Useful idiots are aplenty in the PNP

...and it is sickening!

CHRISTOPHER BURNS

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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In its simplest form, politics is about making pacts between people so that they can 'live together' in groups, etc. Yet, the struggle to achieve political harmony, or even organisational cohesion, oftentimes produce divisions. Bitter division, as an outcome, is diametrically opposed to the original intent of politics.

The unfortunate gap between political cohesion and disharmony is not always due to fundamental differences in principle — it is because of intolerance, incorrigible a priori assumptions about things, and the inability to articulate one's cause in a clear and effective manner. More often than not, the bitterness that shows up with disagreements is a spin-off from misapplication of emotions — too much heart — where hands and head are needed.

One of the casualties of political intolerance and party one-upmanship, especially in the absence of facts, reasonableness, or open-mindedness, is the predictable transition into wasteful, ad hominem, and unproductive “cass-cass” — the likes of which we have been witnessing between Ian Hayles, Damian Crawford, Dayton Campbell, et al, of late. To see grown men go after one another is disheartening, especially so, given their similar socialisations. At times, they remind me of sophistical rhetoricians “…inebriated with the exuberance of their own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify themselves…”

More than anything else, the ongoing battle for the presidency of the People's National Party (PNP) has not only exposed the pervasiveness of “useful idiots” inside the crevasses and crevices of the PNP, but it is also giving fodder to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to use in defence of its policies and stewardship against a weaker [note: not weakened] PNP in the aftermath of its presidential election. The internal contest has laid bare the chilling negative consequences that emanate from loose lips, deceit, and prevarication. Above all, it shows that negative outcomes can destroy personal ambitions, individual and organisational brands. It is true, “If you yell nicely in the woods the sound will come back.”

Let's not stand on ceremony; useful idiots are poppy shows — propagandists for a cause. Their thin understanding of the underlying goals for which they fuss and fight about does not prevent them from subjecting themselves to cynical manipulation by the leaders or individuals from whom they either take instructions, or whose messages they are too keen to amplify or echo with wild abandon.

Undoubtedly, whether by common design or sheer happenstance, one of the derivatives from the ongoing acrimonious and bruising rhetoric from both campaigns is the accumulation of personal goodwill impairment. It is the sort of impairment that could become chronically disabling, if not downright bankrupting, for those so fixated on outshining one another that they miss the forest for the trees.

Put simply, there is no useful purpose in underestimating the scope or breadth of said impairment because its tentacles are wide, venomous, and outrightly blighting to the future value of the political appeal and stock for at least two otherwise very promising individuals, both of whom are proxies for Dr Peter Phillips's “One PNP” and Peter Bunting's “Rise United” campaigns. It is disgraceful to watch as they behave like little men, while “king atop” looks down on them with wan smiles, folded arms, and crooked eyes.

For although the pack of useful idiots extends beyond just two individuals, today's focus on Damian Crawford and Dr Dayton Campbell is deliberate, and for good reason, besides the obvious “DC” sobriquets. That notwithstanding, the sooner they stop conjuring and promoting one political illusion after another in furtherance of their respective campaign's narrow interests, the farther both will be from the brink of complete self-destruction and psycho-political collapse.

I have never met Dr Dayton Campbell in person. Young, gifted, and black is his default brand. He appears to be a natural leader who possesses the rare type of talent (and promise) that makes relatability easy. It is hard to overlook his leadership traits because of the curious amalgamation of ambition, humanity, brilliance, and sheer indomitable spirit — all substantially alluring and evident. His story “from rags to riches” and his articulation of “poverty to prosperity” — later plagiarised by the JLP — epitomises the best about Jamaican exceptionalism. The “yuteman” — grey goatee and all — is passionate and seems an egalitarian at heart. His words are strident, his strides are certain, and his purpose and mission are grounded in a desire to advance the cause of social, political, and economic justice for the marginalised in ways that only few have managed to articulate in recent times. His accomplishments, many and impressive, only serve to inspire and stir others to positive actions to improve their lives.

Let me say this, though, on the occasions that I have had to call out Campbell he has always been reliably responsive, respectful, reasonable, and rivetingly remorseful. He seems to have a solidly good social conscience. Based on my interactions with him, I believe him an irascible rabble-rouser who means well, even when his utterances appear antithetical to the purity of his intentions. He just needs to keep that bridle on his tongue and engage his head more.

I met Damian Crawford through our mutual friend, Omar Newell — another brilliant, up-and-coming politician. We met just at about the time Damian was contemplating his foray into representational politics. We had great fellowship and insightful discussions around his pending decision and motivation. To say I was impressed by his desire for public service and love of country would be the understatement.

I remain convinced that Crawford's venture into politics reflects a higher calling, as well as a calculated determination to do all he can to lift the quality of life and purpose for living for a majority of his countrymen, without regard to creed. I quickly formed the impression that his remit was retail politics. Intuitively, I also formed an impression of him, that though he appeared even-tempered, with healthy quotients of emotional intelligence, he could quickly become that prolific fountain of clumsy expressions and low self-monitor. As such, I placed him in the category of strategist with crossover tactician skills. His quiet brilliance made it easy to buy into his cause, and his cause, as I saw it then, was tightly bound up in the 'Jamaican experiment'. Though not explicitly verbalised by him, it was easy to infer from his adjacent reasoning that his motivation was to use the benefits of political independence in tandem with 1970s social re-engineering as suitable conduits through which to advance and deliver economic development, independence, and cultural liberation to the wider population.

