A leadership crisis looms in the PNP

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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People who think they are too wise often end up greeting a goat. — Fante proverb, Ghana

IN the aftermath of the defeat of People's National Party (PNP) super candidate Damion Crawford by the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Ann-Marie Vaz in the by-election on April 4, 2019, in Portland Eastern, the predictable political recrimination, bickering, and back-stabbing among individuals particularly on social media — who have known umbilical ties to 89 Old Hope Road — have been swift.

Recall that in my Jamaica Observer The Agenda piece on March 17, 2019 I said, among other things: “The by-election for the constituency of Portland Eastern is 17 days from today. The birds sing, that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP), has been pacing the creaking political floorboards at 89 Old Hope Road near non-stop. The birds also shriek that political bayonets have been cleaned, cane machetes sharpened, and daggers stashed.”

The birds chirp that the political weapons are all out now and in use. I am not surprised!

WINTER OF DISCONTENT

Recall in this newspaper on February 24, 2019 I wrote that the birds were again chirping that winter would soon descend on the presidential perch of Dr Peter Phillips. I wrote, inter alia: “The birds are also tweeting that political hyenas in the PNP are readying themselves to pounce.”

Recall, over a year ago, the birds warbled that Dr Phillips would be challenged in 2019 for leadership of the party, and that he would be the first head of one of our two major political parties/Opposition leader not to become prime minister.

Then, the birds shrieked that forces within the PNP were sharpening their daggers.

Then, the birds also chirped that some in the inner sanctum of the PNP tweeted that Dr Phillips had plunged the party into recession and that his “Mr Fix-it” mantra was as good as dead.

The pinpoint accuracy of the birds is again being manifested. For example, 'Phillips urged to resign in PNP WhatsApp war' was a headline in The Gleaner of April 7, 2019. The story said, among other things: “There was a war of words in at least three People's National Party-connected WhatsApp groups Thursday evening into Friday as frustrated Comrades demanded that the party President Dr Peter Phillips resign from the post.

This was prompted by a bruising defeat in Portland Eastern — a seat the party has not lost in 30 years until last Thursday when the Jamaica Labour Party's Ann-Marie Vaz beat PNP Vice-President Damion Crawford to become Member of Parliament-elect.

A WhatsApp group formed by faithful delegates in Region Three in the party, one by an alliance of present and past councillors, and another by the leadership of the Region Two PNP Youth Organisation, have been buzzing since the trouncing as Comrades spar over the future of the party.

'Pressure on Phillips as PNP in decline — Burke likens party, ground game to wrecked vehicle; Robinson questions whether there's a clear successor' screamed the Old Lady of North Street also on April 7, 2019.

The birds tweet that the spilling of political blood is inevitable. They sing that the monied factions in the PNP are demanding their pound of flesh. They chirp that a 'topanaris' [political bigwig] and 'money-man' who invested sizeable resources in both the St Mary South Eastern and Portland Eastern by-elections are threatening to call it quits.

The fine-feathered creatures also warble of two meetings presided over by PNP higher-ups — one last Saturday and another last Sunday. Only one item, they sing, was on the agenda: The viability of Phillips's presidency.

By late afternoon last Sunday ace newsman Abka Fitz-Henley released on social media a letter authored by former general secretary of the PNP, Paul Burke, which confirmed the rickety state of Norman Manley's party.

The birds have been tweeting about the political miasma emanating from 89 Old Hope Road since early 2015.

Recall that as far back as December 12, 2015 I wrote in this newspaper, inter alia: “True to form, the PNP has built a campaign on political scaffolding constructed with rotten scrap metals taken from someone's abandoned garage. A construction outfit who cuts corners and delivers sixes for nines is not only untrustworthy, but equally as dangerous as the eight out of every 10 block makers that the Bureau of Standards Jamaica says have sent inferior products to the market.”

Burke, in his six-page introspection, corroborated that which the birds have been chirping for many, many months. Among other things, Burke said, “The PNP's problems are deeper and we have been in denial.” He noted, “We have had a defective vehicle for years and we don't want to admit the truth.” Burke likened the PNP to “a six-cylinder engine firing on one cylinder and going uphill in many instances”. He submitted that, “The party's machinery has fallen into disarray and has been in steady decline over the past two decades.”

The former political firebrand from the 70s also reprimanded Comrades who he said have no moral authority to chide the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on allegations of vote-buying in elections.

This is not the first time that Burke is making similarly important revelations. Burke is well-known for speaking his mind and is credited internally by many PNP stalwarts as an honest political broker-dealer. He also made this major eye-opening admission: The PNP has been marketed as an organisational juggernaut for donkey's years. Burke said this is a myth.

This bombshell, in particular, by Burke has ruffled many features in his party: “The SMMs ..social media mercenaries, they are paid attack dogs, paid to attack the JLP, but also Comrades like me who step out of line.”

Since his revelations some PNP bloggers have used social media to warn him he could be killed. This is frightening, very frightening.

I heard the former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites on the radio describing the contents of Burke's letter as ill-timed and “unfortunate”. Is this an example of the “morals party” modus operandi? Recall that The Gleaner reported on May 1, 2015, that Thwaites described the PNP as a morals party.

