Portland Eastern: Lessons and Projections

Al Miller

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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Ultimately there is no such thing as failure. There are lessons learned in different ways. — Twyla Tharp

The Portland Eastern by-election was a greater national significance than appears on the surface. Both parties treated it as such. It was a moment for the nation that should not be missed.

The most evident issue that it signalled was the end of the old political dynasty and its destructive evil ways. Our leaders should read the signs and stop clinging on to the old ways for dear life. They must either let go of it, or perish with it. And that goes for both parties.

The concept of “PNP country” is fading. The concept of “safe seats” is fading. The concept that “since mi fadda an' madda a 'P', pickney mus' be same 'P' is fading!

Paul Burke, former People's National Party (PNP) general secretary, in his usual frank and honest analysis, is reported speaking of his party saying, “The vehicle is defective.”

This is absolutely true of the old-style political system of both parties.

To the keen eye, what we are seeing is the remaining effects of an old dynasty, the heart of which is dead. It reveals the negative realities of the past that should not be seen in the future new Jamaica.

The Portland Eastern by-election revealed where the society is; what the people want; what is good about us; and what is bad about us that must be transformed. We also got a glimpse of what is laying quiet but far from dead.

The people of Portland Eastern seem to be saying on behalf of our wider society that they have suffered and gone without for a long time. They are tired of the politics of promises without any change. They want theirs now!

The PNP's Damion Crawford brought a message of independent economic thinking and development. The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Ann-Marie Vaz brought a message of action to solve problems and meet personal needs.

It seems nearly 3,000 voters agreed with having their needs met now through maternal political action, rather than eventually having the independent economic power to meet their own needs some time yet future. Maybe it's time that both political ideas merge and become the economic reality for Jamaicans of Portland Eastern and all other constituencies.

Nonetheless, Portland Eastern signalled to us that the old tribal politics is not dead, only sleepeth. Signs of the old-style politics are still present in new faces. This was particularly evident in Crawford's rhetoric. Though a budding exciting new-era politician, Crawford allowed himself to resort to the old guard ways. Some think this cost him the election. I agree, and say praise God! It is good for him. Better to learn now and become part of the change in the future. Damion was not alone. His party leader was also caught on camera spouting tear- down rhetoric. But it's time it dies. We must signal death to tribal, negative, violence-driven politics, whether that violence be spouted from the muzzle of a gun or the muzzle called the mouth.

Who will take the responsibility to kill it? Party leaders, past leaders, all leaders, this is your task! It will take full commitment to put it to death so that new life can come forth.

Is it time for baton-changing?

Crawford, for me, is among the best of the new-breed politicians. We need a smooth baton change – intentional and deliberate. One generation officially passing the baton to the next gives them legitimacy, authority, and confidence to responsibly take the baton and run with it. Moving their generation to greater heights and achievements.

Bruce Golding started this new-era trend by passing the leadership baton to young Holness — a move that startled even his own party members. But it was not a clean exchange; it was almost thrown to him.

Does the PNP have a similar new-era baton change that they could consider? Although the circumstances are dissimilar, would present PNP President Peter Phillips be wise to do a 'Golding' and pass the leadership baton to a young leader at this time? Would such a gesture have the same positive effect that Golding's gesture had on the JLP?

Isn't it time for the group of post-Independence leaders to pass the baton majestically to the post jubilee leaders. I am a strong advocate for the Church to organise and lead the nation in this baton-changing exercise. Ideally, it should have been a part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. It is still not too late.

We challenge Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange to consider it, joining it with a national commitment to a Fresh Start approach. This could be a feature of our next Independence celebrations. It would see us shake off the negatives of past ways that still dog us today. Our leaders would be called to commit to a new future, free of the trappings that have kept us from real prosperity or from building a Jamaica that works for all.

Prophecy past, prophecy future

Speaking of real prosperity and a Jamaica that works for all, it is an indisputable fact that both parties by their actions are responsible for Jamaica's present conditions — social and economic; the atrocities, corruption, evil and wicked acts of the past, the garrisonisation and the bloodshed.

In May 1993 I had prophesied to the JLP that they would not see power until there was a change in leadership. They had just got a whupping in the March 1993 election. It was their time to clean house. The JLP never did all that should have been done. Half-hearted change by force could not be sustained. They remained out of power for 14 more years until Bruce Golding took the reins of leadership.

The prophecy was made in an article published in the then Jamaica Herald on May 23, 1993 titled 'Jamaica – A nation under judgement'. The article stated that the JLP and PNP were under judgement and that the JLP's loss at the polls in 1993 was the beginning of its judgement, and that they would not be returned to serve the country until leadership with new thinking rose up. Hence, they were out in the political wilderness for 18 years. After they were judged, then the PNP would be judged. This, therefore, is the time of the PNP's judgement. They will not be returned to service in governance until there is a renewal and commitment to right governance and methods.

The PNP should learn, while in Opposition, from the mistakes of the JLP while in Opposition and realise the need to use the time wisely. Use it for renewal. Seek to understand where the nation is at. What are the cries, hopes and dreams of the people? What are the people's expectations of a political party and shape themselves accordingly.

Both parties are on thin ice and must clean up to serve in the new Jamaica. A new day is dawning. If they do not renew themselves they will be overtaken and sent into oblivion. New entrants will arise. Those who say third parties cannot succeed will have a rude awakening if clear evidence of renewal of the old two does not take place within the next few years.


It is harder to renew while in Government. That is the current Administration's dilemma, but Prime Minister Andrew Holness has to find the way. The transformation that should have happened in the JLP during the 18 years in the wilderness didn't happen as it should. This is why the boat is rocking so much now. They have to be trying to change horse mid-stream.

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the USA, was reported to have said, “Never change horse in mid-stream.” It is difficult to keep the boat steady as the national expectation winds have changed direction. What was accepted yesterday is abhorred today.

A new landscape is our emerging reality. The old mindset and culture have not been sensitive to the indicators that the wind was changing course. This is true of the old guard in both parties who have clung to negative style and passing it on to the young.

Most politicians are still trapped in what used to be. Many church leaders are trapped in the same thinking. They are still believing and preaching that nearly all Jamaicans grew up in church and are exposed to traditional values and Bible stories. That is how it was over 40 years ago. More than half of those under 30 years have no such exposure. We have a generation of 'selfies' whose concern is what works for them — and they will switch at the drop of a hat to trends. To this generation, they have to be shown that your message makes sense and to their benefit.

The changing face of the political thinking of the new Jamaica is indicating that there will be little place for JLP and PNP certainty of electoral outcomes. Voters will respond to issues, vision, credibility of candidate, etc. The new Jamaica political parties will not be contending on pork barrel, divisive, tear-down, cass cass, degrading, violence-driven, garrison-style politics. It will demand a clear common (shared) national vision to which all parties will have to subscribe.

The new Jamaica will demand leaders of integrity. The new Jamaica will demand premium values from leaders. The wider society may not practise these values as they should, but they will expect it of their leaders. The signs are presently with us: 'Tek sleep and mark death.'

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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