How Portland Eastern was won

The 1,2,3 of the Crawford defeat

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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The one who gets a good harvest of pumpkins forgets the one who gave them the seeds. — A Kisoga proverb, Uganda

Ann-Marie Vaz was sworn in as Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern last Tuesday. She has a tremendous opportunity to help thousands of her constituents create and grasp opportunities to improve their standard of living and those of their children.

Whether Prime Minister Andrew Holness 'fly the gate' this year, next year, or in 2021, Vaz has but a little time to satisfy the myriad needs of a constituency that has been largely neglected by the People's National Party (PNP) over a period of 30 continuous years.

Two Sundays ago, I suggested five major factors that are contributing to the PNP's general state of political anaemia, and which also specifically contributed to its defeat in Portland Eastern. Since then I have received many requests from readers who have asked that I situate the key factors which contributed to the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) victory in the April 4, 2019 precedent-setting by election.

Based on data which I gathered during three visits — February 24, March 10 and March 26 & 27, 2019 — information from credible polls done in the run-up to the by-election, and other credible sources, I have concluded that there are three principal factors for the JLP's victory over the PNP.

1. Ann-Marie Vaz

Vaz is a master of tactile politics. She has a natural knack for making you feel that you are near and dear to her. This quality is political gold, and is especially valuable in rural politics, which is yet to be stung by the social indifference which typically characterises many of our urban centres. Folks in rural constituencies place great premium not only on how much you know, but also how much you know about them personally.

Particularly through the conduits of her One Jamaica Foundation and its numerous social and educational interventions, Vaz got to know the good folks of Portland Eastern on a first-name basis in numerous instances. She established a connection with JLP, PNP, uncommitted, and those not interested in party politics, which surmounted several barriers to communication and, by extension, political relationships.

A friend with whom I attended Mico Teachers' College many years ago sent me a WhatsApp message a few days after my February 24, 2019 column in which I clearly said the PNP would lose the Portland Eastern by-election. He told me he believed I was going to be proved wrong, and emphatically said the PNP would win. But he also said something else which perked up my political antennae. He said last year his parents' home in Priestman's River was destroyed by fire, and that on the morning after the fire Vaz visited and offered some practical assistance. He said he was surprised since his family is known for its close relationship with the PNP. He also revealed that the late Member of Parliament Dr Lynvale Bloomfield visited some days after and offered little in the way of practical assistance.

Nevertheless, he submitted, “The PNP will win because that is how Portland people are.”

I disagreed with him based on what I had picked up on the political 'ground'. Vaz had found a good place in the hearts of folks, and it rapidly multiplied. During my informal chats with folks there was a common denominator in their assessment of her, and here I am also talking about folks who outrightly said they were not going to vote for her: She was viewed as a doer and not a talker.

The tremendous community interventions which Vaz did prior to election day amplified an existing spotlight on the under-performance and neglect of the PNP over 30 years, and simultaneously provided a beacon of hope for many who felt that they were massively short-changed by their political representatives since 1989.

“Ann-Marie Vaz is one of us,” I was told. Folks wanted a cake that was baked at home. They saw in her a chance to redeem and restore. She lives in Portland Eastern, her family lives in the constituency. This sentiment was generously repeated during my informal chats with many constituents.

“Wi know weh she live, so we can throw stone pon har house,” was how one man who was interviewed on radio commented on the importance of the fact that Vaz lived in the constituency. This is not a receding demand; it is one that is catching momentum, and fast.

Vaz did not put on airs. She did not behave as if she were better than other people — wealthier, better dressed, or better educated. Someone on Twitter recently said “credentialism, education and learning are not synonymous”. I agree. Too many of us who have had the benefit of education, or maybe I should say schooling, at great taxpayers' expense, turn round and browbeat those who are not as fortunate.

Braggadocio is not a political strategy. All who aspire to enter representational politics would do well to understand this simple fact. As I wrote in this space two Sundays ago: “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.”

Vaz did not seek to add exploitation upon exploitation, folks appreciated and rewarded that.

2. Superior election machinery

I predicted a comfortable win for Dr Norman Dunn in the St Mary South Eastern by-election, two weeks in advance. On November 5, 2017, in my The Agenda piece which was titled 'PNP's sour grapes after its narrative has gone awry', I said, among other things: “The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) did its homework and executed a clinical political strategy. Prime Minister Andrew Holness led a ground and grounded campaign, and he did so from the front. Local issues were the centrepiece of the JLP's campaign. Sir Alexander Bustamante's party adopted a kind of Churchillian political posture in St Mary South Eastern. It was not dissimilar to the organisational approach used in the local government elections of last November and the general election of February 2016. 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.” ( Jamaica Observer)

The JLP's political machinery is brimming with a level organisational sharpness and confidence that is similar to the period in the run-up to the landslide defeat of the PNP on October 30, 1980. This is a two-edged sword. Belmont Road needs to guard against political atrophy and complacency with great diligence. The PNP's much-vaunted machinery was simply politically outmanoeuvred by the JLP.

