Modernising the PNP: Version.2020

Modernising the PNP: Version.2020

Kevin Obrien
Chang

Thursday, October 08, 2020

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To many, the 1976 election was socialism defeating capitalism, and a new Jamaica dawning. Minister of National Mobilisation Donald Keith “DK” Duncan vowed to “delegitimise old values, change socio-economic mindsets, and inculcate compatible perspectives” (http://www.nlj.gov.jm/MinistryPapers/1977/17.pdf). “Jamaica will be a republic by 1981,” promised Prime Minister Michael Manley.

In the same zeitgeist he condemned beauty contests. “Beauty is an artificial concept…the State needs to focus its energy on those qualities that represent not how a person looks, but… what are their qualities of application, what is their energy, what is their creativity, what is their capacity to handle situations… Beauty contests are not an expression of women's freedom, but… of the old days when a woman had to 'show her wares' to catch a husband… It is about time this country wakes up and faces reality, and learns that if we're going to build a serious country it is going to take serious people who are concerned with serious activities.” ( http://radiojamaicanewsonline.com/archive/beauty-is-an-entirely-artificial-concept-michael-manley)

The future laughed at the forecasts. The family of arch anti-capitalist Duncan helped create led to one of the country's largest financial houses, Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB). His son Keith, JMMB CEO, is now president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, formed in 1976 by the nation's big businesses as a bulwark against 'democratic socialist' leftism. Looking back, Duncan may have smiled ironically at his 1970s rhetoric. But, as a father, he was no doubt delighted with his children's achievements.

Jamaica continues to be a constitutional monarchy. While far from fading away, beauty contests have burgeoned. Miss Jamaica World has been joined by Miss Universe Jamaica, Miss Jamaica Global, and Miss Jamaica Earth. Duncan's daughter, Imani, won Miss Jamaica 1995. The whole country cheered last year when Toni-Ann Singh joined Carol Crawford, Cindy Breakespeare and Lisa Hanna as Miss World.

The People's National Party (PNP) was represented in the recent general elections by Hanna, Duncan, and former Miss Jamaica contestant Krystal Tomlinson. Miss Jamaica 2000 Saphire Longmore has been a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) senator. Polls favour Hanna to be the next PNP leader. ( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/front-page/lisa-leads-most-poll-respondents-pick-former-miss-world-as-next-pnp-president_203747?profile=1606)

The football score would be: Queens 6, Manley/Duncan 0. There's no humorist like history.

The Message, by Neville Martin, is the greatest political campaign song in Jamaican history. Its infectious rhythm and melody instantly excite any Comrade crowd. Yet, its 1976 lyrics are meaningless in 2020.

“My father born ya

My grandmother born ya

My leader born ya…

jook them with Land Lease

…with Pioneer Corps

…with JAMAL

…with free education.”

For one, Andrew Holness and his parents and grandparents were born in Jamaica. For two, no one under 60 knows what Land Lease, Pioneer Corps or JAMAL (Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy) mean. For three, free education is now associated with the JLP, who brought it back in 2007 after various disruptions.

This focus on long forgotten affairs shows a PNP in dire need of modernisation. Even Michael Manley turned a page on the 1970s, adopting a new approach in his 1989 Administration.

The PNP won four general and four parish council elections from 1986 to 2002. But the recent 49-14 rout confirmed that “PNP Country” days are done. It has lost six of the last eight national campaigns, and is odds on to lose the next parish council elections.

Comrades today are pretty much where Labourites were in 1994. Mercifully, Peter Phillips has stepped down to expedite new leadership, unlike Edward Seaga, who stayed and lost three more elections.

Everyone and his dog has PNP rebranding advice. But mout mek fi talk, and here's my two cents for the next leader:

The first step should be to change the outdated democratic socialism slogan. One obvious brand-friendly option is 'social democracy', shorthand for the progressive policies of the much-admired Nordic nations: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Here is a brief synopsis ( https://www.lifeinnorway.net/scandinavian-socialism/)

Michael Manley himself gave a nutshell summary of what social democracy means in real Jamaican terms: “I came to the conclusion that if you can't lick 'em join 'em… you had to go the market course… My feeling was to give the private sector a push and encourage them while keeping close in order to try to get the best out of them in terms of corporate responsibility and develop a more social consciousness to things other than just making money. You have to keep talking to them and pricking their conscience.

“This action was a very deliberate and thought out policy. My feeling was that if you let them pull the god-damned train out of the station and get it to start rolling down the track, you can then use your MIDA [Micro Investment Development Agency], your small businesses, your land reform, your ESOPs [employee stock ownership plans], and all the other things to benefit from the energy released.

“You then deal with the problems in education as you get the resources from the reduction of debt and the economic growth. You start a huge, massive programme of empowerment of the poor and all those outside the train. Even to the point of being determined that, in pulling the train, the workers must get into shareholding and become part of the engine that pulls the train.

“So, at least the first group of the society become beneficially involved as distinct from wage involved. But for this concept to work you have to be totally free of class issues, racial issues, and historical resentments. You have to cleanse your mind of all those things.” ( Truth Be Told: Michael Manley in Conversation by Glynne Manley)

Ideally, the PNP would also discard the “Comrade” greetings and clenched fist salutes, archaic relics long rejected in their ex-USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) birthplace. With Maximum Comrade Fidel Castro now four years dead and fading from public memory, does even communist Cuba still use them?

Yet cultural change is tough. Look at the JLP. Despite an awkward association with the vicious Shower Posse gang (supposedly defunct), the Labourite hierarchy would never be able to stop supporters shouting “Showa!”

My second suggestion for the next Opposition leader is to get your young, bright, trainable talents – such as Krystal Tomlinson, Andre Haughton, Damian Crawford, Gabriela Morrison, Jason Stanford, Sophia Fraser-Binns — on the same page and on message. No matter how smart they are as individuals, they will sound collectively foolish if they all say different things.

Thirdly, “My Leader Born Yah” needs a lyrical fix, and maybe a dancehall infusion. Updating classics is a delicate matter, but the party's abundant music talent can surely preserve the magic, while making the words relevant to the 21st century.

Most critically, the PNP needs more working Members of Parliament (MP) like Mikael Phillips and Julian Robinson. The biggest public perception gap between the two parties right now is simply this: The JLP is seen as a working party and the PNP as a chatting party.

A recent Bill Johnson poll showed “JLP candidates were far more active in their constituencies than PNP counterparts: 34 per cent met the JLP candidate; 21 per cent met the PNP candidate” ( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/jlp-candidates-were-more-active-on-the-ground_204098?profile=1373)

Jamaicans have moved on from ideology and don't care if an MP is male, female, gay, straight, white, or black. The core question at the ballot box is: Worker or shirker? Until it can change the current impression that the JLP is the harder working party, the PNP will struggle to win elections.

Kevin Obrien Chang is an entrepreneur and public commentator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or kob.chang@fontanapharmacy.com.


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