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PNP leadership race exposed old wounds

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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As long as there are lice on one's clothes there will be blood on the fingernails. — Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

Two bigwigs of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) confirmed last week what numerous people in the leadership at 89 Old Hope Road have been denying publicly for many years. Former attorney general in the previous Administration and officer emeritus of the PNP A J Nicholson, like the proverbial 'fish from river bottom', came to the surface with biting admissions of distrust which he and doubtless many other higher-ups in the PNP have for incumbent president and leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Dr Peter Phillips. While former mayor of Black River in St Elizabeth Everton Fisher confessed that former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was betrayed in the run-up to the 2016 General Election.

Many in academia and the media peddled a false narrative for decades that the PNP had in-built and unique mechanisms to settle its internal differences amicably, but not so in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Today, they must be having frequent trips to the bathrooms because of irregular bowel movements and or bouts of bruxism.

A Comrade friend of mine called me last Sunday evening in a state of great distress. She had just completed the reading of the front-page news item in the Jamaica Observer. “I knew, I knew it, I knew this WikiLeaks thing was going to come back to haunt Peter, sooner or later,” she submitted. I listened attentively as she adumbrated how the leadership campaign between the PNP President Dr Peter Phillips and Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Peter Bunting had turned into a hateful and cut-throat affair.

She remonstrated that A J Nicholson's comments were “unnecessary and childish”. I disagreed.

Whatever Nicholson's motivations — and he is no political eunuch — I believe these comments by a former foreign minister and former parliamentary secretary to the contrary are astute and percipient.

“ 'No public explanation has ever been given as to why revelations by WikiLeaks should, in this particular instance, be regarded as being grounded in other than the truth,' Nicholson lamented in a statement exclusive to the Sunday Observer.

“ '…Such unflattering, deeply held feelings, to serving representatives of a foreign Government no less, constitutes a decisive disqualifying breach that must render any such individual — no matter his/her record as a minister of government — judged by any ethical or moral compass, totally unfit to receive our vote as leader of NW's (Norman Washington Manley)/our party,' he declared.” ( Jamaica Observer, September 1, 2019)

I believe we have not just a right, but a duty to place a thorough searchlight on those who seek high political office. It is de rigueur in a functional democracy.

The WikiLeaks allegation, Nicholson said, was the “straw that broke the camel's back for him”. He is not singular in that respect.

Recall that in the run-up to the Portland Eastern by-election I visited that constituency three times to find out from registered electors who they were intending to vote for. On March 31, 2019 I said, inter alia, in this space: “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.”

On April 7, 2019, my column set out what I believed were the five major factors (based on data which I collected in Portland Eastern and other credible sources) that caused the defeat of the PNP. Among other things, I stated the following:

“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.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 7, 2017)

Recall that Dr 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.

I wonder what spectrum of emotions ran through the political veins of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller when she read especially this portion of Nicholson's razor-sharp insights from last Sunday's Jamaica Observer.

“I am concerned that a refusal to be obedient to that principled standard, which so deeply touches and concerns loyalty in every sphere of human interaction, specifically so within the machinery of Cabinet government, sets an unpardonable example and precedent which cannot be ignored and certainly ought not, without more, to be endorsed and, by our vote, given a stamp of approval.

“Is that not an inescapable and honest measuring rod [of correction] by which some of the qualities required of Comrade Peter Phillips in this contest for leadership are to be judged?

“Elsewhere, and decidedly in the political arena, my watchword always has been loyalty and its contours.”

Those who maintain that Dr Phillips's political fidelity to Simpson Miller was beyond question need to jump off their hamster wheel and exhale.

In the 2006 challenge by Peter Phillips for the leadership of the PNP, for example, the rotten political innards spilled out on the political pavement.

The political venom was even more concentrated in 2008.

Remember the nasty innuendos, derogatory sobriquets, unfounded and overt references to Simpson Miller's supposed lack of intelligence, absence of affinity to a name-brand university, and connections to the intelligentsia. Acolytes, mostly of Dr Phillips, who made derisive remarks were never publicly reprimanded by him to the best of my knowledge.

Dr Phillips has denied making the severely disrespectful utterances “[in] the series of classified cables sent from the United States Embassy in Kingston to the State Department, Washington, DC, and released illegally by WikiLeaks”. ( Jamaica Observer, September 1, 2019)

Notwithstanding, Phillips's counter-statement, numerous Jamaicans continue to throw piles of doubt on it.

I believe a thorough probe in this entire WikiLeaks saga is needed. Dr Phillips has a lot of questions to answer. The public must be comprehensively satisfied that those entrusted with the greatest powers also are deserving of the greatest trust, confidence and respect.

There can be no political gray area.

Fisher's confirmation

Those who watch the constant shaking of the political tree will recall that the 1980 electioneering period was the longest in the history of the country. Edward Seaga and the JLP won a landslide victory over the PNP on October 30, 1980.

The second-longest was the seven months leading up to our 17th parliamentary election held on February 25, 2016. How do I arrive at seven months? Recall that on Sunday, July 19, 2015 Phillips spoke at a political rally in York Town, Clarendon. Dr Phillips and a delegation had just returned from a political junket to Ethiopia. At York Town, Phillips placed the country on election alert. Putting the Comrades in the 'stand behind your blocks' mode was a safeguard used to marshal the political soldiers. Party discipline had by then become elusive.

