5 things keeping the PNP and deadweight Phillips down

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, April 07, 2019

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One who cuts throats is scared to lie down. — Akan proverb, Ghana

The reliable Black-bellied Plovers, Bananaquits and John Chewits have been tweeting about People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips's failure to warm the hearts of the majority of Jamaican voters for more than a year.

Dr Phillips was affirmed president of the PNP on March 26, 2017. He was formally sworn in as the leader of the parliamentary Opposition on April 3, 2017. Two years later, it is becoming obvious, even to the most rabid PNP supporter, that Dr Phillips is political deadweight.

The birds chirp that the foreboding of Luther Buchanan, deputy general secretary of the PNP, is once again being repeated in the party's inner sanctum: “You can't look at renewal if you are going for a 1980 model Benz... Of fundamental importance, if we are to go to an election in 2020 or 2021, the age difference is that a 70-odd-year-old leader of the People's National Party will have to be sold against a 50-year-old [Andrew] Holness.” ( The Star, December 9, 2016)

The poll findings below by the RJR/Gleaner Don Anderson polls show that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party, is a political albatross around the neck of Norman Manley's party:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

• Positive: 48 per cent

• Negative: 15 per cent

• Neither positive nor negative: 37 per cent

Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips

• Positive: 12 per cent

• Negative: 51 per cent

• Neither positive nor negative: 37 per cent

I am not surprised.

I believe there are five major reasons for Dr Phillips's failure to gain significant positive political traction, especially among younger voters, after two years at the political helm of the PNP.

1. Persona

Dr Peter Phillips does not have a very welcoming persona. To me, he comes across as misanthropic, nondescript, and too often antagonistic. I gather Dr Phillips has a terminal degree in political science or some variant of it. Surely, he should know that politics is, first and foremost, a matter of the heart. If folks don't like you generally they won't gravitate to your appeals for their support.

One of the things I consistently picked up among PNP supporters on my three visits to Portland Eastern was a disfavour for the leadership of Dr Phillips. Many openly talked about a time post-Peter Phillips. Peter Bunting at the helm of the PNP, or even Phillip Paulwell, were more palatable alternatives for them.

There is a Hausa proverb which says: Water does not go sour for no reason.

I picked up that the disrespect that was meted out to former president of the PNP and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during the twice-failed bid of Dr Phillips to lead the party has left a sour taste in the mouths of many a Comrade in Portland Eastern.

Recall that Phillips contested for the post of PNP president on two occasions. The first was in 2006 when he was among four candidates who sought to replace the retiring P J Patterson. Along with the other two, he was defeated by Portia Simpson Miller. In 2008, Phillips again challenged Simpson Miller for the presidency and was again defeated.

2. No concrete, positive narrative

Nearly a year ago I emphatically said that the PNP's communication/political strategy was a dud. In my The Agenda piece on April 15, 2018 I wrote, among other things: “The PNP's 'strategy' of 'say something, anything, about everything' is another rusty nail in the party's political coffin.”

In this newspaper, I wrote, inter alia on September 16, 2018: “Were Phillips to stick to what I believe is the PNP's political communication 'strategy' of 'say something, anything, about everything' he would only be hastening his likely political funeral.”

This worthless 'strategy' of, 'say something, anything, about everything' manifested itself in these and other corrosive ways: fake news, misguided bluster, empty chat, political deflection, 'bad mind', threats of street demonstrations, and attempts at filibuster.

Many higher-ups in the PNP continue to foolishly believe that as was the norm in the 60s and 70s a privileged set remains in control of the conduits of information.

Additionally, they continue to embrace outdated modes of self-saluting. For example, constantly telling folks that you have degrees to match a thermometer and attended Heaven's University does not impress them when many do not have indoor plumbing, decent roads, and other basic amenities. This after they have voted for you in seven consecutive general elections since 1989.

After 30 years of political representation the PNP did not run on its record of performance in Portland Eastern. Why? Simply because it had dismally failed to improve the lives of the vast majority of the constituents. The evidence of neglect which I saw in Portland Eastern tells me that the people were taken for granted by the PNP. This was one of the major factors which led to its defeat last Thursday by the Jamaica Labour Party's Ann-Marie Vaz.

The political era in Jamaica when people would willingly subdue their philosophical needs on the altar of ideological expediency 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.

I believe the PNP is desperately lacking in a new, productive and attractive national political narrative. It seems to me that they are simply hoping that people will continue to vote them into power on the basis of a belief that the PNP was the party of near natural choice.

The PNP's resurrecting and ratcheting up a schismatic politics, as evidenced in these divisive comments, “...Because of her (Ann-Marie Vaz's) class and colour some people say this lady is better than me,” by former Senator Damion Crawford, and similar comments by several senior individuals in the PNP, including Dr Peter Phillips, during the campaign reinforced the reality that the party is out of touch with today's political pulse.

The majority of folks were not preoccupied with the gradations of melanin of either candidate. The good folks of Portland Eastern were much more focussed on who could/would bring much-needed help with respect to jobs, skills training, and many other urgently needed developments. Much credit, of course, must be given to the JLP who focused on the political pulse issues like a laser beam — as was done in the by-election held in St Mary South Eastern in the latter part of 2017.

It is clear to me that the PNP's ping pong and scatter shot approach to messaging lacks substance and is totally outdated. I rather doubt that I am singular in this perspective.

