Phillips, the PNP in a dismal state

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Phillips, the PNP in a dismal state

Opposition missing all the markers of being a viable Government

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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One whose lover promises to come hears the footsteps of the spirits. — Igbo proverb, Nigeria

DR Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP) would certainly want us to believe that he has unique insights regarding the winning of general elections. Phillips's woeful performance as campaign director for the failed bid by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to remain in Jamaica House in 2016 tells us that he is no maverick political polymath.

The PNP maintains that the political galaxy is aligned in its favour, but all scientific polls since late 2018 have indicated that a malignant political star hangs over 89 Old Hope Road. These findings of the Mello Bill Johnson Poll which was conducted this June and released last Monday are bad omens for Phillips. See Table 1.

Last Tuesday Johnson said on a radio programme that Dr Phillips was not much of an asset to the PNP going into an election. It does not augur well for 89 Old Hope Road that a majority of Jamaicans want Dr Phillips to resign as PNP president. Johnson also said on the radio last Tuesday that his findings indicate that 66 per cent of PNP voters from 2016 want Dr Phillips gone. The dismal favourability ratings of Dr Phillips also make for grim reading. See Table 2

Polling is just that...

Some of Phillips's supporters, especially on social media, retort that these are mere snapshots of voters' thinking at a particular time. True! What accounts, though, for the unprecedented stability in national scientific poll findings by Johnson, Bluedot and Don Anderson, which have found that Dr Phillips has been treading water since early 2019?

The reality is national polls over a period now approaching two years have found that voters continue to rapidly turn their backs on Dr Phillips. The PNP needs to extensively interrogate their automatic response.

I admit, nonetheless, that scientific polls can sometimes be like a swing bridge. Who can forget those several scientific polls which indicated that Portia Simpson Miller would have handsomely won the February 25, 2016 General Election. Recall, I wrote in my The Agenda column in the Jamaica Observer on October 24, 2015 that the pollsters would be proved wrong. I was right. My prediction was based on data gathered on road trips into sections of the country.

Indeed, pollsters can get it wrong. Many British pollsters got it wrong in 2015 when they indicated that the then incumbent Conservative Leader David Cameron was in a neck-and-neck race with Edward Miliband's British Labour Party, the fraternal party of the PNP. Online polls days before election day showed a dead heat, but phone polls showed the Tories building a significant lead. David Cameron won a landslide victory.

Recall in 1936 when The Literary Digest and its so-called fool-proof straw polls predicted that the then Republican candidate, Governor Alfred Landon of Kansas, was likely to be the overwhelming winner of the presidential election. Landon carried only Vermont and Maine. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won 523 of 531 electoral college votes. London's eight electoral college votes is a tie for the record low for a major party nominee since the 1850s. The Democrats joked, “As goes Maine, so goes Vermont.” The Literary Digest folded after its folly.

I have consistently argued that pollsters are not kingmakers. It is voters and what they do behind the ballot screen/curtain that decide the fate of political parties. Conclusions to the contrary are nothing more than groupthink, or what some credible social scientists call herd psychology.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) cannot take anything for granted. They have not won until they cross the finish line, first.

Inconvenient truth

There is a harsh reality that the PNP cannot escape. The PNP is effectively carrying Dr Phillips on its shoulders, instead of the conventional reverse. This is a first in local party politics.

Bill Johnson says Dr Phillips is a liability to the PNP. It is obvious why. Phillips's acolytes on social media who trumpet that all the national polls since 2019 are wrong had better repair their broken political mirrors… and fast.

In a 2012 seminar, Professor Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and renowned pollster, famously said: “When a candidate says all the polls are wrong, they are going to lose.”

I believe PNP surrogates who are pillorying Johnson have fallen into a similar trap. Johnson, I am sure, can more than adequately defend himself. I find it interesting, though, that when Johnson's poll findings had favoured Dr Phillips to beat Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Peter Bunting in the bitter September 2019 party leadership battle these surrogates placed him on a pedestal and laid palm fronds for him to walk.

A bit of advice for the PNP: Never quarrel with the findings of a pollster, any pollster. Note, I did not say never question; I said never quarrel.

The pollsters are not the reason Norman Manley's party continues to be on political life support. It is, Dr Peter Phillips, stupid!

Professor Segura, in predicting the winner of the 2012 US presidential contest between challenger Senator Mitt Romney and then incumbent President Barack Obama, said: “President Obama is going to be re-elected in November. The victory train has left the station and nobody has sold Mitt Romney a ticket.”

I posited a similar forecast in relation to Dr Phillips's political fate in the upcoming general election from November 3, 2019. Recall, I wrote: “Politically, I believe, Dr Peter Phillips has been 'weighed on the scales and found wanting' (Daniel 5:27).” ( Sunday Observer, November 3, 2019)

Factory fault

The PNP is running a horrible campaign. Despite its 'Duh Road Bus Tour' across the island, its evangelical tour which they said was intended to expose corruption in the Andrew Holness-led Administration, numerous town hall meetings and press conferences (virtual and physical), as well as astronomical investments in increased social media presence, the JLP continues to lead the PNP by 'donkey lengths' (wide gap). I am convinced that there is a factory fault with the PNP's wooing of today's voters. The party needs to recall it.