Like Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and tens of thousands of other ambitious young Jamaicans, Campbell and Crawford are post-independence Jamaicans. They both seem genuinely motivated by the “fierce urgency of now”. Regardless of recent deviation, it is this same urgency that caused Crawford to teach his constituents simultaneous equations in preparation for their Caribbean Examinations Council sittings. It is the same urgency that caused Campbell to offer medical services to his constituents as part of his outreach programme. Without question, their collective actions have been intended to effect social, political, and economic change.

Disappointingly, it is quite funny to watch them twist themselves into tiny pretzels trying to defend the indefensible or explain the unexplainable all in the name of idle competitive politics. Whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with passionate advocacy, fierce competition, strong conviction, or lively activism, it is very painful to see these two relatively young men deliberately and foolishly destroy their individual brands in pursuit of another man's agenda, while purporting to be next-generation leaders, albeit with different political gravitas, brands, credentials, and purpose.

Fairness demands that we distinguish the latest load of malarkey from other antecedent behaviour of similar forms. To begin with Dayton Campbell's attempt at self-destruction and brand dilution started with his inelegant public spat with Lisa Hanna. He lost some shine because of the target — a beautiful woman. He recoiled and refocused his energies inside the Parliament, where he is a lightning rod and a proverbial thorn in Christopher Tufton's flesh and management of the health portfolio.

Recidivism is a beast. For when we thought Dayton had 'reformed' his ways, he re-emerged with vituperous vengeance and political innuendoes in an effort to shift responsibility for Dr Lynvale Bloomfield's death to his political foe, as he (ironically) campaigned for Crawford in that election. The Portland Eastern Member of Parliament had been found dead at his home in Passley Gardens. For, although Dayton subsequently withdrew the allegations, the damage had already been done — his utterances did nothing to heal a politically divisive and historically violent country.

Damian Crawford's attempt at self-destruction and brand dilution is like a “gift that keeps on giving”. Ironically, his antics and brand are inseparable from that of the PNP's. I remind him that worthwhile political brands have staying power, and bloated packaging cannot substitute for good content. As a seasoned marketer, he knows that very well. Differentiation strategy is more than ego. By stooping to the lowest common denominator, he forfeits his brand on the altar of political expediency. The danger in positioning himself and his attendant actions in that foolish way, whether he believes it or not, is that so goes Damian's brand reputation and value, so goes the PNP's brand value and vice versa. If he feels he can use leader centrism, wax and wane rhyming words, and entertain large crowds with loud “sweet nothings” to get to Jamaica House, without observable performance, think again — go find a seat, win it for your party, then build on that success.

Yet, if there were lingering doubts about Damian Crawford's political skills, his use of the megaphone in the recent Portland Eastern by-election removed all doubts. He is a good retail politician, but he is not yet a great retail politician. He has a lot of maturing to do. That maturing begins with this simple self-acceptance and honest recognition: “It is not about how good I think I am, but how much better I still can become...”

When, for instance, he spoke out against political dynasties in relation to the Vazes (Douglas, Daryl, and his wife Ann-Marie) on a PNP platform that also included President Peter Phillips and Vice-President Mikael Phillips, and in a party that boasts dynastic antecedents that included the Manleys (Norman, Douglas, and Michael) and Pearts (Ernest, Michael, and Dean), etc. It removed all doubt that he could benefit from additional political history lessons in how not to insult his hosts — present and past.

The same is true for his unfortunate [though often misquoted] utterances about “colour” on the same political platform that included Mark Golding, Ronald Thwaites, Shane Alexis, and other Comrades of lighter hue. He again showed rhetorical recklessness — the kind that only amateur politicians display, and especially given the historicity of the PNP that he wants to lead — with his unartful “…the furthest she will go is Mrs Vaz…” tirade. The foolish dalliance with the “ah trick mi trick unnu” comment in St Andrew East Rural continues to weigh heavily on the growth and scalability of his brand.

First impressions are lasting, but Crawford's involvement and frequent appearances on the One PNP platform and social media outfits is quickly chipping away at the present and future value of his brand. It matters not if he's being truthful about the things said — that is hardly a defence if the messages are malicious, cantankerous, and spurious. In a highly charged political environment, where there are hardly any worthwhile distinctions between the message and the messenger, he should seriously rethink and recalibrate his tactics, even at this late stage of the campaign.

Damian, the irreparable harm you are inflicting on your reputation is creating a real challenge for you to remain relevant and reliable, which is a deadly combination that may well stymie your prospects to attain leadership of this country.

 

Still...

Hopefully, the implications and consequences of their ongoing and annoying crusade is not lost on either one of them. For, believe it or not, the self-inflicted reputational harm they have orchestrated could further deteriorate into a quagmire of voter resentment from which neither may emerge.

But, all is not lost. Dayton Campbell and Damian Crawford can move to trim their lamps by redefining and repositioning themselves, even as they lend support to Peter Bunting and Peter Phillips. We must entreat them to remain steadfast in those early actions and modern convictions. We must encourage them against falling prey to opportunism or caving in to the glamour of instant gratification that may come from an internal campaign. With that in mind, the sooner both realise that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the easier it would be for them to salvage what's left of their reputations and individual brands.

The pivot should start by accepting a tried and proven 'Pattersonism' on the economics of utterances: “One does not have to say something because one has to; instead, one should say something when something has to be said…” A concomitant action must be expanding their political vocabulary beyond the banality of domestic politics and circumstances.

 

Christopher Burns is CFO of a NA multinational. Send comments to the Observer or burnscg@aol.com.


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