Peter Phillips only has himself to blame

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, June 16, 2019

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A knife does not know who its master is. — Akan proverb, Ghana

Win, lose or draw, I believe Dr Peter Phillips's political goose is cooked. The writing has been on the wall for a long, long time. On March 11, 2017, for example, I stated the following beliefs, among other things, in this space: “Phillips is yesterday's man, leading the political party of last week.” In an article some months after, I noted, inter alia: “Dr Phillips will be the first head of one of our two major political parties/Opposition leader not to become prime minister.”

Phillips' political boat was and is ill-suited for today's currents. I said so from the get-go. His recommitment to Michael Manley's 1970s democratic socialism confirmed that the People's National Party (PNP) is in deep recession.

Recall this newspaper account?

“The new president of the People's National Party Dr Peter Phillips has told Comrades that this generation of the organisation will have to fix and eliminate poverty.

“It is for that reason Phillips says he will not apologise for embracing democratic socialism, which he insists still has a place in developing 21st-century Jamaica.

“Phillips was speaking at the National Arena minutes after taking the oath of office as the fifth PNP president of the party.

“ 'I say, without reservation, that Michael Manley broke down the walls of plantation society once and for all in Jamaica.' ” ( The Sunday Gleaner, March 26, 2017)

It was obvious to those who pay careful attention to the movements of our political tea leaves that Phillips's embrace of the 1970s democratic socialist rhetoric flatlined soon after he was affirmed as the fifth president of Norman Manley's party in March 2017.

When other factors — such as Phillips's unwelcoming persona, lack of coherent messaging in the PNP, and what its former General Secretary Paul Burke has said is a breakdown of the PNP's machinery — are added, it's no surprise that Dr Phillips had failed to gain significant positive political traction, especially among younger voters, after two years of toiling in the political vineyards.

Two years of false starts

Many months ago, Dr Phillips announced that he had come up with a grand plan “to build a Jamaica that works for all Jamaicans”. Recall these screaming headlines? 'Full scholarship for every first child'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 17, 2018) The Star, on September 17, 2018, carried the headline: 'PNP promises free food, scholarships'.

At last year's annual conference Phillips said in his speech that a future PNP Administration would make education a priority. To date, we have not been provided with the operational specifics of the PNP's plan. What we have got thus far are empty words, rehashed promises, and undeveloped schemes.

The country was told more than a year ago that the PNP had come up with a land plan that would end squatting in Jamaica. But no operational specifics as to how it will be implemented has been provided to the public to date.

Dr Phillips said at the 80th annual conference that the PNP would institute a plan to make available $100 billion in credit for small entrepreneurs. I think this is a very good idea. The availability of credit in an indispensable lubricant for small business development, economic growth, and job creation. Various credible studies have found that to be so. Nearly a year on, no additional details have come to the country. Why?

New kind of voter

Those who say Phillips cannot give details of the PNP's plans for fear that they will be adopted and implemented by the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration should understand that voters, especially the uncommitted, are no longer enthused by 'puss inna bag'. That kind of hide-and-seek politics of the 70s and 80s has long outlived its usefulness. Back then the major information channels were largely controlled by a privileged few. That is not the reality today. Information is now available at the click of a button.

Over a year ago I wrote that we have a new type of voter. I pointed out that this powerful group was growing fast.

Among other things, I noted: “The PNP just does not get it! There is a new and more discerning type of voter who is no longer concerned with who planted the tree. That is immaterial to them. They just want to know the tree is there. Their focus is who can maintain the shade and fertilise the tree to continually bear edible and 'pickable' fruit. This group of pragmatic voters is expanding fast.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 18, 2018)

As evidenced in Dr Phillips's narrative at his affirmation, the PNP has refused to accept that the political era in Jamaica when people would willingly subdue their physiological needs on the altar of ideological expediency ended. In fact, it ended well before Michael Manley declared “Socialism is dead” at a National Executive Council meeting of the PNP at The University of the West Indies in the early 90s.

Self-inflicted wounds

Added to those political false starts are what I have dubbed suicide manoeuvres by Dr Phillips since he climbed to the top of the PNP's perch. For example, the PNP's decision to vote against the continuation of the states of public emergency (SOE) in St James, sections of St Catherine, and the Corporate Area in December 2018 was just asinine. Was the decision a case of the “voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau”?

The SOEs had achieved a 22 per cent reduction in murders and significant double-digit decreases in other serious crimes across the country. Three hundred and fifty fewer murders were committed in 2018, compared to 2017, because of the hard work of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force during the SOEs.

Then to add insult to injury, as we say in local parlance, Fitz Jackson, the Opposition spokesperson on national security, said on the radio that the PNP knew that it would have got a backlash from its decision to withdraw support for the SOEs. This self-inflicted wound further painted the PNP as uncaring and callous.

