If Lisa and Mark are to inspire…

If Lisa and Mark are to inspire…


Thursday, October 01, 2020

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If Lisa Hanna and Mark Golding are to provide delegates of the People's National Party (PNP), but more broadly and more importantly the Jamaican citizenry, with reason to believe in them and in the value of the political process to their lives, there are, in my opinion, four things that they must do.

It is to be recalled that in the September 3 General Election only about 37 per cent of the electorate bothered to stain their fingers. The level of rejection of the political process, evident by that record low turnout, must remain a point of analysis for some time to come. And we must not allow ourselves to be fooled into blaming COVID-19 for the low turnout. The loss of interest in our political process has been in train since 1997, and there has been a steady decline since then as I showed recently.

I posit that corruption and poor representation are to be blamed for what we now have as a political process, which is, in large part, a mercantile system in which votes are for sale and the highest bidder will win. Some sellers of votes have so mastered their mercantilist craft that they are able to sell the same vote twice. This ugly reality forms part of the context within which the winner of the PNP's November 7 contest will have to locate herself or himself in seeking to inspire Jamaicans.

What then are those four things I believe the candidates must do?

(1) Articulate a clear vision for a better Jamaica

In many respects, Jamaica is like a person without a soul and a moral compass. Transactionalism is the new norm. The spectre of elections being won or lost based on who can pay the highest price is just one manifestation. When I was a young man in the 70s there was a refrain repeated in response to offers of purchase which said, “We are not for sale.” There was an ad which the PNP ran which said, “Free rice cannot buy my vote.”

But the loss of moral compass and the emergence of mercantilism are seen in other ways, such as actual and suspected contract killings, the peddling of influence in businesses contributing to political parties in expectation of contracts and favourable policies, presence on boards, and other favours.

But perhaps the biggest evidence of the loss of moral compass and the dominance of unprincipled conduct is a leadership approach which is devoid of a clearly defined political philosophy and a guiding set of beliefs which can explain who we are as a society and what are our core values.

If Lisa and Mark are to inspire Jamaicans to believe in Jamaica they must each define a vision for what kind of society Jamaica will become under their leadership. They must be bold in declaring what their political (socio-economic development) philosophy is and must confidently take a stance against political conduct which they believe is not serving and has not served Jamaica's interest, even if there are transient benefits some have reaped.

(2) Be pragmatic in defending equity and equality

I suggest that any political philosophy which does not place the pursuit of equity and equality at the centre of national development objectives is not going to be attractive to the Jamaican people.

Jamaica is a country steeped in inequity and inequality. The evidence of these are manifold. One of the most recent pieces of evidence is the $4 billion in tax write-offs to companies. The secrecy of the write-offs was one thing, but thanks to The Gleaner reporter who uncovered it. But even bigger is the list of companies. Jamaicans have a right to know how these write-offs came about.

But beyond what seems to be the recent egregious display in the giving of billions to the rich is the long-standing problem of under-funded schools — a fact which consigns hundreds of thousands to poverty and dependence on the State and, by extension, the susceptibility to vote trading.

Neither Golding nor Hanna is from the working class, and both are wealthy with wealthy connections. But those facts do not prevent them from believing in and pursuing equity and equality and making those principles the bedrock of socio-economic policy. I submit that if they are to inspire droves of Jamaicans to believe in them, to accept them as good for the country, they must tell the people in plain language what their views are on the rank inequity and inequality which characterise the Jamaican society and economy, and some of the specific policy options they will pursue to address these.

(3) Listen to the people

The PNP lost touch with the Jamaican people because it was not listening. A party which kept winning elections, and which was not listening, cannot hardly be blamed for thinking all was okay but acted foolishly nonetheless in not looking at the evidence that it was losing ground among the electorate.

Hubris and self-satisfaction had infested some in the PNP, as even among supporters there was great anger and apathy. If Golding or Hanna, as president, is to win and maintain the respect and love of people, he/she must show the discipline to listen. He/she must be willing, hard as it will be on some days, to absorb criticisms and not hit back. That does not mean being silent and allowing others to define you by their own counter narratives without responding. But behaving as though every word you speak and every decision you make is justified is not going to work.

One area in which this duty to listen is most needed and where its beauty is most visible is in taking the time to respond to the people who reach out to you. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, when I was an unknown, I wrote to then Prime Minister P J Patterson on two important matters and received calls from his office and follow-up action on both matters. I know of others who had similar experiences. In 2016, as I wrote in 'Nurturing a Culture of Accountability', I wrote to Prime Minister Andrew Holness twice and received responses on both matters. (I would have written to him subsequently but did not have similar luck). Many people tell me of their experiences, and Holness engages people on social media. Even if he is not the person responding, the fact is that he has a mechanism for responding. Listening is an act of showing respect. If there is one, and only one advice, I could give to the next PNP leader it is this: Take time to listen!

(4) Message consistently, comprehensively, and creatively

The importance of messaging is best seen in business. I can recall ads from my childhood. That is message impact. But look at how even the most successful businesses continue to promote their products. There was also a time when a business had the ad spot at noon across several radio stations and “nobody (did) it better” and I do not eat that product.

But the message is only as good as the product being messaged, and so my advice to the new PNP president is that he/she makes sure (as I have said at point # 1) that there is a defined vision and make the messaging of that vision a constant preoccupation that shows the relevance of that vision to people's lives, and listen, listen, listen.

I need not say how important it is to reach out to youth!

Dr Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as a senior lecturer in educational policy, planning, and leadership at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of six books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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