The PNP: Making amends, and modernisation

The PNP: Making amends, and modernisation

A J
Nicholson

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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One could scarcely deny the deeply thought-provoking character of Kevin O'Brien Chang's transitional proposals that he maintains are required for modernising the People's National Party (PNP). The party has to awaken from its slumber and such targeted suggestions should not be ignored.

And, certainly, there is no negative to be found in his push for a re-examination to be undertaken of the root principles and orthodoxies that have guided the journey of the party for upward of four score years.

That would, of course, include in-depth consideration of the relevance today of statements and projections that held sway almost half a century ago in 1976, or at any other time.

I seek to comment on only one set of the several more than notable observations put forward by him in the following statement in his 'Modernising the PNP: Version.2020', recently published in this newspaper:

“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.”

The basic and fundamental question that arises from those loaded unassailable observations is: Why? Was there any change, any turn in the road, that gave rise to such a torpedo, causing the electoral fortunes of the party to be placed on the chopping block after the huge successes up to the year 2002?

Since Jamaica attained Independence in 1962, the period from the mid-1980s to the year 2006 evidenced an ironclad unity running through the PNP. Throughout its storied history, the electoral star of the party has never shone more brightly than during those exemplary teamworking years.

That characteristic of unity which then dwelt within the body of the PNP was sturdily undergirded by its widely acknowledged and coveted appetite to deal with, and finding solutions behind closed doors to, even knotty, agonising issues that inevitably arose from time to time. There was never at any time, as the saying goes, any washing of its dirty linen in public.

That burnished season has been followed by the longest, most sustained period of tension-filled disunity, marked by only a brief interruption and respite from defeats suffered in national campaigns. It is as if there have been two PNPs — before and after 2006.

My having hitherto joltingly spelt out publicly the drama of devastating consequencies that flowed from some shocking missteps, there is here no need to dwell further on the irrefutable cause of that seachange — the colting of the unity game — that ocurred in 2006 at a time, like now, when there was a campaign for leadership of the party.

Suffice it to say that some peculiarly disturbing utterances and decisions challenged the accepted principle of inclusiveness within the party, and served to remove the signature guardrail which had been erected to protect all internal reckoning and which had stood firm during those “years of plenty”.

A consequential faction came into being and an underlying disunity has existed ever since. Amends will have to be made! O'Brien Chang's formula cannot be meaningfully embraced, or even contemplated, outside of the framework of a united force.

The recent P J Patterson/Burchell Whiteman warning and exhortation for the party to embark upon the unity road without delay, though with undoubtedly pointed developmental recommendations, did not, and perhaps could not, strike home to the root of the disunity problem.

Patterson and Whiteman had retired and were mercifully spared the discomfort of the day-to-day living through and enduring the burden of those “lean years” of prolonged unease and wariness with which the party has been weighed down since 2006.

But they would hasten to place themselves at the front of the line to fully bring home the historic truism that you first have to acknowledge and face up to where you went wrong before you can genuinely begin to take any corrective measure. So, too, I apprehend, would Kevin O'Brien Chang.

And yet, it is not to be assumed that attempts have not been made over the years, directly and indirectly, towards the mending of fences. For example, I am by no means shy in speaking to the efforts of a group of us to that end at a teary-eyed meeting of the National Executive Council at Runaway Bay, which some in the party would recall earned for me the sobriquet “Gabriel”.

There was indeed the determined and steadfast concentration of the Opposition on the task at hand during and after the Christopher “Dudus” Coke extradition foul-ups. And there is the pleasurable recall of the sharpness of the advocacy of K D Knight and Patrick Atkinson during the related commission of enquiry.

This latter was preceded by the dogged ferreting out of information in the House of Representatives by a resolute member, Dr Peter Phillips, concerning the ill-advised approaches to Mannatt, Phelps and Phillips by the Jamaica Labour Party Government.

Those efforts, and the resounding Portia Simpson Miller-led victory at the polls, though extremely exhilarating and encouraging at the time, unfortunately together merely constituted a collective mirage — a papering over of the cracks. The division and the tension-filled atmosphere have remained throughout, with full and inescapably debilitating force.

For success, the Patterson/Whiteman recommendation to move quickly onto the unity road; the invitation of O'Brien Chang to embrace his formula for re-examination of settled doctrine; and the continuing exhortation of thinkers, such as Dr Canute Thompson, have to be anchored on an acknowledgment and acceptance of the wrong turns that have been taken.

Then there have to be sincere forward steps toward a repairing of the breach. It is not rocket science: What is required is an atonement, which right thinking and the law of nature call for, and continue to invite. Otherwise, the smiles of the better days will not come!

And there is no denying that the downright un-Comradely manner in which last year's leadership contest was conducted served to rub salt into already deep wounds that had been inflicted over time.

It is hoped and expected that the recent trickle of public acceptance of having contributed to the insufferable nature of that awful campaigning, though a most welcome sign — mellowing approach, Dr Dayton Campbell — will soon ripen into full-scale apology from all sides. For nothing less will be of any real assistance and benefit to the necessary re-knitting effort.

The severe electoral walloping suffered by an also disunited PNP in the 1980 General Election ushered in a long season of togetherness which led to unequalled electoral successes in the fortunes of the party. This all started with deep soul searching and taking certain practical turns in settling the foundation tools.

There are lessons that are recorded which will serve the PNP well as it seeks to rebuild after another electoral shellacking. And the required initial step has to be a humble and respectful acceptance of where it all started and how it has propelled the party purposelessly downhill onto an electoral desert.

O'Brien Chang ends his 'Modernising the PNP: Version.2020' document with: “Until it can change the current impression that the JLP is the harder working party, the PNP will struggle to win elections.”

And the history shows that there is an Everest to conquer in any attempt to best a united PNP in any national campaign. The taking of that first step in the healing process must therefore now be placed at the forefront of all of its reunification, its reorganisation, and its reconstruction initiatives.

It is not rocket science: As the night follows the day, to once again experience the success of the halcyon days, the unifying and modernising processes for the benefit of the party and the nation will have to be preceded by that giant first step — the making of amends.

Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora are no doubt keenly watching proceedings, and are surely entitled to expect that the imminent delegates' choice for the sixth president on November 7 will be as a result of an honest assessment and present a powerful pointer to the seriousnness and the resolve that the PNP intends to bring to the game-changing journey that lies ahead.

A J Nicholson is officer emeritus of the People's National Party. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or nicholsonaj1@gmail.com


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