Drop the hubris!
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
The JLP has unwisely stepped onto a road which dethroned the PNP

Recently I watched a very interesting documentary on the rise and fall of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was aired on British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC. In it, political scholars, pollsters, and politicians delivered their verdict on why Thatcher met her political Waterloo.

A former deputy leader of the British Labour Party, Roy Hattersley, gave a most interesting reason for the political demise of the “Iron Lady” of British politics. He said, among other things: “She possesses a quality which Proust [Marcel Proust, a renowned French novelist] called the certainty of the second rate.” This refers to an almost irrational obstinence in the face of overwhelming evidence which shows that one took a wrong course of action. This weakness is commonly termed 'Wrong and strong' today.

The danger of this brand of obstinence is that it exudes an offensive arrogance and insensitivity which, if not checked quickly, soon starts taking on a politically death-dealing character.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration, in my view, has stepped onto Proust's perilous road. They need to, “draw brakes”, as we say in local parlance.

Arrogance on steroids

This screaming headline in The Gleaner of August 21, 2021, 'No Apology — McKenzie says Gov't not sorry for opening entertainment sector; Grange joins in pointing finger at other breaches', sounds like arrogance and insensitivity on steroids to me.

In my view, there are two political harbingers that an Administration has started to lose its focus, or, as we say in local parlance, has begun to “smell itself”. I will explore one here and the other in an upcoming column.

When an Administration begins to wrap themselves in a cloak of political infallibility, it invariably, soon thereafter, dons the garb of political invincibility. This folly is patently obvious to the discerning and those who are not immersed in transient glory.

To illustrate this line of argument more concretely, I am going to jog your memory with some inglorious occurrences from our politics.

Recall, People's National Party (PNP) Chairman Emeritus Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill said publicly: “We believe that it is best for the People's National Party to form the Government; therefore, anything that will lead or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country.”

“Anything” excludes nothing.

Pride goeth before a fall is a proverb which was sometimes declaimed by my late grandfather when he wanted to remind someone that the vagaries of life would often humble those who were cocksure. At the national level, political smug has resulted in ruinous consequences for many.

Consider this: “After months of speculation, [Michael] Manley announced the date of the election on October 5 at a rally in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay.

Veteran journalist John Maxwell, who attended the event, recalled the scene in a 2009 interview with The Gleaner.

“It was the biggest crowd I have ever seen. I thought a third of the electorate was there,” Maxwell said. The mammoth crowd inspired Manley to famously declare: “One hundred and fifty thousand strong can't be wrong!”

The previous day, pollster Carl Stone had predicted a landslide victory for the [Jamaica Labour Party] JLP. He had them winning as many as 40 seats.” ( The Gleaner, October 30, 2010)

Manley made the critical political error of thinking that people would, over the long term, submerge their physiological needs on the altar of ideology. In the midst of stinging economic realities, the JLP's message of “Deliverance is near” found very fertile political ground and germinated very quickly. The JLP won 51 of the 60 parliamentary seats. It was a political body blow to Manley's PNP.

Political power tends to make some forget that they are on terra firma. Sometimes some become so drunk on self-importance that they lose all sense of political gravity, which is that critical force which is practically manifested in the will and actions of the people in Western liberal democracies.

Recall that when Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cast her vote at Whitfield All-Age School in St Andrew South Western on February 25, 2016, she was asked by a member of the media to pronounce on her chances of winning the general election.

Question: “If you lose will you step down as PNP president?”

Answer: “If I lose? What kind of question are you asking me? If I lose? Do I look like a loser.”

Political humility is sometimes the most powerful form of confidence. Simpson Miller's response was not exactly the political equivalent of a spoon full of sugar. The PNP was defeated and Simpson Miller was pushed from her lofty political perch soon after.

Recall also this egregious example of political entitlement on steroids in the run-up to the by-election in Portland Eastern on April 4, 2019.

TV reporter: If the PNP should lose that seat...

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: But if the PNP should lose that seat...

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if, there is no if, there is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: So, you are saying, regardless of what the JLP does...

Dr Peter Phillips: We are going to win the seat.

Politicians who foolishly still believe they own the will of the voter would do well to surrender hubris.

“Jamaica is PNP country,” says we have the right to rule. I think such an idea is anachronistic in our present political reality. The outcomes of the last several by-elections, and the two most recent parliamentary elections, support my conclusion here.

The JLP has, unwisely stepped onto a road which has done significant damage to the PNP.

Consider this: “Party Chairman Robert Montague said that efforts such as these [scholarships to honour party stalwarts] guarantee that the JLP remains the logical party for Jamaicans of varied backgrounds to support. He declared, 'We are now the natural party of Jamaica.' ” ( The Gleaner, July 12, 2021)

The JLP needs to understand that arrogance it not it. Prime Minister Andrew Holness was given a second mandate just under a year ago. It was a historic trouncing of the Dr Peter Phillips-led PNP, but a resounding triumph could quickly turn out to be a double-edged sword if extremely high expectations are not met.

