounding victory at the polls in a few months' time. But it would suit those who are not depending on the electoral system for their victory.

“The PNP could stand to gain if the people were made to believe that the JLP was responsible for the outrages. It could also gain if the residents in known JLP communities were driven from their homes, as happened in 1976, and be prevented from voting in PNP controlled constituencies. Still, the adverse reflection on a Government unable to contain crime would conceivably be a deterrent to any plan for organised violence on the scale we are witnessing. What has the PNP Government to gain if tourism, industry, commerce, law and order come crashing down to a state even worse than it was when the elections were announced earlier this year?

Nothing to Lose

“Planned violence on the scale we are now experiencing can help the PNP only to a limited extent, unless they hope to see it as a means of justifying a state of emergency in which the JLP would be put at a distinct disadvantage, as happened in 1976.

“But there is a third force which, having not a thing to lose — no reputation, no parliamentary power, no seat in the House — may well reap the benefits of social dislocation. Indeed, social dislocation is precisely the means by which their ilk is accustomed to rising to power.

“The police and the army are the two forces which stand between us and this high wave of violence. The JLP has been calling for steps to be taken to make the security agencies stronger, better equipped and free of political interference. Why would they have done that if they had plans to break the law, to attack police stations and kill policemen?

“The PNP on the other hand, always inept, always blundering, has of late been in conflict with the police. Leading PNP politicians have spoken often against 'certain policemen' and the JBC has been running a campaign which involves frequent interviews with demonstrators alleging police brutality. The force has been allowed to go without adequate equipment and transportation and the appeal of the Police Federation for certain conditions has drawn swift rebuff from ministers.

“And while the police are thus handicapped, an organised cry goes up for “More home guards! More home guards!” After every act of violence the programmed parrots take to the streets crying, “More home guards! More home guards!” And the PNP is comforted because it was the instrument used to set up the home guards, even while neglecting the police force. But guess who is behind the calls for more home guards? It is that third force which has stated officially “….every serious worker must now sign up as home guards, send telegrams to Manley calling on him to intensify the home guard programme. This is a must in preparing ourselves for the next attempted coup….”

Should be monitored

“The third force is not interested in strengthening the security forces. One of its spokesmen has said: 'The experience of the people with the security forces… has not been good. The important thing, the key thing is to rely on the people and to enable the people to defend themselves… That is what we advocate, not some international peace-keeping force or even national peace-keeping force in isolation and over the people.'

“The third force advocates the putting of weapons into the hands of the home guards and 'all the people who are under attack nightly in these communities'. The third force never suffers any casualties when the shooting occurs. The third force is not jeopardised at the polls. The third force has no candidates. The third force sits by and laughs while the two parties share the blame. The third force is ever-ready with statements and it gets maximum publicity from the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation ( JBC) and the Daily News. The third force is not interested in the judgement of the electorate; but he third force has a burning desire to rule this country.

“The third force believes that the hold on power should never be relaxed even if it means, in the words of the PNP official, 'blood, pain and death'. The third force believes that in a struggle one must 'go for the jugular'. The third force keeps close company with men who believe in the philosophy of 'one man one gun'.”

The numerous evangelical churches belonging to different groupings were becoming a substantial part of the Christian denomination. Their fervent message of salvation, individualistic participation in worship through testimonials and spiritual possession and social outreach to members in need of material help, strengthened their attractiveness to the ordinary Jamaican worshipper who preferred warm-blooded exaltation to the cold liturgies of the established church.

The evangelical churches were not confined to Sabbath worship only. Many held mid-week services as well. Others used radio time effectively, enhancing their exposure.

Atheistic communism, of which there was a well-known example in Cuba, was an anathema to the evangelicals. They were spurred on by their Christian connections in the United States to emphatically denounce it and they did. Many nights, while returning from campaign meetings, one could hear the emotionally frenzied sermons being broadcast near midnight. They all carried the same message: “deliverance” which, whether coincidentally or otherwise, was the title of the JLP campaign song and its over-arching message.

Gerry Grindley of Grimax Advertising, the advertising agency for the JLP, presented the composition and lyrics to the party as the campaign theme song. It was not readily accepted because it was not folk music (mento), revival, Rastafarian nor a Jamaican pop music composition, these being the favourite musical genres.

The “riddim” did not carry any of those “vibes”. But it had a “sankey” sound (the Ira D Sankey hymnal was the source of evangelical and revival songs). It also had a militancy reminiscence of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers, and the politically biblically flavoured lyrics, oppressed sufferers and strugglers, were resounding in the promise of redemption “deliverance is near”.

We all are wayward travellers

In tattered garments clad

Struggling up a mountain

That makes us seen so sad.

Our backs are laden heavy,

Our strength is almost done

We're shouting as we journey

“Deliverance is near”

Palms of victory, bells of freedom

Palms of victory, deliverance is near.

