Political cycles, departures, and 'libatty'


Political cycles, departures, and 'libatty'


Sunday, September 20, 2020

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Earth is the queen of beds. — Ovambo proverb, Namibia

The long season of political drum rolls, thunderclaps, and attempts at ambush continues in the People's National Party (PNP) as evidenced in these headlines: 'Phillips gets 30 days' (Jamaica Observer, September 15, 2020); 'Ultimatum — Phillips given 30 days to quit; rejects PNPYO Senate list' (The Gleaner, September 15, 2020)

A scathing letter on the official letterhead of the People's National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO) and signed by its president, Krystal Tomlinson, informed these headlines. Dexroy Martin, general secretary of the PNPYO, publicly stated last Monday that the letter was a “draft”. The attempted dodge by Martin made as much sense as the “Hey, diddle, diddle,” nursery rhyme. Counter-intuitive is a kind word to describe the contents of the PNPYO's communication. I am not surprised.

Two Sundays ago I noted, among other things: “The birds warble that, already, approaches are being made and alliances are being formed. They tweet that daggers have also been sharpened and bayonets are being cleaned for what will be a quick but bloody battle to take over the reins of the top job in the older of our two major political parties.” (Sunday Observer, September 6, 2020)

Tomlinson, in her blistering missive to her party president, among other things, effectively ordered him to resign within 30 days: “Dr Phillips, it is imperative that you make clear a resignation date that does not exceed the next 30 days. We must change or die.” The PNPYO president recommended herself, Raymond Pryce, Wavell Hinds, Patricia Duncan Sutherland, Michael Hemmings, Zulieka Jess, and Omar Newell for appointment to the Senate. She commanded that the PNPYO's recommendation for renewal needed to be adopted post-haste.

United States of America Senator for South Carolina Lindsey Graham famously said: “Elections have consequences.” Only two weeks ago Tomlinson was given a political flogging in our 18th parliamentary election in the constituency of St Andrew West Rural by Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Tomlinson ought to know that she cannot lose an election and then attempt to assume the constituted role of leader of the Opposition and president of the PNP.

Some commentators have argued that Dr Peter Phillips is to be blamed for the political avalanche which the PNPYO sent crashing towards him. They argue that Phillips stoked further political upheaval when he indicated his departure less than 48 hours after the political trouncing of the PNP, but did not append a specific date for his political sunset.

That reasoning, however, does not supersede two important realities. Firstly, Tomlinson's letter demonstrated an acute lack of emotional intelligence, good, and political common sense. She evidently forgot the local adage, “A nuh everyting weh good fi eat, good fi talk.” Secondly, aspects of her letter came across as soundly opportunistic with a smidgen of dictatorial inclinations. The letter from the PNPYO president was just not 'a good look', as we say in the streets. Unlike some, however, I am not prepared to designate Tomlinson's political career as a write-off.

Political cycles

Those who are busy writing the political obituary of 89 Old Hope Road would do well to remember the local saying, “What nuh dead nuh call it duppy.”

In my The Agenda piece two Sundays ago I noted, inter alia: “The birds tweet that, contrary to what some believe, the PNP is not defunct. Last Thursday's political shellacking was a grand opportunity for Norman Manley's party to pick itself up, dust itself off, and start all over again. Think Peter Tosh.

I think those who are expecting another long season of political discontent in the PNP, such as was presided over by Dr Peter Phillips, had better 'fahget it!' Think P J Patterson.” (Jamaica Observer, September 6, 2020)

Recall only five short years ago, in a brutally accurate article entitled 'Autocrats and 'autoclaps'', journalist Ken Jones said, among other things: “Today's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), more than ever before, seems to be tumbling from one debilitating debacle to another. Doubt and distrust divide, the blame game flourishes, executive fingers point at each other, and the itch for internecine conflict spreads beneath thin skins and thick skulls. Worse, there appears to be no redeeming factor; and there is unlikely to be a lasting remedy until the party comes to grips with the root cause, which is the strong and stubborn tradition of autocratic leadership that has been a dominant characteristic from the inception, and for at least 60 years thereafter. This is a tale of autocrats and 'autoclaps'.” (Jamaica Observer, March 14, 2015)

This was the reality of the JLP.

JLP leaders Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping to heal many of the generational-like wounds in the JLP which were presided over/worsened, but certainly not all created by former party leader Edward Seaga. I don't believe all the lacerations in the JLP are totally healed. Doubtless, Holness, given his political adroitness, recognises that he still has “miles to go before [he] sleeps”. Think Robert Frost.

I think political fortunes move in a circle on a central axis. Pardon me for using a biblical allusion, but I believe the JLP is experiencing the political years “when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds”. (Genesis 41: 2 [NIV]) I think those who are mouthing that the JLP's massive victory on September 3, 2020 is the beginning of a season of unstoppable plenty for 20 Belmont Road need to put down the euphoria pipe.

The era when it was widely perceived that there was such a thing as a political party of natural choice is over and done. The JLP will have to deliver on its promises, come hell or high water, or suffer a similar political ignominy which recently befell 89 Old Hope Road.