Objective reality

The facts do not support the Administration's position that they made a judicious decision when it reopened the entertainment and creative sectors on July 1, 2021. One did not need to be a clairvoyant to see the results.

I warned in my The Agenda piece on June 27, 2021, as follows: “I think Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a very injudicious decision. Why? We are nowhere near herd immunity. Our health system wobbles too often. The uncertainties with regard to the timely arrival of additional supplies of vaccines are pronounced, and the general uncooperative propensities of too many of our people are an open secret. Large gatherings, at this time, do not make sense.”

I was not singular in this respect.

In this space, on August 1, 2021, I noted, among other things: “There is no sin or shame, Prime Minister, in saying, I got it wrong; I made an error. I apologise,” this in a column titled 'You were wrong, Prime Minister! Holness cannot kick the blame can after relaxing restrictions'.

I believe that utterances like these are extremely unhelpful: “The Government is not sorry because we did nothing wrong. We listened and we took decisions based on consultations...” Here is the Local Government and Rural Development Minister Desmond McKenzie.

Closing ranks or circling the wagon, the favoured response of the Portia Simpson Miller Administration of 2012-16 proved to be hugely deleterious. Only those intent on political suicide, would venture there.

Some members of the present Administration are just not connecting crucial political dots. They do not seem to get it that if the Administration does not tame the COVID-19 monster it fails.

Recall that in my The Agenda column on March 8, 2020 I said this: “I believe the effectiveness, or lack thereof, with which this Andrew Holness-led Administration manages the inevitable arrival of COVID-19 on our shores will weigh heavily on the outcome of the upcoming general election. If the Administration does a poor job, that could well turn out to be the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Achilles heel, for which the People's National Party (PNP) desperately searches.”

Any objective measurement will show that the Holness Administration did very well regarding the management of the pandemic right until about November 2020. I think its keen management, among other things, was heavily reflected in the trouncing of the PNP on September 3, 2020.

In the mentioned article, I also noted this: “I think that if the Opposition PNP misses the opportunity to demonstrate mature leadership when the coronavirus infection comes ashore, 89 Old Hope Road will succeed in further devaluing its political stocks. In fact, from a purely political perspective, when COVID-19 is confirmed in Jamaica, it will be an opportunity for the PNP to redeem itself from the disastrous mismanagement of the chikungunya outbreak in 2014.”

I previously demonstrated how the Opposition dropped the ball at the outset regarding its leadership of the pandemic. And three Sundays ago I showed how the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Mark Golding's squandered a second golden opportunity to step out in front on the critical matter of leadership related to the COVID-19 crisis. The PNP has not gained any political brownie points here, as I see it.

Redemption

I believe the Holness Administration must now focus on redeeming itself. I think it has made some awful mistakes in the management of the pandemic since December 2020. The Administration should not view the failures of the Opposition as a ladder on which it can climb at this point.

The Holness Administration needs to ramp up, the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines throughout the country. There are far too many reports in sections of the media of citizens being turned away from vaccines centres because of capacity issues. I still hear messages from the Ministry of Health and Wellness that invite folks to go online, etc, and make an appointment. Simultaneously, we have official spokespersons from the ministry telling citizens that they don't need to make an appointment. When people make an appointment and then find out that it has no weight, many people understandably get upset and leave some vaccination centres. This is untenable.

The Administration is in a race against time. There is not more time for rehearsals. Do some people high up in the bureaucracy get that? I don't' think so.

Genome sequencing machine

On the matter of dress rehearsals. I did a quick search and realised that over the last six months -there were 13 separate announcements - that Jamaica would soon get a genome sequencing machine. These announcements were made by Dr Christopher Tufton, the health and wellness minister, and Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan.

Check this: “In March this year the Government had indicated that Jamaica is likely to have two genomic sequencing machines, stating that both were in the procurement process at different phases.

“One machine, the country was told, was being procured through the Ministry of Health and Wellness indirectly, with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would also involve training of personnel, while the other machine was being supported by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund and would go to the National Influenza Centre at The University of the West Indies.

“Since then, however, Jamaica has been sending samples to the Pan American Health Organization's labs in Brazil and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the CDC.” ( Jamaica Observer, August 22, 2021)

This recent response in Parliament by Dr Tufton, in my view, is a cop-out at a minimum: “I really would want to discourage any sort of focus on the sequencing machine as a means of somehow stopping the Delta variant or, indeed, even treating with the Delta variant here as part of treating with the COVID threat.”

Why then the numerous announcements and re-announcements that a genome sequencing machine was coming soon?

If it is the country cannot afford a machine at this time, well, say so! If certain arrangements that were anticipated have fallen through, then tell us! If the Administration has had a change of heart, make it known! Folks, as we say in local parlance, don't like being taken for 'eddiats', Dr Tufton. This dilly-dallying on the genome sequencing machine seems to amount to just that.

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

Portia Simpson Miller gets a rousing welcome from delegates at the PNP's 68thannual conference at the National Arena.
Dr Peter Phillips
MONTAGUE... We are now the natural party of Jamaica
Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie
Health Minister Christopher Tufton
Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher
Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill
Michael Manley
Garfield Higgins

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