Holness-led JLP best for Jamaica now, says Venesha Phillips
For months political watchers had speculated that long-time People’s National Party (PNP) councillor for the Papine Division Venesha Phillips would switch allegiance to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
However, when she was introduced as a new member of the JLP at Sunday’s public session of the ruling party’s 80th annual conference it came like a bolt out of the blue and electrified the atmosphere inside the National Arena in St Andrew.
Her short address to the conference was drowned out by a cacophony of cheers, horn-blowing, and bell-ringing, signalling that the Labourites have welcomed her decision with switch parties.
Phillips had made no secret about her disenchantment with the PNP and, in particular, its current leader Mark Golding who had backed Peter Bunting’s failed challenge in 2019 to then PNP President Dr Peter Phillips, whom she had supported.
After her introduction on Sunday, Phillips, who has represented the Papine Division in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation since March 2012, told journalists that her decision to join the JLP was not made with an absence of thought.
“This decision was finally made over the last month. I have been engaged for the last two and half years by colleagues of the Jamaica Labour Party and members of the leadership, but I didn’t want it to be something that was kind of a knee-jerk reaction from my deciding to go independent and leaving the PNP,” she explained.
“I had a lot to think about. I had to think about why I was PNP and I had to think about what it is that I want to convey to Jamaica by my actions as a representative. Having looked at the PNP you will agree with me that it is not the organisation, certainly, that you are used to from Michael Manley to today,” she said.
Manley, regarded as one of Jamaica’s most popular prime ministers, given that he championed and introduced a raft of social reforms, was PNP president from 1970 to 1992. He served as Jamaica’s fourth prime minister from 1972 to 1980 and from 1989 to 1992 when he retired due to ill health. He died on March 6, 1997.
On Sunday, Phillips said it is regrettable that she came to the conclusion that the PNP could not be the vehicle through which she could continue to serve Jamaica.
Phillips also said that she came to the conclusion that the PNP in its current form is not in the best interest of the people of Jamaica, in terms of what is required to move the country forward.
She said that after reviewing what prime minister and JLP leader Andrew Holness has done so far, even PNP people have said on political platforms that Holness is using Manley’s play book.
“Think about that message; I had to think about that, and I said myself, ‘that message resonates with me’. The current leadership of the PNP has no use for that message, they have said so, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I would follow the message to which I have been grounded and rooted since I was born,” Phillips said.
“The truth is, you have seen the growth in Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party. You see political maturity, you see succession, you see vision; that used to be a thing we talked about when we talk about PNP. Today, unfortunately, that’s not the conversation you are having,” she added.
Asked if she thought the PNP is in need of a new leader, Phillips said, “I am not able to advise the PNP what they need, the only thing I would say to Comrades over there is that they need to do introspection and assessment of what it is that is before them, where they would like to see Jamaica, because certainly the Jamaica Labour Party has manifested, by its actions, to the people of Jamaica that it is indeed the party of the people, and so, of course, I, like many progressive Jamaicans, would want to be where we can contribute to the prosperity of the country, to the progressive nature of the country. So an Andrew Holness-led Jamaica, at this time and into the future, is the best way, the better way and the only way for Jamaica at this time.”
Asked if she intends to contest local government elections which are due by February next year, Phillips said “No”.
“I had indicated to my colleagues that at this time I do not wish to offer myself. I can be of service in many other areas. I can contribute to the organising of the party. This is a commitment. As I said, it’s not a reflex action or a rebound. I want to participate in the building of a movement that Jamaicans can be proud to call their political party, so I want to give service to the Jamaica Labour Party and, by extension, Jamaica through my participation,” Phillips explained.
She shared that the reaction among PNP supporters to her decision has been mixed.
“Some expressed disappointment, some expressed anger, rage, brutal cuss out for some. I understand that, but surprisingly, many, and those are not verbal messages only — voice notes, text messages, email — say we understand, we respect it and some even say ‘Ven, where thou goest we will go’.”
She also accepted that people will label her a political turncoat, saying that is understandable. However, “the truth is that as Jamaicans we view loyalty in a particular way”.
She said that on Sunday morning she had to remind a member of the PNP who had sent her a message to think of of the line in party’s anthem, The Trumpet (also known as Jamaica Arise), that says ‘Land of my birth I pledge to be, loyal and faithful true to thee’.
“I want them to think about that: ‘Land of my birth’, it never said party of my birth. Our commitment must be to nation- building, our loyalty must be to Jamaica first. It must be that you go where you believe Jamaica is first, Jamaica is second, Jamaica is third… that is what has fuelled my decision,” Phillips said.