Port Antonio and Prospect were ground zero for the JLP. The JLP ensured that it placed some of its ablest strategists in the Port Antonio and Prospect divisions. That decision paid rich dividends.

The JLP performed way better in transportation logistics compared to the PNP. One does not need to be a transportation expert to know that being able to transport your voters early and quickly to and from the polling station is often the difference between wining and losing. Enthusiasm often begins to wane as the election day grows older. The use of more local transport expertise also gave the JLP an advantage.

As with their defeat in St Mary South Eastern, the PNP has again resorted to political sour grapes — doubtless as a political defence mechanism. I am not surprised. In the wake of the defeat in Portland Eastern, PNP President Dr Peter Phillips, PNP Chairman Fitz Jackson, plus other party bigwigs who are being called upon to resign have emerged with the expected 'trailer-load' of political deflections. According to Jackson: The JLP received significantly more votes in the by-election than in the 2016 General Election, so it must have been vote-buying. This smacks of political inversion.

Dr Phillips made statements at a gathering in Port Antonio on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 that even the most rabid supporter would have figured was a smokescreen for the defeat of the PNP's vice-president, and its most popular politician, Damion Crawford, in the formerly ninth safest seat of that party. Phillips can throw hullo [excuses] as much as he likes, but his continued failure to secure positive political traction among the electorate, in particular the youth, cannot be hid under a bushel.

Phillips trumpeted among other things:

“...When you calculate the political propaganda coming out of some sections of the media; when you calculate that poll seh we going lose by 20 points, some seh 10, some seh six, some seh it's climbing every day; and when you look at the result, you realise that it was just propaganda. [It was] pure, simple propaganda directed against the People's National Party and the candidate,” he told the group. ( Jamaica Observer, April 12, 2019)

I heard Crawford say on radio that a PNP-commissioned poll showed that he was 11 percentage points behind Vaz when he decided to become the standard-bearer for his party. Was that propaganda too, Dr Phillips? A bad workman blames his tools is a local adage that rings with significance here.

Blaming the media, pollsters, he, she, and the old lady for another defeat of the PNP by the JLP won't fix the advanced political rot at 89 Old Hope Road, of which former General Secretary Paul Burke said, inter alia, only two weeks ago: “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”.

Phillips, Jackson and other higher-ups in the PNP clearly do not understand the seismic political event that took place in Portland Eastern on April 4, 2019. The JLP overturned the over 2,200 margin of victory achieved by the PNP in the last general election. Despite the fact that Crawford gained 1,000 more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield did in the February 25, 2016 General Election, it was not enough to overcome the just over 3,000 additional votes, or 50 per cent increase, for the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz. The PNP just does not get it!

This post on social media on April 9, 2019, by friend of the PNP, lawyer and public commentator Clyde Williams supports the point: “The PNP's officer corps & national executive don't fully understand the implications of the loss by a strong PNP candidate (warts & all) who is also a VP, and in a 30-year PNP seat. For if they did, the talk would be about a shake-up at the secretariat & local chapters.”

The PNP needs to do the maths!

3. Focused message

The JLP delivered a coordinated message to the people of Portland Eastern. The focus was greater opportunity creation, expansion and distribution, not the redistribution of income consistent with the failed schemes of Michael Manley in the 70s.

Vaz's plans for the constituency centred on job creation, education, improved security, especially for the farmers, improving infrastructure, and the expansion of the tourism industry to benefit the eco-system of Portland and greater direct benefits for the constituents who work with and build the industry.

Crawford and the PNP too often spewed what well-thinking Jamaicans appropriately described as “classist”, “sexist”, and “misogynist” diatribe about Vaz. She, nonetheless, kept on message.

The PNP would like the country to believe that they ran a “bruk pocket” campaign, and that they lost the message, momentum, contest, and ultimately the by-election because of pecuniary handicaps. That is nonsense! The PNP's political purse was not etiolated. I visited Portland Eastern three times prior to the by-election day and I saw ample evidence. The JLP simply ran a far more politically strategic campaign; had a far more attractive message; far more affable and politically sellable candidate; far more engaging, effective, and liked party leader; and demonstrated greater political and emotional intelligence in the execution of its ground apparatus.

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

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


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