Putting People First: Manley book critiquedWednesday, July 24, 2013
Two other columnists, Rickey Singh and Martin Henry, have preceded me in writing about the recently launched book that honours the memory of former prime minister and People's National Party President Michael Manley. Maybe that was not a bad thing, not only because I did not read the book before this past weekend, but also because I would have been unable to address some of the issues raised, especially in one of the two mentioned columns.
While the book definitely promotes the legacy of Michael Manley and some of the contributing articles include aspects of his philosophy as a take-off point, it certainly is not a book about the late prime minister nor is his 'Putting People First' philosophy the focus as the cover suggests. In fact, the book chronicles the lecturers on a range of subjects presented annually by the Michael Manley Foundation. There are 10 so far. I have attended two of the three presented since my return to Jamaica in 2007. Regrettably, I missed Anthony Bogues' presentation in 2012 on "The Politics of Decolonisation", which I gather was as successful as all the others to date. Despite the always-overwhelming presence of those who Martin Henry would likely describe as "PNP/Manley loyalists and/or activists," the opinions ventilated at these presentations always stimulate rich discussions and are never one-sided.
In the past, the lectures were printed and made available in the succeeding year, and although this practice may continue, the idea of a book is a good one. The editor said at the launch that the book was intended to provide factual information in the debates about Mr Manley, to correct distortions, some of them deliberate; to help satisfy the hunger among the youth for information about our national leaders; and as a contribution to the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the PNP which, as president of the party, was Michael Manley's vehicle for putting his ideas to work.
I believe it is that rationale which resulted in Henry's critique which he no doubt considers in the vein of constructive debates aimed at correcting distortions about the Manley legacy even while acknowledging that Mr Manley had a 'good heart' -- even a 'great heart'. But from my perspective, the conclusions of this columnist are predominantly based on information that is much too selective, thereby reducing its value in any useful debate.
His 'back and forth' assessment of the material published is somewhat confusing. In one instance he labels some of the lecturers as "PNP/Manley loyalists and/or activists" thereby casting doubt on their ability "to undistort" Manley's legacy, which he affirms to be "an intellectual challenge for those interested in neutral fairness and balance." He however concedes that their (presumably the lecturers) interpretations may have critical value. "But those interpretations themselves will require counter-balancing and critical assessment." Having attended three of these lectures, Peter Phillips, Stephen Vaciannie and Carlton Davis, and from what I have gleaned from the published material, I find this assertion stunning. The Foundation does strive to keep the institution as non-partisan as possible, and the lecturers are consistently encouraged to speak on any relevant theme of their own choosing. Besides contextualising their presentations within the philosophies of Michael Manley they have all adhered to that guideline as concluded from the book. Only about four of these focus on Manley's philosophies and programmes. Despite a cynical tone about the lectures, Henry concedes that the book "provides a rich resource for analysing our nation's past and current condition from which we can learn valuable lessons for the future".
Although he acknowledges that it comprises a compilation of the annual lectures, which, most would agree, are clearly by some of our best minds locally and regionally, several of his comments are puzzling especially that, "the book will make a contribution as raw material to be rubbed against other raw material, rather than as any definitive and final statement of "truth". In this regard he suggests something less than scholarly in the approach used in the lecturers' themes which he seems to suggest to be all focused on Manley's work. This is reflected in his assertion that Manley's "mistakes must not be glossed over but must be frankly assessed".
By connecting the launch to the PNP's 75th anniversary, the Foundation appears to have diverted somewhat from their previous unswerving adherence to a non-partisan credo with board members, including a former JLP Senator Dwight Nelson, drawn from the non partisan as well as the political arena. No doubt the decision to make this a PNP anniversary activity is a concession to those who feel that it is impossible to separate the Manley Foundation from the PNP, which was the vehicle for implementing his philosophies. However, it may have been more a testament to his legacy if the launch had been a part of Jamaica's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Delano Franklin's introduction is a good starting point in helping readers to cut through a lot of the heavy sections. Regrettably, though, this column does not allow me the space to look at the lectures nor does it allow me space to examine all the points raised in Martin Henry's column as I would have liked. Readers can therefore leaf through its pages. Putting People First may not have been published with the intention of responding to all possible questions and issues, but if we are serious about engaging in a useful conversation about the Manley legacy and that of our other political leaders an objective read will sure feed many a discussion.
On April 11, 2013, we published, both in print and electronic format, a column by Clare Forrester headlined "Ian Boyne's Book Launch at King's House" in which an erroneous medical reference was made concerning Rev Dr Sheila McKeithen. The Observer is satisfied that the reference is an error and untrue. The Observer retracts the statement and sincerely apologises to Rev Dr Sheila McKeithen for any inconvenience and/or ill effects that may have been caused.