In 2015, the birds tweeted about the lingering suspicion and constant whispers, especially in the inner sanctum of the PNP, that Dr Phillips had disrespectfully upstaged the prime minister. Fisher removed all doubts when he spoke last week at a Rise United rally in St Andrew South Western.

According to Fisher, another proverbial 'fish from river bottom', Simpson Miller had been betrayed by people very close to her. They bamboozled her into believing that a political asteroid was going to crash into Jamaica if she did not sound the trumpet for a general election.

The birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits, in early 2015, did warble that certain higher-ups in the PNP dreaded that the then wage negotiations which were to start in earnest in mid-2016 with the major unions would have capsized our then rickety economic boat.

“It is better for us to be inside looking out than for us to be outside looking in at the JLP at Jamaica House,” said the late Roger Clarke, former PNP minister of government. From as far back as late 2015 the birds chirped that adherents to this dictum were pressuring Simpson Miller into accepting a view that an economic catastrophe was imminent and an early general election was best.

In an obvious broadside against Dr Phillips, former Mayor Fisher said, among other things: “The last election, I spoke to Comrade Pickersgill. I say, 'Bobby, yuh ready?' He said, 'No!'

“I spoke to Comrade Bunting. He said no!

“I spoke to 'Butch' Arscott. He said no!

“The Sunday, I spoke to my mother. I say, 'Mama, you ready?' She said, 'Fisher, mi not calling nuh election until I feel the people, because I go over to Portmore and I did not feel the people.'

“That was the Sunday. And Thusday di man that dem say have capable hands, lead my mother and force her to call an election; telling her that disaster is going tek Jamaica.” ( Nationwide News Network, September 2, 2019)

Fisher's utterances are perspicuous.

There is no doubt in my mind as to who his barbs were aimed at. The former mayor says people in key leadership positions in the PNP committed sabotage, hoodwinked, and betrayed his “political mother”.

Dr Dayton Campbell, Member of Parliament for St Ann North Western and campaign manager for the Rise United outfit, said at a rally last week that damaged relationships and seeds of animus will disappear after the leadership race. The birds tweet that all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again — certainly not in time for our 18th parliamentary election. More anon!

They Did Not Ride!

Similar to the reopening of school last year, some with a splinter of ice in their hearts for Jamaica predicted again that the sky over us was going to fall during the first official school day of the new school year. They are, again, wiping egg off their faces. Chaos addicts and speculators who readied themselves to profit from the misery which they forecast have again lost their shirt. Serves them right!

Many whose political genetics are not secret predicted, especially on social media, that there would have been a traffic 'hattaclaps' in Kingston, St Andrew and Montego Bay. It did not happen. Then they tweeted that a traffic “apocalypse” will surely come on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. It did not happen.

The dreaded four horsemen did ride. Doubtless naysayers are now saying, “Look out for traffic pile-ups, disorder and jungle rampage on the roads during the second week of school.” I expect they will be sorely disappointed.

Kudos and very high marks to the Public Safety Traffic and Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) for doing an excellent job at managing traffic in the city last week. Notwithstanding the rains last Monday, traffic was smooth-flowing in Half-Way-Tree, Barbican, and places where gridlock happens primarily because the absence of the police creates a vacuum which is filled by undisciplined road users.

Nature abhors a vacuum. We need consistency, PSTEB!

Those who are riveted to 'badlampism', and who said a threat of strike by some taxi operators would have created bottlenecks tighter than a fully clasped vice-grip, did not get their chaos pie. Even those who fuelled chatter of a taxi strike, doubtless for political reasons, had to “tek-weh themselves” when they failed to resurrect that 'duppy'.

Serial pessimists trapped in a framework peculiar to 25 years ago predicted that schools would have had a rocky start last Monday. Today they are grinding their teeth and wringing their hands in self-induced disgust and consternation.

There are some among us who believe that economically, socially and politically we are underlings. Such persons need to “dust themselves off and start all over again”, as advised by international reggae singer Peter Tosh. If they fail to do so they will be left with mere dingy disappointments.

'We betta dan dat!'

I was overjoyed last Tuesday when I saw this banner headline in this newspaper, 'Disaster response team 'primed and ready' to assist Bahamas, says Holness'.

The news item said, among other things: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness says Jamaica has mobilised the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to be dispatched to assist the hurricane-ravaged, neighbouring islands of The Bahamas.

“Holness who has pledged to support The Bahamas in the wake of the disaster has placed the DART on standby to be on the ground in Abaco and Grand Bahama, the two worst-hit areas.”

I hope those who are saying we should not send 'one red cent' of help to The Bahamas because of this: “Bahamian PM Dr Hubert Minnis reiterates The Bahamas will not support the free movement of people within Caricom; “They can move through any other Caribbean country, but not The Bahamas. The Bahamas is currently not a signatory to the CSME,” (Kevz Politics, March 13, 2019) have had a change of heart.

As far as is practicable, I believe we should, like the Good Samaritan, help the Bahamian people in this their time of great need.

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


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