Some of what Burke has revealed in his latest appraisal of Norman Manley's party sound very similar to the parting shots fired by the former PNP standard-bearer for St Andrew West Rural Jennifer Housen. In a very forthright letter to the PNP's top-brass, Housen painted a grim picture of the state of the PNP's machinery. She described it as antiquated and simultaneously demanded the resignation of Colin Campbell, the PNP's director of communication.

In her letter, she said, among other things: “I firmly believe in efficiency and, at times, for the good of the organisation, one needs to be cruel to be kind. The party's machinery feels archaic and appears unwilling to update. To place no finer point on it, Colin Campbell, as 'communications director', simply needs to go. There is an apparent fostering of 'jobs for the boys' which, in my view, is unsustainable and unacceptable.”

In the wake of the last Thursday's defeat of the PNP's Damion Crawford by the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz, many with deep roots in the PNP have been calling for the resignation of Imani Duncan, chief of staff in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition; Julian Robinson, the PNP general secretary; Dr Morais Guy, chairman of Region Two, in which the PNP has two of six seats; Fitz Jackson, chairman of the PNP; and numerous other high-ranking officials of the party's interior structure.

THE MATTER OF LEADERSHIP

The coming days and weeks will be interesting, the birds sing. They shriek that forces that long-ago-declared aspirants for the top job in the PNP are courting so-called super-delegates, making overtures to party elders, and assessing the strength of their troops in readiness to challenge Dr Phillips for the presidency this year.

Over a year ago I wrote, among other things: “Dr Peter Phillips is under severe pressure within his party to make a greater impression on the country's electorate, in particular the youth. The severity of the internal party squeeze on Phillips is getting tighter by the day. Phillips is a caged political animal. Three younger lions are circling his pride. Phillips's fear for his life and his cubs is conspicuous.” ( Jamaica Observer, December 10, 2017)

The birds sing of worsening discontent in the PNP. The recent findings of the RJR/Gleaner Don Anderson polls delivered a body blow to the hopes of Phillips and his team. The findings, the birds chirp, continue to cause irregular visits to the bathrooms by many senior PNP figures.

The birds also tweet that there are loud calls in the upper echelons of the PNP for younger leadership at the helm of Norman Manley's party. They chirp that some very influential party insiders are mouthing an expression generously used by Dr Phillips during the supremely contentious public sector wage negotiations in 2015: “It nuh mek sense man try bruk empty shop.”

The birds tweet many are openly saying that Phillips just does not have the political groceries which are being demanded by the vast majority of today's political shoppers.

They warble that September 2019 will be a 'September to remember' for Dr Phillips.

More anon!

Phillips has always touted party unity and a return to the PNP's “socialist roots” as his primary objectives, and has repeatedly recommended himself as the man with the best skill sets to ensure a united, socialist PNP.

Flanked by acolytes, including then Member of Parliament for St Andrew South Eastern Maxine Henry-Wilson; St Catherine Southern Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson; and long-time PNP organiser Kenneth “Skeng Don” Black at a constituency conference at Harbour View Primary School on July 13, 2008, Phillips declared, inter alia: “In response to the demands of thousands of Comrades at all levels of the party, and the demands of citizens across the length and breadth of Jamaica who have asked that I accept your nomination to lead this process of renewal, my answer is a resounding 'yes'.” ( The Gleaner, July 14, 2008)

Two years after his affirmation it has become patently obvious — even to many of the most loyal PNP supporters — that Dr Phillips has not delivered on his solemn promise to either unite and/or lead a process of renewal which the PNP desperately needs to lift it from its torrid state which Senator K D Knight not so long so termed as “survival mode”.

ARROGANCE

On my recent three visits to Portland Eastern many rock solid PNP supporters identified haughtiness as a major reason they had not warmed to Dr Phillips's presidency. Here is a recent example of Dr Phillips' egotism on show.

TVJ Reporter: If the PNP should lose that seat.

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if, it is a PNP seat.

TVJ Reporter: But if the PNP should lose that seat.

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if, there is no if, there is no if, it is a PNP seat.

TVJ Reporter: So, you are saying, regardless of what the JLP does...

Dr Peter Phillips: We are going to win the seat.

Phillips spewed so much entitlement he did not even allow the interviewer to finish asking his questions. Dr Phillips would do well to surrender hubris. Rural folks say we need to “tek sleep and mark death”. I agree!

The PNP continues to clutch on to the moribund 'Jamaica is PNP country' mantra, despite repeated rejections from today's electorate.

Legendary Jamaican-international singer Ernie Smith in his classic 'Ride on, Sammy', warns: “But if you keep on doing what you doing, Sammy. You gonna find that your ruin Sammy…”

The old political manual of the PNP is now crumpled and its contents are largely antediluvian. They doubtless will continue to row merrily down the stream. It seems the PNP has concluded that the continued rejection of their brand of politics by the majority of our country's electorate is but a dream.

The PNP is not dead, but it is certainly in an advanced state of political emaciation.

P

I believe the governing Jamaica Labour Party needs to press home the advantage [I am not here referring to an early general election], by providing those additional political goods which are being demanded by our political market, once they are simultaneously in the best interest of Jamaica's economic growth and development.

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

Sometimes history takes things into its own hands. — Thurgood Marshall

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


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