PNP's 'Duh Road' bus lost on the old road

PNP's 'Duh Road' bus lost on the old road

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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You don't use your teeth to share what you don't eat. — Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

Recent scientific poll findings have indicated that the pendulum of public opinion has swung firmly against the People's National Party (PNP). According to the findings of two polling organisations, Dr Peter Phillips, president of the PNP and leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, is noticeably less popular than the party he heads. The PNP is effectively carrying Dr Phillips on its shoulders, instead of the conventional reverse. This is a first in local party politics.

Common sense suggests that recent unfavourable poll findings would have caused the PNP to pick itself up, shake itself off, and start all over with a fresh new approach to hopefully excite the country. If that is indeed happening, it is the best-kept secret.

The presentation of Dr Phillips at a PNP meeting in Montego Bay, St James, recently, for example, suggests that Norman Manley's party is fixated on a path that will likely lead it to more political heartbreak. Maybe common sense is not so common after all.

Sensing an imminent general election, Dr Phillips has, very sensibly, started a trek across the island to sell himself and his party. If the pictures/videos I see on social media are accurate, however, the response to Phillips's bus tour has been meagre. Based on footage that I have seen it is evident that the excitement that former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller would bring to a PNP meeting is missing from Phillips's bus tour. The present PNP bus tour just does not seem to be attracting significant numbers of enthusiastic passengers. The charisma and electricity that Jamaica's fourth prime minister, Michael Manley, would spontaneously generate is conspicuously absent from Phillips's bus tour. Even the organisational tightness that was characteristic of street meetings presided over by our longest-serving prime minister, P J Patterson, is missing from the footage which I have seen.

Doubtless, some will say Dr Phillips is his own man and is not trying to ape any former PNP president. I accept that. What is it, though, that uniquely distinguishes Phillips on the political stump from his predecessors?

Then there is the issue of Peter Bunting's 'risers'. I have noticed that Bunting, Dr Dayton Campbell, and others who played a prominent role in the attempt to displace Dr Phillips from his presidential perch have been sparsely inserted 'inna di video light', as we say in the streets.

Dr Phillips won only a pyrrhic victory, it seems. Common sense suggests that, given that Dr Phillips won the contentious leadership race by a mere 76 votes, Bunting, his former challenger, should be a co-driver of the PNP bus. Common sense also suggests that Campbell and Senator Damion Crawford should be co-conductors. I repeat, common sense is not so common after all.

Those birds, the reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits, have been singing about residual divisions in the ranks of the PNP for many weeks, this occasioned by the very bitter leadership battle six months ago. As usual, their tweets are on the ball.

Incidentally, last Sunday, I wrote that the birds had tweeted about deep divisions in the PNP regarding the decision not to contest the upcoming by-election in Clarendon South Eastern. A few of my readers contested the warble of the birds.

Last Monday this newspaper published this headline: 'Hayle slams PNP over by-election no contest — 'Fraidy fraidy can't win politics,' she tells her party in Facebook rant' ( Jamaica Observer, February 10, 2020). On Tuesday there was this screaming headline, 'Former PNP candidate to shore up support in Clarendon SE'. ( Jamaica Observer, February 11, 2020) The PNP is indeed still united in division. The birds were right!

For those inside the PNP who delude themselves with the false belief that all is hunky-dory, this reality might wake them up from their deep sleep: 'Councillor Kari Douglas leaves PNP, crosses floor of KSAMC [Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation] to join JLP'. ( Jamaica Observer, February 11, 2020)

I believe Dr Peter Phillips's political goose is cooked. The writing has been on the wall for a long, long time. On March 11, 2017, for example, I stated the following beliefs, among other things, in this space: “Phillips is yesterday's man, leading the political party of last week.”

In an article some months after I noted, inter alia: “Dr Phillips will be the first head of one of our two major political parties/Opposition leader not to become prime minister.” It has long been evident to me that Phillips's political boat is ill-suited for today's currents.

Kari Douglas, in her bon voyage to the party of her late father — Easton Douglas, who served as a Member of Parliament, Cabinet minister, and civil servant — made similar comments when she crossed the floor of the KSAMC to join the JLP last Tuesday. In a statement released to the media, Douglas said, among other things: “For some time I have been deeply concerned that my former party has become a political organisation which is primarily focused on winning elections at any cost, as opposed to pursuing an unswerving commitment to national development and in that process listening to the people and creating policies to meet their needs. My former political party has also for some time not been a space where creative ideas, especially the thoughts of young people, are encouraged and treated seriously. I have decided that enough is enough.”

Dr Phillips was affirmed president of the PNP on March 26, 2017. He has had almost three years to put together a team to market fresh, implementable ideas to wow especially the youth. I believe Dr Phillips has failed miserably in this respect. He has spent most of his time as president of the PNP trying to resurrect failed ideas from the 70s.

