Missed opportunities 2: Analysis and idealsTuesday, November 17, 2020
In part one of this piece, published on Sunday, November 15, 2020, the discussion focused on the moments that could have been seized by party President Peter Phillips and the wider People's National Party (PNP), we continue now with the opportunity of the modernisation agenda.
This agenda must be properly worked out and articulated for all to understand by the new leader of the PNP, Mark Golding. In so doing, the party cannot be na´ve and lend itself only to an introspective evaluation, but must also take time in understanding all external factors, including a thorough analysis of the opposition.
This renewal process must be based on five factors:
1) an understanding of the opposition
Understanding of the opposition
A short political history shows the JLP can be remarkably resilient. It suffered defeats in 1955 and 1972 and was in the political wilderness for almost two decades after four defeats between 1989 and 2007 and again in 2011.
In 1952, just after one of the bewildering British Conservative recoveries and after the Labour Party had executed a raft of major social legislation that changed the British landscape, including the introduction of a welfare state and the National Health Service, a young and baffled socialist, Peter Shore, asked this question: “How is it that so large a proportion of the electorate, many of whom are neither wealthy nor privileged, have been recruited for a cause which is not their own?”
This is a question that could had been asked in 1980 after the near wipeout of the PNP, after being in power for a mere eight years and had also executed a raft of social legislation that gave power and benefits to the majority of a people who were emasculated by slavery and colonial imperial hegemony for almost 400 years. A people who were neither wealthy nor privileged. The question again came into prominence in 2007, 2016, and now again in 2020 after the PNP defeat in those elections.
One simple answer lies in this ability of the JLP to reinvent itself to suit new times. Succinctly put, the JLP is like the Terminator; though it appears to be wiped out, the silver mercury re-forms and, bang, it is back — powerful and in power!
Michael Oakeshott, a British philosopher, political theorist, and conservative sympathiser, defined Conservatism as “not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition”. A disposition towards power. Another Conservative Anthony Seldon said “the party is one of instincts, above all for power rather than ideology”. This is the disposition of the Jamaican Conservatives. The JLP, a chameleon with no ideological roots, only an instinct for power.
The issue here is that there is a current distinct feeling, running through the Jamaican populace that there is no ideological difference between the two major parties. This gives cause and urgency for the task facing any PNP leader in this new era. The leader must, therefore, move quickly in not only redefining the PNP for the future, but also redefining the general political agenda for the nation and, in so doing, communicate to the electorate the JLP's historical positions and likely posture for the future vis-Ó-vis that of the PNP's.
It is important that PNP leadership spend time in understanding the conduct and effectiveness of his political opponents, because as the saying goes: “Oppositions do not win elections; Government's lose them.”
An essential element of recovery is leadership with the qualities which include courage, foresight, consistency, and, above all, endurance. It took the PNP 17 years before it tasted power after its formation. During this time, and even since Independence, other parties have been formed, but having not tasted victory at first attempt, it did not dissolve and disappear.
The PNP was formed with one main aim, and that is to improve the lot of the Jamaican people. It has remained focused and true to that aim. Its leadership has remained committed and courageous to that aim even whilst in opposition. And so, even though the roads have been dreary and the campaigns long, it has shown endurance.
The PNP's leadership has always been subservient to the mission, vision, and aims of the party. This has never been the case in the JLP; its leaders are always paramount and everything else subservient to that leader. To this end, national goals for the development of the nation it has postulated have always been in conflict with someone's personal goals.
The elevation of mission, vision, and aims over a personality culture gives longevity to an organisation. This is one of the main strengths of the PNP, and it is this diminished character trait that has somewhat been eroded over recent times, which by all analysis has led to the PNP's electoral defeats. It is, therefore, a position to which the new leader must recommit if he intends to make the JLP's time in Government a short pause.á
Real party renewal is based on analysis. During our periods in Opposition, in the 1980s, the party had to, as we say in Jamaica, “wheel and come again”. The party had to enter into a period of introspection, and from this analysis a document such as the 'Compass' was developed.
And even whilst the PNP has been in power, documents such as the '21st Century Mission Paper' was developed. This provides evidence that the party has always committed itself and put renewal for relevance and credibility on top of its agenda.
In developing the Compass document, the party had to think long and hard about some of our most long-held policies; not the values — which remained the same.
After the 2007 defeat, the party again published another document, 'The Progressive Agenda', which was not quite as impactful as was intended, but demonstrated the party's commitment to introspection, analysis and a renewal agenda.
In all of these documents, the party had to:
(a) access its role whilst in Government and whether it was responsive to the commitments put forward in its manifesto and adhered to the mission, vision and aims for which the electorate had voted;
(b) look again at the shape, structure and mission of the party itself and coming to a clear, new analysis on the big issues of the party's commitment to its mission, particularly its socialist mission; and
(c) a commitment a renewal process which makes the party relevant to the era in which it operates as both government and as a political entity.