The PNP, usually strong in the use of campaign slogans and tunes, as in 1972 and 1976, was unable to mount anything fresh for 1980 and was left behind relying on campaign songs from previous campaigns. It suffered by comparison. It could no longer use “We know where we are going”, and an attempt urging supporters to “Step” seemed senseless while a campaign tune urged them to “Stand firm!”

The Deliverance song grew in popularity but it never made the charts as it was not promoted by sales as a musical item for entertainment. But it was very effective at rallies and as the theme song for ads.

The evangelical movement was strong as an anti-communist thrust. It was the anti-thesis of the radical socialist third force.

The media was another powerful advocate on campaign issues. The Daily Gleaner and the JLP were arms-length companions in the campaign because of shared views and objectives. The Government media: radio, TV and press were necessarily aligned through ownership and a shared ideological mission with the PNP and its socialist allies. The power for political damage of this third force was a reality.

The policy of the Government to foster worker participation was eagerly used by the JBC, even if hardly anywhere else. The increased influence of the workers enabled a build up of journalists with strong WPJ ties to be employed at the JBC, to exert a strong leftist slant to the news and to give the WPJ as much news attention as given to the JLP and PNP, although it was a diminutive group.

The JBC rejected ads submitted by the private sector which were run on RJR. The muscle of this small group was powerful to whatever extent the JBC had any credibility.

Dr Carl Stone, erudite political analyst and pollster, in an article published in the Gleaner on July 2, 1980 entitled 'A campaign of hate', was coming to the same conclusion:

“After the victorious and vitriolic campaign of hate with which the PNP introduced its Corporate Area candidates at Half-Way-Tree it was inevitable that the PNP would return to Half-Way-Tree to complete what it had started.

“The fascist mongering and hate mongering preached by the PNP spokesmen against the JLP leader at that first meeting were clearly part of a design to set the stage for the announcement of the alleged plot to overthrow the Government. As Brigadier Neish advised in his public statement, the PNP's leader was made aware of the alleged plot from the outset. The PNP's intention was to set a climate of anti-JLP suspicion and hostility that would make credible its plan to spread propaganda designed to implicate the JLP in the alleged plot.

“Quite predictably therefore, a pamphlet appeared at the second Half-Way-Tree meeting making precisely such an allegation. The PNP apparently disagrees with the brigadier that people should refrain from spreading mischievous rumours about the alleged plot.

“After this second dose of poisonous hate injected liberally into the minds of the party hard core who attended these gatherings, is it surprising that a motorcade of JLP persons travelling to the airport to meet that party's leader is fired upon by gunmen?

“Why should the PNP be inflaming the aggravating and already polarised situation in which political goons have been shooting citizens all over the city?

“The reasons are two-fold. The PNP is a desperate party living in fear of an electoral defeat. That party is now resorting to the last weapon available to it, which is spreading hate and hostility towards the JLP leader. The PNP leaders have always been convinced that their best hope of an electoral victory is to fan the fires of a hate Seaga campaign.

“Secondly, the PNP's activist core is a very different animal from the PNP this country has been accustomed to. It is different from even the PNP activist core of 1976 which represented a mix of leftists, communists and traditional party loyalists. Today the PNP activists hard core represents a coalition of leftists and communists supporting Michael Manley, and many of the traditional party loyalists have withdrawn. The hate mongering and poisonous hostilities promoted by the communist left have been thereby given free reign to infect the Jamaican body politic.

“In a situation where there are so many guns in the hands of the violent minority among us (both JLP and PNP) the PNP's message of hate has fanned the flames of violence to an unprecedented level. Is it therefore surprising that so many persons are being slaughtered and butchered in the society in the name of political power and in the unending escalation of attacks and counter-attacks?

Inescapable link

“There is an inescapable link between these messages of hate and the level of violence in the country.

“The conspiratorial minds of communists in Jamaica are totally preoccupied with inventing and fabricating conspiracies for the PNP. Businessmen, shopkeepers, trade unions, the Gleaner and its columnists, the Americans, the JLP, Seaga, non-leftist PNP leaders and activities, the police and its federation and an unending list of others have all featured in these fanciful and fabricated conspiracies. The WPJ newspaper, Struggle, invents a new one with every issue. JBC, and to a much lesser extent the Daily News follow this path faithfully. The nest of communist front organisations supporting Michael Manley provides the raw materials for these fabrications.

“The agenda of interests and concerns among the voting public as a whole is concentrated on economic issues and economic survival.

“The new PNP is making the mistake of concentrating entirely on ideology and peripheral political issues. Those issues may excite the party faithful but they will not appeal to the floating and independent voters who win elections.

“All the communists inspired hate campaign is achieving is the fomenting of violence.”

A Stone poll published in May 1980, turned public attention back to the political situation. The results showed a commanding lead of 13 per cent by the JLP over the PNP, three per cent more than the January poll. The increasing lead energised public interest in the expectation of a change of Government, now that the election date had been set for October. But a few months is a very long time in politics.

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