Dr Phillips seems wedded to a brand of Manley-mania which is fossilised. The PNP continues to retail an antiquated rhetoric. Does the PNP realise that more Jamaicans are now vigorously interrogating the contents of their political kool-aid? This is the new normal.

Additionally, folks no longer unquestioningly trust many of the former mind managers and pseudo-intellectuals from some of our tertiary-level institutions who are often buttressed by elements of especially traditional media who marshal certain narratives. A critical mass is no longer willing to sacrifice their physiological needs on the altar of political expediency for any political party. Folks are looking for political approaches which materially and otherwise add to their lives; not reduce and devalue. People have realised that many on whose behalf they have made huge sacrifices have grown fat and consistently shown the signs of ostentatious living, while their standard of life has invariably been restricted or trammelled. This is the new normal.

Recently, Phillips's 'Duh Road' bus tour drove into in the “Friendly City” and he reiterated his plan to end squatting in Jamaica. The country needs the operational specifics of your plan, Dr Phillips. If indeed the PNP has a foolproof plan to give land to the estimated 700,000 squatters in our country, why won't they reveal the details?

Those who say Phillips cannot give details of the PNP's plans for fear that they will be adopted and implemented by the governing JLP Administration should understand that voters, especially the uncommitted, are no longer enthused by 'puss inna bag' antics. That kind of hide-and-seek politics of the 70s and 80s has long outlived its usefulness. Back then the major information channels were largely controlled by a privileged few. That is not the reality today. Information is now available at the click of a button. The PNP should do the wise thing and release full details of the plan it says it has to end squatting, so that it can subjected to public scrutiny and interrogation.

Some weeks ago I said here that noted academics, pollsters, and public commentators had identified numerous reasons why Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party (a fraternal party of the PNP) had been trounced in the December 12, 2019 General Election. One of the primary reasons was that large numbers of Britons did not believe Corbyn could deliver his multi-billion-dollar promises without imposing huge taxes, slowing economic growth, reducing standards of living, and/or generally creating huge social dislocation. Is it that the PNP fears it will not be able to deliver on its solemn pledge to end squatting, plus its other big-ticket promises? Is that the explanation why the PNP has not delivered the operational specifics, now nearly two years after 89 Old Hope Road announced that if it were to form the Administration it would give land to landless Jamaicans?

I believe decent housing/shelter is a basic human right. I don't believe, however, that an Administration should just take land which people are squatting on and give them a title to it. The negative implications of such an act by an Administration for local and foreign investment are numerous.

Some months ago I said in this space that Government in this country needs a new ambition. Instead of redistribution, we need to focus on regeneration, especially of rural Jamaica. I wrote, among other things: “Singapore has a system of capital endowment, not rental subsidies. Some have been lobbying hard for the latter to be implemented in Jamaica. Why, I wonder? Simply, once citizens meet certain criteria they are given a substantial grant to buy their own home. Recent data show that close to 700,000 Jamaicans are living essentially as squatters. The vast majority of Jamaicans want to own their “own piece of ground” — here, I am borrowing words from late South African singer and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba. We need to remodel the National Housing Trust to make this seismic change possible. The Singaporeans made it possible. I believe we can also. I humbly submit that this is a better approach to solving the long-standing housing problems of our country.

Outdated tactics

But back to Phillips and what I believe is his hugging up of a narrative which is ossified. Phillips said at the 'Duh Road' out west recently that the Jamaican people cannot trust the Andrew Holness Administration to be stewards of the economy. This narrative was employed in the by-election in St Mary South Eastern. Remember talk by the PNP “that the outcome would have been a referendum on the Andrew Holness-led Administration, in particular the prime minister's management of the economy”? The fact is the Administration has done well on the macroeconomic fronts by any objective measurement:

* Unemployment is at 7.2 per cent, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin). This is the lowest in our history.

* Jamaica has just over US$3 billion in reserves in our central bank — the most we've had since our country's political independence.

* Our debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is improving.

* Business and consumer confidence are still at record highs.

* Inflation is at a record low.

* The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) recently reported that we have had 19 consecutive quarters of growth.

* Rating agency Moody's recently upgraded Jamaica's outlook from positive to stable, while upgrading the long-term issuer and senior unsecured ratings of the Government of Jamaica from B3 to B2.

* Standard and Poor's recently upgraded Jamaica's credit rating to B+ from B.

* Other major international rating agencies, for example Fitch, have either affirmed and/or upgraded their outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive.

So that argument about economic mismanagement of the economy by the JLP will not sell.

Conversely, the PNP has never been able to meaningfully grow our economy. The PNP has been wedded to a suicidal strategy of the redistribution of income in the absence of the economic means to do so. I have provided incontrovertible evidence in previous articles on that subject. So political deflections will not work, Dr Phillips. The PNP needs a superhero to save it. That is the reality.

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


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