Let's say you have the right leadership and the right analysis. Then you need a strategy to implement change. What is this strategy? What does it mean? It means a long-term programme of ordered change which is understood by the party leadership. It must be systematically fought for and won, and then implemented in such a way that the entire party is genuinely transformed. It moves the party Comrades to a position in which they have something serious to say about the serious questions facing the country; instead of a constant dabbling in gossips, rumours, scandals, and character assassination of its leaders which they have never been able to justify.
Are the youth within the party flaming the touch and lighting the pathway for a “progressive agenda” in line with the vision and ethos of the party, as did the Paul Burkes of the 1970s and, more recently, the electoral successes of political candidates seen as disruptive progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the USA, who have built their political platforms on the widespread dissatisfaction with centre-left neoliberals among young activists for whom online culture is the first language of politics — the so-called social justice warriors of Tumblr and Twitter, who use memes to destigmatise socialism and attack American imperialism pathway.
As well, are the stalwarts, missionaries, and gatekeepers of party ideals ready to give way to the youth who have been prepared and ready as torch-bearers to carry on the party's ideals.
The final element of the renewal agenda is time. Real party renewal takes time; there are no short cuts, it is not quick or easy, pleasant or pain-free. Many times during the period of leadership of our founding father, Norman Manley, there were division within the party on issues, but they were resolved — painfully sometimes, but the party's principles and not personalities always dictated the outcome.
The truth is that, between 1989 and 2020, the PNP held office for 23 of those years. Therefore, having spent most of the last three decades in Government, the PNP became complacent believing that it was a right. It developed a view that the country was “PNP country”. This mistaken cause it to suffer shock defeats in 2007, 2016, and now again in 2020.
My own analysis has shown that those defeats were not due to the party's management as a Government, far from it, by all evaluation they did a good job managing the affairs of the country, particularly so under Peter Phillips as finance minister between 2012 and 2016. However, two things were decisively lacking.
First, was the party's inability to identify areas that were a drag on the party and needed renewal whilst it pursues its governmental assignment of transforming the country. Three areas for renewal that comes immediately to mind are the party group structure, the process of qualifying delegates, and its current cohort of party workers.
Other than this internal renewal, the second thing that was lacking was the party's ability to communicate its achievements in Government, which would align and move the party itself, along a progressive continuum carrying with it mission, vision and all its character traits. Hence another big question now facing the party is: If, for all those years, the policies, strategies, processes, and product outcome from good governance were visible, how then did the party machinery get divorced and not adapt to the initiatives of its own Government in office?
The answer is not difficult to see. The party has traditionally been in a position where it is not “merely occupying the centre ground of Jamaican politics, but instead been about, shifting the centre ground of the Jamaican political agenda”.
The complacency of the current leadership and followers can be found in the fact that, because there is no such shift, and therefore no substance to articulate and communicate, hence a bewildered electorate is left behind to be gobbled up by Labourites who have quickly moved to fill the vacuum of old centre ground that have been left behind by the Comrades.
We in the PNP are not about merely occupying the centre ground of politics, but instead we are about shifting the centre ground of Jamaican politics.
Phillips, in 2016, as the new leader of the PNP, needed to urgently and quickly find his feet and hit the ground running. For the first time in its history the PNP had found itself playing catch-up ideologically to the JLP. The election of September 3, 2020 leaves us to believe that the leadership of the PNP and, by extension, all its followers, did not accomplished this mandate. Hence, as the party has identified a new leader.
Golding must now rapidly redefine the entire political agenda for the country. He must erase the perception that has been put forward by the JLP that the PNP is only about presentation and no substance. He must articulate to the electorate that the JLP, with its chameleon character trait, is unmistakeable superficial and without a substantive agenda for real substantial change that is in sync with our values in today's world realities. He needs to ensure that the electorate understands that it is historically and still is a PNP's Government's agenda which continues to transform the terms of the debate that moves the centre ground for life and impacting changes for the Jamaicans.
He needs to articulate that it is the Labourites who traditionally can't even adjust to new realities and who continue to believe in the magic wand that creates sparkles for a few hours and plunges back into drudgery — the 1980 promises of their leader for money to jingle in pockets never happened. The JLP's current crop of leaders has promised “prosperity” — a kind of evangelical fervour that promises to take you to heaven. It has no stability and cannot be sustained because its promises are built without foundation, without vision, and without accounting for the long-term hopes and aspirations of a people.
The new leadership of the PNP needs to demonstrate that, in a world where there are shifting priorities, it is the PNP that can properly develop and execute a framework for social, political and economic stability.
Aldin Bellinfantie, EdD, is vice-president of the International University of the Caribbean and adjunct lecturer at The University of the West Indies with concentration on educational leadership, management and supervision. He has served on five different commission of the People's National Party, most recently the Policy Commission, Education Commission, the Political Education Commission. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login