The Administration has absolutely no time to strut like peacocks. Any attempt to dazzle us with carefully choreographed optics will be only too obvious and will be called out.

Phillips's screw-out

But back to the matter of the PNPYO's president's letter.

I think Dr Phillips heard the fat lady singing well before 8:00 pm on the night of September 3, 2020. Statements by him soon after he voted at Reach Academy in St Andrew North Central amounted to a political capitulation, in my view. Recall Phillips was asked: “Just to be clear, are you saying... that if you lose the election today you're going to be retiring from politics, or stepping down as party leader (PNP president)?” His response: “Both. Both!”

This was a major political gaffe. Dr Phillips tried to undo the blunder later in the day, but the damage has already been done.

The birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits, and Bananaquits warble that several high-ranking PNP members were livid when Phillips uttered what they categorised as an admission of defeat several hours before the polls closed. They tweet that some are still livid and are anxious to exact their pound of political flesh.

I think Phillips should hasten his exodus before he is forced from his erstwhile lofty political perch. His predecessor, Portia Simpson Miller, was ushered out rather unceremoniously. Recall the PNP National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Hatfield, Manchester, on Sunday, February 5, 2017, witnessed a fiery explosion from Simpson Miller. In her anger, she went off script and emptied her political soul. Simpson Miller berated the meeting, inter alia, “Like how you glad fi see mi out, don't be glad to call mi when you need mi to win election.” She scolded the NEC. The former prime minister criticised the inner sanctum of the PNP and angrily told them that she had been pushed, and nobody had to tell her to leave. She castigated the members, saying, “I worked like a donkey for this movement.”

At Hatfield, Simpson Miller fumed that some in the PNP were party to leaks of internal information. She also chided men in the PNP, who, she said, “...don't like female leadership”.

Dr Phillips would have lost more than a general election if he allows his departure to be scripted and determined by those who hanker for his political scalp. “Libatty come tru calissness,” Dr Phillips.

I think both political parties will have to exercise greater care in how they bid adieu to their national leaders. Recall that Bruce Golding's predecessor, Edward Seaga, had a very rough passage out of the leadership of Alexander Bustamante's party.

This headline 'JLP in a pickle… Party conference cancelled' (The Gleaner, November 5, 2004) is evidence of the rocky exodus which Seaga received. “Earlier this year, members of the so-called reformist wing of the party who solidly support Golding for party leader clamoured for Seaga's departure to allow for what they said was the breathing of new life into the party.” Leaders of political parties also have an obligation to “know when to walk away and know when to run”. Think Kenny Rogers.

Rural development

For me, a Ministry of Local Government and now the inclusion of rural development is a welcomed admission by Prime Minister Holness that the lives and livelihoods of folks in the rustic parts of Jamaica require unique attention.

Recall on February 27, 2016 I wrote in this newspaper that the then incoming JLP Administration should set up a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Development. In subsequent articles I have maintained that special focus on rural development was absolutely necessary.

I hasten to submit that I am not the first person to advocate for rural development in a national newspaper. I doubt I will be the last.

I saw examples of advocacy for rural development in The Gleaner Archives from as far back as the 1940s. It is sad that after 58 years of political independence our rural economies [plural] are still largely stunted. I maintain that a national development plan for rural Jamaica that has specific timelines for implementation and matching resources is needed urgently.

I believe such a plan should focus on these and related areas:

• dedicated incentives for the setting up of businesses in rural districts and towns;

• improvements in housing stocks;

• social isolation-mitigation strategies;

• increased training opportunities for folks working in agriculture and other industries; and

• high-speed broadband and cellular services.

I grew up in deep-rural St Mary. I love rural Jamaica. I am pretty familiar with many of the nooks and crannies of Jamaica. I can say, with assured confidence, that the majority of our rural/deep-rural towns and districts have been left largely underdeveloped for donkey's years. Some have been ignored as a matter of fact. I am not singular in this perspective.

The Old Lady of North Street, in an editorial on Saturday, October 26, 2019 entitled 'Our withering villages', said among other things: “Policymakers often talk about the importance of rural development. However, both public and private sectors seem unable to come up with the kinds of creative initiatives that would drive this development. In rural Jamaica, where agriculture thrives, there is already a high network of self-employment which could increase if boosted by human and development capital.”

Successive administrations in this country are famous for instituting nomenclature changes merely to satisfy political agendas and quiet niggling voices. If a political bait-and-switch tactic were attempted by the Holness Administration in the absence of measurable achievements it would not only fail, it would fail miserably. Verbigerating will not do. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

What ifs!

A Red-billed streamertail (doctor bird) sent me these what-ifs late Thursday night.

1) What if St Andrew Southern Member of Parliament Mark Golding resigns for patently legitimate reasons?

2) What if Peter Bunting, like Bruce Golding, has to accept a garrison seat in order to become head of his party?

3) What if Bunting then meets another Phillips, Mikael Phillips, Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western, and Lisa Hanna (St Ann South Eastern) in a face-off for the top job in the 82-year-old PNP?

4) What if Lisa Hanna placed third?

5) What if Mikael Phillips placed second?

6) What if history repeats itself?

More anon!

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

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