Outdated belligerence and spiky political persona not a winning formula

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Outdated belligerence and spiky political persona not a winning formula

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, July 26, 2020

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When a fowl perches on a rope both the rope and the fowl feel uneasy. — Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

 

Renowned German American sociologist and political scientist Reinhard Bendix, who resisted the rise of the Nazis, said that political campaigns are often mirrors of the persona, if not the very personality of party leaders. I agree.

The Mello Bill Johnson polls which were conducted this June, as well as polls done by Don Anderson and Bluedot Insights, have consistently — over the last 18 months — found that voters' sentiment towards Prime Minister Andrew Holness is favourable, but simultaneously unfavourable for Opposition Leader Peter Phillips.

The vast majority of voters evidently view Holness as much more likeable, accessible, and in touch with the feelings of the general population. Phillips, on the other hand, does not come across as having a very welcoming political persona. Common sense suggests that the consistently unflattering poll findings should have galvanised the People's National Party (PNP) to spearhead a campaign to rebrand Phillips. The opposite seems to be happening.

The PNP's bid to retake Jamaica House seems fixated on razzle dazzle, fluff, political ambulance-chasing, and bloody shirts — symbols used to excite people to partisan outrage. I believe even those who pay only cursory attention to the movements of our political tea leaves would have noticed that Dr Phillips's truculent, distant, and hard-to-like political persona is a mirror of the PNP's election campaign platform.

There was an era in our politics when belligerence fetched a premium price in the political market. That unfortunate epoch ended with Jamaica technologically and economically far behind our neighbours in the Caribbean and Latin America. I believe today's political market is demanding a conciliatory type of politics, which is overtly aligned with the pulse and feelings of, especially, ordinary folks.

I think Dr Phillips continues to exude a political persona which is antithetical to that national political mood. To me, Phillips comes across as misanthropic, nondescript, and too often antagonistic.

After 31 years in representational politics, surely Phillips knows 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.

I don't recollect seeing any unscripted media representation, for example, at which Dr Phillips had a broad smile on his face. The photographs and videos that his handlers marinate with computer graphics and strategically enable to escape from confinement don't count for much. Jamaicans know a plastic smile when they see it. Dr Phillips seems to be always pouting, always exuding a kind of prickly disposition.

This is mutually incompatible with the generally jovial and gregarious nature of our people. We tend to gravitate towards national leaders who are on the lively side. We tend to use laughter as therapy to help ward off the numerous challenges that we are forced to confront on a daily basis.

In an era where politics is largely visual, Dr Phillips's spiky political persona is additional deadweight for the PNP, which Senator K D Knight described some time ago as being in “survival mode”.

The PNP has adopted a clenched-fist approach in its general election campaigning. Norman Manley's party continues to close its eyes to what are obvious shifts in the direction of the national political antennae. Consistent with that new direction some of our critical institutions are evolving, albeit at a snail's pace.

Unsurprisingly, folks are demanding greater accountability from our political leaders and public officials. I have written about this important development in previous articles. I don't believe 89 Old Hope Road has taken sufficient note of this crucial change. The PNP seems to have buried itself deep in the trenches of old-time politics, which is founded upon the hostile defence of political turf by near any means necessary.

These recent examples of antiquated, political wagon circling tactics alert us to something rotten at 89 Old Hope Road. I believe these are harbingers.

Headline: 'Phillips accuses Holness of 'political bad mind' for Manley criticism' ( Loop Jamaica, July 15, 2020)

Headline: 'PNP calls for Hutchinson to resign' ( Jamaica Observer, July 15, 2020)

Headline: 'PNP says none of its MPs involved in land capture' ( Jamaica Observer, July 20, 2020)

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)

 

Contrasts counts

Clear political contrasts between the prime minister and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Andrew Holness and Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the PNP, will be a critical factor in determining who undecided and swing voters in marginal seats cast their ballots for in the upcoming general election.

While it is important for a political party to continually rile the base in particular with exposés of scandals and cock-ups related to its opponents, a political party must also simultaneously convince folks that it also has a clear and a viable alternative path to the future; one that is considerably better than its opponent's.

Anger, and vituperation, minus a bankable way forward is not a winning political strategy in any jurisdiction. The PNP doggedly hangs on to its sodden-witted political demarcations of the far left. Its irrelevant dogma is dragging it under... and fast. The JLP seems focused more on mobilisation, while the PNP seems preoccupied with polarisation.

Our evolving politics seems to be rapidly outgrowing the PNP, and Dr Phillips in particular.

Many months ago I wrote in my The Agenda column that undecided and swing voters in marginal seats will determine the outcome of our next general election. I maintain that these folks, especially, want to hear answers to these and related questions, Dr Phillips:

1) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy?

2) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas to remedy the long-standing imbalances of our education system?

3) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas to fix the choking issue of major crimes, and murder in particular?

4) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for a national identification system (NIDS)?

5) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for better management of the fallout from COVID-19?

6) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for the revolutionising/repurposing of critical institutions that will enable Jamaica to take full advantage of the digital economy, and more broadly the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

7) And, how will their ideas, programmes, and policies be operationalised?

As a taxpayer, I need to be convinced that the PNP's ideas are fundable.

 

I think Dr Phillips gloomy political persona has effectively typecast his party's election campaign with a pale horse atmosphere. Tone deafness, political irascibility, and empty braggadocio are evident consequences.

 

18th parliamentary election

While many political pundits were busy forecasting a summer general election, some even identified specific dates in August 2020. I noted in my The Agenda piece of May 24, 2020 that I believed that our 18th parliamentary election “will be held in early February 2021”.

A red-billed streamertail [doctor bird] sang this to me in mid-May. That Aves delivered another beautiful tune outside my window last week.

I declare, I am no political clairvoyant.

I am reconsidering my original forecast given certain data which I very recently got sight of — plus a trend in the data which I am gathering from recent road trips.Recall in my article of December 29, 2019, I said wrote, inter alia: “A few more road trips are planned for 2020.” More Anon!

Last week the Administration gave the clearest indication yet that there is unlikely to be a general election this summer. Parliament voted last Tuesday to extend states of public emergency in 10 police divisions. A Bill was also tabled proposing that both the general and local government elections be held on one ballot.

I support both actions by the Administration. There is copious evidence that the states of public emergency have resulted in the saving of hundreds of lives. These are mostly folks who don't have the wherewithal to hire Praetorian guard-like security. I presented overwhelming data in previous articles to substantiate that conclusion.

Murders are down by double digits in the majority of divisions where states of public emergency are active. There is a 3.3 per cent reduction in murders nationally at present. There are also significant reductions in other major crimes nationally.

Taxpayers could see a saving of nearly $750 million if the country holds both the local government and general elections at the same time. This potential saving could go a far way in providing additional funding for the COVID-19 crisis.

With regards to the date for the holding of the next general election, I rather doubt the Holness Administration would want to set a precedent by entering into a realm that no other political party has gone before — those additional three months allowed by the Jamaican Constitution.

I believe the level of success related to the continued cautious reopening of those sections of the economy which were shuttered, additional steady reductions in coronavirus infections, and a fully oiled JLP organisational machine are among the key factors which will determine when Prime Minister Holness announces the date of our 18th parliamentary election.

I continue to make the case for a fixed date for our general election. No prime minister should have the power to be walking around and glibly reciting: “I have the election date in my back pocket.” Or, “Only I and I know the date and can fly the gate.” Or, “You will know the date when I am touched by my master.” That is yesterday's politics.

I believe we should also have a fixed period in which a by-election must be held. Except for those who have recently arrived from space, we all know that opportunistic by-elections are a staple of our politics. I suspect Prime Minister Holness will also “wait until the eagle of victory takes its flight”. Secretary of State in the Lincoln Administration William Seward recommended this approach as a forerunner to critical decision-making. More generally, Seward meant that before a decisive political move is made key conditions should be very favourable and public sentiment must firmly be on one's side.

 

Mail alert!

I got many e-mail responses to last Sunday's The Agenda piece in the Jamaica Observer. Most agreed with my arguments, but a few did not, and that is welcomed.

Several of my readers were adamant that Sweden, Denmark, and Canada are thriving examples which prove that democratic socialism is reaping great success.

They are mistaken.

According to renowned Swedish author Johan Norberg, “Sweden is not a socialist country because the Government does not own the means of production.” The big government of tax and spend in Sweden was something from the 70s and 80s. Norberg says the country “went south” under that system. When this happened Sweden reduced government controls, cut public spending, privatised the national rail service, abolished some government monopolies, and sold many State-owned businesses. They switched to a school voucher system. Schools are forced to compete. They have one of the best systems of education in the world today.

The Swedish pension system was privatised, this according to an article in The New York Times, February 12, 2004. Before then the entire pension system was faced with collapse. Today, if the Swedish economy is doing well pensions increase; if she goes south, pensions are automatically lowered. Politicians, therefore, can't 'samfie' people by promising higher pensions when the national kitty is anaemic.

Former two-term Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in a recent lecture at Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics, said: “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life.” Scandinavia is not socialist.

Canada is not a socialist State, nor does it have a socialist economy. It has a capitalist system. The means of production are overwhelmingly privately owned and operated to generate a profit for their private owners, not the State.

Democratic socialism will not work, because it cannot work. It has not worked anywhere in the world.

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


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