3. Cloak of a moral superstar

Advanced political schizophrenia is a malady which is eating away at 89 Old Hope Road. Dr Phillips continues to trumpet that the Andrew Holness Administration is the most corrupt ever, and simultaneously tries to sell himself as new and different to the political process.

In 2015, former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told us that the “PNP is a morals party.” ( The Gleaner, May 1, 2015) A quick Google search shows that the PNP's continuous attempts to don the cloak of a moral superstar has made them look, as we say in local parlance, like “heng-pon-nail” [wearing totally ill-fitting clothes].

The PNP should rightly be genuflecting in sackcloth and ashes for the near social, economic and political ruination which these scandals — by no means an exhaustive list — have brought upon the people of our country.

1. Iran Sugar Deal

2. Rollins Land Deal

3. Zinc Scandal

4. Furniture Scandal

5. Motor Vehicle Importation Scandal

6. Montego Bay Street People Scandal

7. Land Distribution at Holland Scandal

8. Shell Waiver Scandal

9. NetServ Scandal

10. Trafigura Scandal

11. Cuban Light Bulb Scandal

12. FINSAC Scandal

13. Bad Gas Scandal

14. Dead Babies Scandal

15. Outameni Scandal

16. Run-Wid It Scandal

17. EWI Scandal

18.CHIKV (chikungunya) Scandal

19. Fat Cat Salary Scandal

20. Operation PRIDE Scandal

21. Campaign Funds Scandal

As I pointed in my The Agenda column on June 18, 2018: “Trouble comes to everyone at one time or another. Political administrations are no different. There is no utopian political administration anywhere in the world. For me, a key indicator of good governance is a demonstrated willingness [action] on the part of an administration to put a finger in the dike and, thereafter, repair the dam quickly. This is a fundamental difference between this Andrew Holness-led Administration and that of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. She simply allowed the country to flood.”

Those who continue to believe that this important contrast between this JLP and previous PNP administrations is not appreciated on the 'ground', as we say in local parlance, “don't know what a clock a strike” [oblivious to reality].

4. Oppose just to oppose

The PNP's vice-grip-like embrace of confrontational politics and numerous acts of what can only be categorised as attempts at political suicide has turned off hundreds of especially young voters.

Dr Phillips clearly did not get the memo that the days when opposing for opposing sake was sexy are gone.

The decision of the PNP to withdraw its support for the states of public emergency (SOE) last December, for example, might have caused some who do not take that keen an interest in our political tea leaves to ask, what were they thinking.

The SOEs reduced murders by 22.2 per cent up to the end of December last year. And there were 359 fewer murders in 2018 compared to 2017.

St James, where there was an SOE for a year, saw a 69 per cent reduction in murders, and 203 fewer people murdered in the parish compared to 2017.

A recent poll by Don Anderson showed that 90 per cent of Jamaicans supported the SOEs.

The PNP was brutishly against the implementation of the “$1.5-million income tax relief”. Some 400,000 Jamaicans are benefiting.

In 2002, the PNP promised to remove cost-sharing by 2005 — that promise was not kept. The same PNP was blindly against the abolition of obligatory fees at the secondary level. The vast majority of schools were getting a mere 30 per cent compliance with regard to the payment of auxiliary fees when the cost-sharing programme existed. Large numbers of parents simply just could not pay. Today the schools are better funded.

The no-user-fee health policy implemented during the Bruce Golding Administration is a win-win for the Jamaican economy, says the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB): “The Government's no-user-fee policy in health care has contributed US$26.6 million (in purchasing power parity terms) worth of net real production to the Jamaican economy, while adding 2.15 additional weekly hours to the labour market.”

I could go on listing similar examples of foolish obstructionism by the PNP.

5. Facts aversion

This is another millstone which the PNP continues to use to sink itself deeper into political irrelevance.

To continue to throw cold water on the economic achievements of the present Administration when unemployment is at its lowest in 50 years and the 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 makes no sense.

To continue to argue that this Administration “no kno what dem doing”, when Jamaica has just over US$3.2 billion in reserves in our central bank — the most we've had since our country's political independence — and our debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was 96 per cent at the end of the 2018/19 financial year on March 31, smacks of facts aversion.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) said two weeks ago that our economy grew by 2.0 per cent during the last quarter, yet the PNP continues to babble that the country is headed in the wrong direction. At the same time, however, they have not said what specific plans, policies or programmes they would implement to catapult our economy into the stratosphere if they were to form a future Administration.

On February 27, 2016 I said in this space that the JLP was playing chess while the PNP played checkers. The JLP has moved up in the chess rankings, while the PNP is still stuck with checkers.

Right again!

On February 24, 2019 I said in this space that the PNP would lose the by-election in Portland Eastern.

I gave reasons.

Last Sunday, March 31, 2019, I wrote: “Given information which I gathered on three visits to Portland Eastern and the findings of the Jamaica Observer/Bill Johnson polls, plus a well-oiled JLP machine that has engaged Portland Eastern from end to end, I am predicting that the JLP will overturn the sizeable winning margin which Dr Lynvale Bloomfield registered in 2016. I am calling the by-election in Portland Eastern for the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz. She will cross the finish line before Senator Damion Crawford and she won't be spent from the sprint.”

I have been proved right.

I will say more next week.

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

Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. — Nelson Mandela

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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