The PNP seemingly adopted a communication 'strategy' of 'Say something, anything, about everything', which did them little good with respect to vote-winning.The principal tools of this approach include fake news, misguided bluster, empty chat, political deflection, 'bad mind', threats of street demonstrations, and attempts at filibuster. In the 70s, these political methods were effective, not so in the Information Age when there is growing widespread access to the Internet.

Bunting's move

Phillips has only himself to blame for the challenge on his leadership. I don't think Senator Damion Crawford, who Phillips evidently sees as a political King Midas, even with his so-called victory squad, will ultimately save Dr Phillips.

Last Sunday I wrote in this space that the reliable birds were singing the R&B classic July, July, July by American legend Billy Paul. It was a hint as to when Peter Bunting would formally launch his campaign as he attempts to displace his leader.

Last Monday, Loop Jamaica News carried a news item that said this, among other things: “Bunting, who addressed a conference of the PNP's Knockpatrick Division in his Central Manchester constituency, Sunday night, signalled that he will formally launch his campaign in July.”

The Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits are now singing Fourth of July, by the Fall Out Boy. These are some of the lyrics from the song:

“It was the fourth of July

You and I were

you and I were fire, fire fireworks

that went off too soon

And I miss you in the June gloom too

It was the fourth of July

You and I were,

you and I were fire, fire, fireworks

I said I'd never miss you, but I guess you'll never know

Where the bridges I have burned never really led home

On the fourth of July,”

The birds shriek that there is more to their song selection. More anon!

I believe Dr Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting are basically different sides of the same coin, with one notable exception.

Recall this? “Bunting, the birds shriek, has moved ideologically to the far left of the party in the hope that he can enhance and hasten his chances of becoming president of the PNP. The birds whistle that signs of another leadership struggle in the PNP are imminent.” ( Sunday Observer, August 20, 2017)

Interestingly, you may recall also that, “Bunting told PNP supporters at the PNP's St Andrew East Central Annual Conference inter alia: 'Comrade Phillips knows he does not have to look over his shoulders for this Comrade.' ” ( The Gleaner, September 11, 2017).

Unlike councillor for the Hagley Park Division in Phillips's St Andrew East Central constituency, Nenna Wilson, I don't believe “Bunting is an ungrateful rat.”

Time changes and people change with time, that much is true.

Recall his protestations about a new type of “economic colonialism” by China in Jamaica: “Fifty-five years of our Independence from Britain many Jamaicans are concerned that we are once again undergoing a new form of colonialism — a form of economic colonialism by Chinese operating in Jamaica.” ( The Gleaner, August 10, 2017)

Remember Bunting's blistering attack on Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke and his refusal to apologise in the face of mass public consternation and condemnation. The Gleaner of March 7, 2018 reported, among other things: “Under-fire Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting has refused to bow to public calls for him to apologise for saying Dr Nigel Clarke, inter alia, has “great British education and [was] sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters.” Does this kind of talk not conjure up unpleasant memories of the PNP's far-left narrative in the 1970s? Mr Bunting studied engineering at McGill University in Canada, is there an irony here?

There is one thing I totally agree with Bunting on. In the Gleaner of May 13, 2019 he made these and other comments: “ 'The young people today don't have much interest in us telling them what Norman Manley did, and what Michael did, and what P J did, and what Portia did,' said Bunting, in reference to former PNP leaders. 'They are not focused on the history and the past; they are focused on the present and the future, and we have to learn to engage them in the ways they want to be engaged,' he argued.”

Beyond the obvious reference to the use of social media, I would like Bunting to begin to share with our youth, and indeed the entire country, what specific policies and programmes he will institute, the respective timelines for implementation, and where the resources will come from to fund these.

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga said, “It takes cash to care.” I agree!

As a start, Bunting needs to give specific answers to these two questions:

1. What are your new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy?

Our economy has seen consistent growth for 18 consecutive quarters. For the 2018 calendar year, the economy grew by 1.9 per cent. Unemployment is falling, now at a 50-year low of eight per cent, new jobs are being created, and there is robust activity in construction, manufacturing, and hotels and restaurants. Inflation is low. Our net international reserves are just about US$3.1 billion (up to March 2019), the highest ever; business and consumer confidence are at all-time highs. All International Monetary Fund performance criteria and structural benchmarks are being met without imposing starvation-type austerity measures on our people. Major international rating agencies — including Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's — have either affirmed and/or upgraded their outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive.

2. What are your new and/or better ideas to tame the monster of crime, in particular murders?

Murders are down by seven per cent nationally. Recall that as national security minister, Peter Bunting told the country, in January 2015, when nearly four Jamaicans were being butchered daily, that we should not be “unduly alarmed”.

He was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the reinstallation of the SOEs in western Jamaica some weeks ago. Surely, he must have better strategies to fight crime and violence.

This is a good time for Bunting to reveal his plans for Jamaica.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

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