Dr Phillips continues to make an almighty lean on the base of Norman Manley's party. I deliberately say Norman Manley's Party here because Phillips seems not to understand that the centre of our politics has substantially shifted from that genesis generation.

Polls in recent times have noted that Dr Phillips still has strong support among the PNP's traditional base. Newsflash! That traditional base alone cannot secure the PNP's return to Jamaica House. Swing and undecided voters in marginal seats are the keys to victory.

The PNP's traditional base is an aging cadre of party faithfuls who, in many respects, do not have the energy, interest, or even the technological savvy to effectively do the kind of political procreation, education, cross-fertilisation, and/or ground mobilisation required to beat this Andrew Holness-led JLP.

After the PNP was trounced in its traditional stronghold of St Mary South Eastern on October 30, 2017 I wrote in my The Agenda article, inter alia: “One of Andrew Holness's biggest pluses as leader of the JLP is that he has reinvigorated and revitalised the sleeping giant of the JLP's winning mentality.” ( Sunday Observer, November 5, 2017)

Dr Phillips has not done anything even remotely equivalent to that in the PNP.

Phillips's hypocritical crusade against corruption in the Holness Administration has not gained any traction simply because folks see right through its veneer. The PNP's constant harangue about a crime plan is now like a rusty key that won't function because it no longer fits. While the PNP preaches that they had the crime monster by the scruff of the neck by 2015, a little research delivered this: “Seven out of 10 eligible voters in Jamaica have suggested that the Government is out of its depth in fighting crime and violence.” ( The Gleaner, October 13, 2015) These were the findings of a Bill Johnson poll.

The PNP needs to understand that the beliefs of its party's inner sanctum are not automatically what the rest of the country experiences and/or believes.

Dr Phillips's facile presentations about the PNP being a better manager of the economy than the JLP flies in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary.

I have outlined these in previous articles.

Barking up the wrong trees

And, then, of course, there are these anti-gravity political bad cards from Dr Phillips.

Headline: 'PNP stands by Lisa Hanna' ( Jamaica Observer, July 5, 2020)

Headline: 'Propaganda — Phillips stands by Hanna, Paulwell as PNP grapples with cronyism scandal' ( The Gleaner, July 6, 2020)

Headline: 'Phillips defends Hayles decision to block tabling of OCG report In Parliament' ( Nationwide News Network, July 7, 2020)

Headline: 'I will act on corruption when necessary, says Phillips' ( Jamaica Observer, July 5, 2020)

Headline: 'PNP says time's up for DPP — Opposition leader says Llewellyn has 'poor track record' on prosecuting corruption' ( The Gleaner, July 7, 2020)

These are indicators that the PNP is headed for a giant political asteroid.

Not a good look

The news details for the last headline mentioned above said, inter alia: “However, The Gleaner has obtained a copy of Phillips's May 21 submission to Sir Patrick. Phillips told Queen Elizabeth's representative here of his March 2 response to Holness's proposal to support the extension.

“ 'I have the most strenuous objection,' Phillips said. The letter to the governor general, The Gleaner understands, is part of ongoing discussions involving the decision-makers in the matter.

“Phillips argued that his view was based on a range of issues, including what he termed the 'many deficiencies' in the conduct of the Office of the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] during Llewellyn's 12-year tenure.

“ 'Jamaica's reputation as a jurisdiction rife with corruption has grown in this period and it is troubling that in such an environment the Office of the DPP, from all objective accounts, has a poor track record in the prosecution of corruption cases,' he said, pointing to a more comprehensive response he gave Holness.

The Gleaner has not seen the letter to the prime minister.”

I believe the DPP has done a very good job, given the resources she has at her disposal. I believe Phillips made an unwarranted attack upon the Office of the DPP. As a citizen of this country, I continue to be extremely uncomfortable with these sorts of actions by our Opposition.

Recall I wrote, among other things, in my The Agenda piece on May 12, 2019: “I believe the members of the Integrity Commission are fine folks and they represent some of what is best in us.

“ 'PNP calls for urgent review of Integrity Commission Act — Opposition raises questions over body's comments on OCG's Rooms On The Beach report'. I believe this headline in The Gleaner of May 7, 2019 must have had a very chilling effect on the hundreds of well-thinking citizens who, in many instances, voluntarily, and often at great personal expense, give of their time, experience and rich reservoir of knowledge when they serve on boards, commissions, committees, and other public bodies.

“Dr Phillips's ill-founded attack upon the Integrity Commission is a very dangerous precedent which all well-thinking Jamaicans should democratically repudiate with every sinew. It is the membership of the Integrity Commission today. Who will it be tomorrow? This is a harbinger!”

Dr Peter Phillips should take a little advice from another Peter and pick himself up, dust himself off, and start all over again. I am, of course, taking slight liberties here with the words of Pick Myself Up by the legendary Peter Tosh.

Time is not on Phillips's side. I think if he continues on his present political kamikaze trajectory the PNP will suffer a defeat on the scale of October 30, 1980. There is, however, no second chance for Phillips, unlike former Prime Minister Michael Manley.


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