The PNP at 80

Rising sun or setting sun?

Lloyd B

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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Having evolved from Fabian socialism (socialists aiming to achieve socialism by non-revolutionary methods) to democratic socialism (a euphemism for socialism that is not communistic) to centre-left with an increasing leaning towards capitalism, the People's National Party (PNP), as of today, will begin to celebrate its 80th Annual National Conference with a series of events culminating in the public session in the National Arena on Sunday, September 16, 2018.

National Hero Norman Washington Manley, the founding leader of the PNP, in his inaugural address on September 18, 1938, at the Ward Theatre — according to author Arnold Bertram in his book N W Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica — “infused the national movement with a sense of purpose as he sought to unify all sections with a sobering analysis of the task ahead. By then he had deepened his perspective on the role of the party and it was clear that he rejected the traditional concept of the political party as a convenient banner by grouping candidates at election time and swelling the ranks of party supporters whose only role was to canvass voters and buy votes.

“A careful reading of Manley's address to the public session of the founding conference leaves no doubt that his vision of the PNP was a mass democratic, decentralised organisation that would not only elect the national leadership but would function as the 'University of the People' to inculcate the membership with a sense of rights and responsibilities to underpin a dynamic and functional democracy. It was to further this objective that he charged the party to embark 'on a widespread campaign of education carried right down to the masses of the people'.”

Juxtapose Manley's 1938 mandate to 2018 against this comment from a faithful but concerned Comrade who said to me recently that his beloved party had allowed itself to be in the throes of manoeuvring through the cobweb of “the eat a food” mentality that has been setting the agenda, as Brer Anancy presides over a nation entangled in persistent corruption.

In 2011, then PNP President Portia Simpson Miller persuaded me to run on the party's ticket in the new constituency of St James Central. I recall telling her that I was accepting the challenge on the basis that under her watch every effort would be made to fight corruption. I was soon to be disappointed in my tenure as I was systematically sidelined and ostracized because I dared to take a stand against certain acts of corruption which to this day have not been addressed.

At the risk of being further tarred and feathered, or even threatened, I have to declare that to date the PNP has not fulfilled Norman Manley's mandate. I take this stance at this time because I believe that the current party president, Dr Peter Phillips, has the capacity to lead the party in the desired direction that Father Manley envisioned. But will he be man enough? Does he have the cojones, the testicular fortitude to take on that monster that has helped to imprison the masses of this country in a cell of persistent poverty?

It is no secret that, after having abandoned its ideological stance, the PNP has morphed into what some political pundits cynically see as a character in search of an author. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), in the meantime, has skilfully understudied the PNP's organisational strategies and tactics and has so far used them successfully on the hustings. That is why so many well-thinking Jamaicans have been turned off from both parties as in their minds; it is a case of “no better herring, no better barrel”.

If the PNP is to truly fulfil Norman Manley's vision then it must become a true alternative to the status quo, not just waiting around for the old adage to play out on the political landscape: “Room for rent, apply within, when I go out, you go in.”

In this vein, the time has come for the PNP, while shunning the vices (whether perceived or otherwise) of the two Manleys, Norman and Michael, should embrace their many virtues which can set the stage for a new ideology, that of “Manleyism”. Indeed, if the party were to fully imbue itself with the principles and objectives as set out by its founders then the “let off” and “eat a food” approach would eventually be expunged from the party's centre stage. Of course, the reality is that ways and means will have to be found to deal with the many marginalised Jamaicans out there who have fast become accustomed to the practice of the politician being a “Mr Boops” or Santa Claus. Jesus Christ fed the multitude miraculously with five loaves and two fish, even as He fed them spiritually. One is not suggesting a sleight of hand approach, but legitimate, creative ways must be found to provide succour for those who have fallen through the social safety net.

The outcome of the vice-presidential race will provide a litmus test for the Phillips-led party. The vice-presidents must coalesce around him and provide the necessary leadership that can galvanise the wider society and point the country in a direction for a new day. It is therefore very important that this race acts as a unifying rather than a divisive force.

And I daresay that one of the first tasks of this new cadre of second-tier leadership is to make the party financially sound. A political organisation that is broke becomes easy prey to well-heeled opportunists and shady characters that will work their way into the system and solidify a base within the party that helps to perpetuate the “eat a food” mentality and a dependency syndrome as well as giving them the right to be 'king makers'.

In this scenario, also, the tail oftentimes will wag the dog, and that is already happening and may eventually help to railroad the PNP even as it attempts to convince the Jamaican people that it is the better choice when it comes to fighting corruption.

The PNP's symbol of the rising sun is still a potent reminder that it must focus more on the light and not just the heat. As Franz Fanon has noted, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” Norman Manley has maintained that his generation fulfilled their mission by winning self-government for Jamaica “to win political power for the black masses of my country from which I spring…”

Thanks to Arnold Bertram's seminal book on Norman Manley — which every Comrade and as many Jamaicans as possible should read — the PNP needs a “fixity of purpose” so that after Sunday the sun will not set, but come Monday morning and beyond, like the dominant planet in our galaxy, it will rise to the occasion and shine perpetually for the people.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who has resided in Montego Bay for most of his life where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or

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