The PNP brand is a broken cistern


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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There has been talk in recent times about the People's National Party (PNP) brand. Broadly, and properly understood, a brand says something distinctive about a product, service or concept. Organisationally, it speaks to that which defines the ethos of that organisation and that which distinguishes it from any other. A brand must be easily understood. It must be clearly articulated and communicated so that the person receiving the information should have no doubt about what he or she is hearing or seeing.

With this in mind, one should be very careful how easily one may be motivated to toss around the concept of branding. Branding has become a buzzword and so it has become very fashionable to use it for every conceivable idea, even if that idea is a mere figment of one's imagination. So when the PNP, or the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for that matter, speaks of its brand what exactly are they talking about?

What precisely is a PNP brand? What is it that is so distinctive about the PNP that distinguishes it from other political organisations that contend for power in Jamaica? This is the challenge that faces the PNP in this hour. It is not far-fetched to believe that if you lock a dozen PNP intellectuals in a room at their headquarters at Old Hope Road and ask them to come up with a definition of what the PNP brand is, you are likely to get 12 different answers that may not even have any bearing on each other. In fact, this might be a useful exercise for the PNP to carry out at this time. The party is at a critical crossroads, where it should be asking serious questions about its future and what role it can exercise in the future governance of the Jamaican people.

If they should ever undertake the assignment given, there are two critical components that should be considered: vision and mission. What today is the vision of the party and how much has it departed from the founding values that formed its raison d'etre? What is its mission and how exactly should this be executed within the context of a Jamaican electorate that has grown more wary of the inability of political parties to disburse scarce benefits and spoils? An electorate that has grown more feistily critical of the failure of career politicians is not one that will commend itself that easily to the PNP or the JLP.

And the PNP is in a tight spot. There is not a unifying theme that defines what that party believes in anymore. The founding fathers had great moral clarity about the vision and mission of the party and the philosophical underpinnings that were necessary to make these work. Even Michael Manley, under the then soon-to-be defunct democratic socialism, had a set of organising principles around which he rallied the party, and by extension the country. Perhaps, due to his charisma, there was a time when Manley could sell the devil a Bible and he would buy it. He could convince a Jamaican in his three-piece suit to clean dead dogs from a gully. Okay, this may be overselling it, but hyperbole aside, he enunciated a vision that people bought into. The notion of building an egalitarian and just society were things that people could believe in.

Then came P J Patterson, and we started to see a party descend into an abyss of a mere vote-getting machine which the enfeebled JLP could not overcome. When Patterson departed the PNP he left a vibrant political machinery in place, but the party had started to drift inexorably from the binding philosophical principles that had made the PNP an enviable political force in the Caribbean.

Enter Portia Simpson Miller and the rot intensified. One of the sad aspects of Simpson Miller's stewardship of the party which Comrades will not talk about, except in hushed tones over bottles of liquor, is that they never truly respected her intellect. They were willing to exploit the legendary regard that the Jamaican people had for her, but they merely saw her as the important cog in the vote-winning machine that the party had become. And this was very sad, indeed, for there was more to her than this.

So today's PNP is a confused PNP if you listen to the disparate voices that from time to time echo important criticisms of where the party is now and where it is heading. Even when it tries to centralise its messages, important spokespersons go on a frolic of their own — as seems to have been the case in the former general secretary of the party Peter Bunting's diatribe against the Chinese.

The party needs to settle down and deal with the still -simmering discontent within its ranks. The party leader nowadays is sounding like a man whose greatest obsession is to get into Jamaica House. But this obsession — and that of those who are eagerly waiting in the wings to replace him — is only getting the party more deeply ensnared in a thick jungle from which it may not be able to cut itself out.

Far be it for me, a mere priest, to offer them advice, but it would help if they could take a deep look at themselves, summon up the honesty and moral courage to call a spade what it is, and bend their backs to the hard task of redefining their vision and mission within the context of the new paradigms of the dynamic political landscape that Jamaica is fast becoming. What they are calling a brand is a broken cistern that can no longer hold water.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or




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