On your mark, get set, go!
Comrades in a jovial display on stage at the People's National Party's Annual Conference on Sunday, September 18, 2022 (Photo: Karl McLarty)

The recently held People's National Party's (PNP) 84th Annual Conference came about against the backdrop of the widely held perception that the party was in tatters, caused primarily by the spectre of disunity as well as the fact that many political pundits felt that its leader, President Mark Jefferson Golding, was a non-starter, in terms of being a formidable rival of the seemingly invincible Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Leader Andrew Michael Holness, popularly revered as Brogad.

In politics it is the considered opinion that perception oftentimes becomes the reality and this premise was reinforced by both the Don Anderson and Bluedot polls, which showed the Opposition PNP trailing the ruling JLP by a very wide margin. Indeed, based on those poll findings, if a general election were to be called now it is very likely that we would witness another cataclysmic defeat akin to the one that occurred on September 3, 2020.

But come September 18, 2022 and the PNP had a pleasant surprise in store for the nation, to the extent that even its most virulent detractors would have to readily admit that the conference was a "sell off!" Let's face it, the party had obviously done its homework and was determined to stand firm and deliver, and that it did in fine style, in terms of optics, oration, and substance.

Indeed, in one fell swoop the party's platform, in a most deft and well-organised manner, put to rest the perception that the PNP was still a fractious political organisation that was acting like a character in search of an author.

Leader of the People's National Party (PNP) Mark Golding invoking an atmosphere of jubilation upon arriving at the National Arena for the PNP's conference. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

The tour de force for me was the impassioned speech by former Party President Dr Peter Phillips, who laid bare his soul and put his party first by not dwelling on his own controversial status as it is no secret that the essence of the disunity that abounded was mainly as a result of that unfortunate leadership clash between himself and Peter Bunting, a close ally of Mark Golding, which created what appeared to be an irreparable damage to the party's ability to find a cohesive way forward after the dust had settled on that contest.

But Peter David Phillips turned up on the day and fired a salvo that sought to "mash down that lie" about the divisiveness in the fold. Using his oratorical ebullience he charged the Comrades to come together regardless of whether one was a Norman Manley, Michael Manley, P J Patterson, Portia Simpson Miller, or (implicitly) a Peter Phillips supporter.

Now let us not fool ourselves into thinking that every single Comrade would have bought into this idealistic call, but we must contend that a political party is like a living organism that must be held together by disparate forces with one major objective, and that is the acquisition of State power through the ballot box. In this vein, party supporters, regardless of their preferences and proclivities, must answer the call when the trumpet is sounded or the bell is rung. The JLP learnt this lesson way back after the tumultuous reign of Edward "One Don" Seaga and this helped Sir Alexander Bustamante's party to once again become a formidable force on the hustings. Who would have thought, given the history of Jamaican politics, that the PNP would now have to be playing catchup to the JLP? What happened to the halcyon days when Comrades boasted that Jamaica was "PNP country"? Ah, well, lest we forget, politics in the very final analysis is the art of the possible.

Much has been said about Golding's leadership style as well as his political persona. Some misguided souls have even gone as far as to criticise his portly physique, declaring that he is not as "sexy" as Brogad, who the women, especially, find attractive. Yes, some work needs to be done by his handlers to make him more appealing to the masses, but it is hoped that he will not seek to pander to the lowest common multiple. P J Patterson did not have to do that and has been the most successful first-past-the-post Comrade leader to date.

Peter Bunting (left) and Peter Phillips join hands in a show of unity at the People's National Party's 84th Annual Conference. (Photo: KARL MCLARTY)

Last Sunday we saw Mark Golding coming into his own. He exuded confidence and a personable posture, delivering an excellent speech which was devoid of partisan vitriol, and was wrapped in a great deal of patriotism and a compassion for the underprivileged and marginalised. Michael Manley must have smiled, wherever he is. In her book The Manley Memoirs, Beverley Manley Duncan, former wife of Michael Manley, noted that, "Michael worried, he often told me, about how history would assess him. He worried constantly about his legacy. It was important to him that his children recognise and appreciate what he had tried to do for Jamaica, that they should understand his deep concerns about justice and equality."

It is no secret that a new and different Michael Norman Manley emerged after the PNP's return to power in 1989 with him at the helm. No longer was he the socialist firebrand spewing fiery rhetoric laced with a great deal of idealism and ideological demagoguery. In his own inimitable style he had put on the "capitalist suit" instead of the Kariba and began to espouse those policies that could put the Jamaican economy on a sound path while not forgetting the poor and downtrodden. In fact, he might well have been morphing into a compassionate capitalist, but that is a discussion for another time.

Suffice it to say that part of Golding's responsibility is to ensure that Michael Manley's legacy is clearly defined, understood, and embraced by the current and other generations to come.

P J Patterson once noted that the PNP is like a caterpillar that goes through the stage of cocooning before emerging in all its glory as a beautiful butterfly (not his exact words). Is it that the PNP is now in a cocoon? For the sake of Jamaica's revered democratic way of life, particularly at this time when constitutional reform must take centre stage, a vibrant, united, focused PNP must be an integral part of the equation to move Jamaica forward and not backward.

At 84 years old the PNP must once again enter the starter's block and keep its eyes on the prize.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 46 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

Lloyd B Smith

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