Columns

Portland Eastern is no bellwether

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, April 12, 2019

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The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) ran an excellent campaign. The pundits speculated that voters were bought, persuaded, suppressed, many die-hards, but what if most just felt the lady was better? The JLP were not sure of victory, and a febrile People's National Party (PNP) expected some loss.

A 'stranger' candidate, who has been parachuted into a constituency a month before an election traversed by his opponent for years is a long shot. Many say cash won; maybe so, but this by-election was not special — no key issue, no outside threat, no leadership contest, yet hype was national.

It was not a referendum on Peter Philips, but kites and discord are swirling. Portland Eastern is not a bellwether, so whatever happens in there stays there. To pillory Phillips for the loss is baseless. He is flawed, but by-election loss is not it, as even the JLP's Edward Seaga was not a liability until he had many national losses to his credit.

Ageism is also rearing its head, but we need wise, older leaders. Retirement age in Europe will soon be 73, and most youth lack life experience. Peter is our only winner in post-Independence economics. He made the International Monetary Fund challenge work and got unprecedented global accolades after young Andrew Holness botched the deal.

Ann-Marie Vaz was a good candidate and her colour stands out in any gathering of our 92.1 per cent, while Damion Crawford is lost in black crowds until someone says, “Is di one wid di locks!” This is science, not race, as skin colour absorbs or reflects light, so she is always more defined.

Damion Crawford was also seen as an owner, not a supplicant to win hearts. Who were his strategists? Portland taught me, neighbours John Pringle, Morris Cargill how to fail at farming, so don't take Portlanders for granted. Give love, they give it back; but show them who is boss and, by God, they will show you too.

The “me too”, though ignored here, does not mean we can 'diss' women — even inadvertently. They may not call names publicly or “bite the hand”, but they hurt and will punish the lone man severely. The PNP is not in crisis — unless they wish to create one. Despite post-poll negatives this was no referendum on Peter Philips and the PNP's pedigree or viability is not diminished. But had it gone in to woo the community, the result might be different.

To gender-shame, parade degrees are not PNP style or philosophy. Ann-Marie's years in the parish was value. She wasn't too busy with earning a living; has a good deeds foundation; supports her entrepreneur spouse, who is one of the better Members of Parliaments in caring his constituency — assets! She was a dream Members of Parliament before she was one — “Pay attention to your people and they will deliver for you! Do you know how many Members of Parliament live in their constituencies? Do tell!

Damion Crawford was a good candidate and a trooper as all knew he started behind. If his opponent was also a parachute candidate he would have won. Ann-Marie was in her backyard. So, if you were uncommitted, whom would you vote for?

Damion seemed off-message. Sir, do not get into a pissing contest with a woman! His rod was clever but pastiche and some thought it debased a proud legacy. The unintended consequence of blunders, real or assumed, he put Ann-Marie in the sufferer's rags and was clad the robes of well-heeled oppressor.

Portland has the same deficits as all Jamaica — roads and transportation, jobs, health care, schools, food, crime and murder all nuanced by context. An honest campaign of positivity and promise, as well as treating with constituency needs, with real names and sites is always best.

Ann-Marie won by 300-plus votes and got thousands more than her party ever had. Damion lost, but added 2,000- plus to the previous tally. They energised many. Did he give her a big hug of congratulations? The campaign trail is not life.

What of the future? Some say Portland is a bellwether for national elections; we say no. The PNP is not broken; the JLP is not invincible. Peter Phillips is not lost, and Andrew Holness has no lock on the next election. He is still struggling to meet “five in four”. His new city is a big housing scheme on disputed farmland. The budget for education priorities is absent. We are in line to be a USA satrap. And planned housing is below needs.

I ask clients who budget a loss why they stay in business? Sir, target the 20,000 houses we need; you may fall short, but you tried. Portland Eastern was teachable, for example, gender won't be an issue in future polls — don't underestimate country folk. Fight on issues, don't get personal, play the ball, not the man. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com


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