Golding's stratagem?Sunday, September 19, 2021
Anyone who takes the reins of leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the People's National Party (PNP), our two major political parties, is usually greeted with cheers. Their exit often ends in jeers, sometimes tears. The head of a political party, gets cheers or jeers, within his/her party based on the ability to hand out patronage. The present Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Mark Golding seems to have started to grasp this reality.
Those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits tweet that recent dismal poll findings by Nationwide News Network's Bluedot poll, especially regarding the receding favourability of Golding, and the woeful standing of the PNP compared to the JLP, has caused many at 89 Old Hope Road to rent their political garments.
The birds sing that numerous Comrades, mostly political 'youngins', are biting their fingernails with great intensity. Some have bitten, the birds warble, into the very cuticle of their fingers. The birds chirp that some political urchins have already 'seized' particular ministries, and 'snatched' very choice positions. They are sitting on giant pins and needles.
Many months ago I noted, in this space, that Golding's position atop the shaky political perch of the PNP will be pulled hither and thither by increased tensions, and dogged by cock-ups, inexpert optics, and amateurish political choreography until he achieves a consequential victory at the ballot box. I have been proved right.
Consider this damning poll finding, in particular: “The governing Jamaica Labour Party has opened up a massive 30-point lead over the Opposition People's National Party in the latest Nationwide Bluedot polls as the preferred choice to run the country.” It is a hugely disabling blow to the political kneecaps of the PNP.
The birds chirp that there is much disquiet in the inner sanctum of Norman Manley's party. They cheep that political daggers that were buried in sunless locations are being dug up and sharpened, and rusty bayonets are being cleaned. The birds sing that OnePNP votaries are very fearful that another local and general election loss could see most of them ending up at the “knacker”, like Boxer, the naive cart horse in George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm.
Clever political move
Golding realises that the continuation of political backstabbing in his party will mean a replay of the tragic circumstances which led to the ouster of his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips.
Having squandered several political sitters since taking office in November 2020, last week Golding pulled what I believe was his first boss political move.
The Gleaner, in a news item titled 'PNP leadership could hinge on election by 45,000 members', reported these and related details: “Passage of a resolution for the entire membership of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to vote in internal elections could mark a tectonic shift in political party governance and potentially diminish the influence of bribery and corruption in leadership selections.
“ The Gleaner has been informed that the proposal, reportedly first put forward by PNP President Mark Golding, has found favour with heavyweights in the party, including Lisa Hanna and Mikael Phillips.
“Political insiders in both the PNP and the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have often cited the distortionary power of money in internal elections among a shallow pool of delegates. But the ability of power brokers to bribe voters would be lessened by virtue of the masses they would need to entice.” ( The Gleaner, September 14, 2021)
It is conspicuous to all except those who are deliberately politically blind that Golding's political stocks are currently trading at junk bond status. He knows that he is severely politically vulnerable.
The 'rise' of Golding
But how did Mark Golding come to be at the helm? A synoptic view is necessary:
Recall that in an extremely bitter presidential contest to replace the hapless Peter Phillips, the PNP's fifth president, Mark Golding, Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew Southern, amassed 1,740 delegate votes. His grand prize was captaincy of the rickety ship that is the PNP. His challenger, Lisa Hanna, the MP for St Ann South Eastern, accumulated 1,444 votes. Just over a year and half ago, Golding's political stocks unexpectedly began to acquire blue chip status within the PNP after his long-time friend and business partner Peter Bunting was humbled on his birthday, by Dr Phillips, in an acrimonious leadership duel held on September 7, 2019.
Bunting was again forced to eat more humble pie when he was trashed by a first-timer, the JLP's Rhoda Moy Crawford, in the Manchester Central constituency in the September 3, 2020 parliamentary election.
There were loud whispers that Bunting was severely wounded by the Crawford defeat and contemplated exiting politics. Media reports say he was persuaded to stay by some, including Dr Fenton Ferguson, who was sent packing from St Thomas Eastern by the JLP's Dr Michelle Charles.
The 49-14 political carnage in our 18th parliamentary election left the PNP in a state of utter disarray. It's heavyweights were all kicked to the political curb: Dr Dayton Campbell, Ian Hayles, Dr Wykeham McNeill, and Horace Dalley — the majority of whom moved against party President Dr Peter Phillips in the September 2019 leadership battle — all lost their seats. It is these circumstances that Golding's political star started to shine.
He was catapulted to the top of the PNP's leadership. Some PNP insiders maintain that his ascension to the presidency was one of Hobson's choice. That line of reasoning has some foundation, but that was then. Golding's political ascension was nonetheless welcomed with considerable cheers outside, and less so within the PNP.
Today, the cheers inside the PNP have massively subsided. Golding knows that it would be politically dangerous for him to face a leadership contest at this time. His troops, the birds sing, are severely dejected by the fact that he has not gained any noticeable political traction, especially among the youth, since taking the wheel.
The birds tweet that some whisper in the corridors of the PNP that the party has effectively become a pressure group. Golding, in these political realities, cannot offer much in the way of patronage. A political leader who has no patronage to distribute is the equivalent of an old toothless lion, who is simply waiting for the inevitable. Death!
How might I preserve my political longevity? How do I prevent my enemies from getting the opportunity to plunge their daggers into me, as was done to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar? Doubtless these kinds of questions, or derivatives of them, must have arisen in Golding's mind.
An age-old political answer, I imagine, surfaced. Build a fortress and triple the troops, so I become nearly impregnable.
Golding knows that his favourability among the approximately 45,000 general membership of the PNP is much stronger compared to the 3,500 or so eligible delegates who, just under a year ago, handed him the reins of Norman Manley's party. I think Golding is, therefore, buying political insurance by seeking to have the general membership become the deciders of who gets to the top of the greasy political pole of his party's leadership. In politics you can buy insurance when the house is on fire.
Simultaneously, Golding, is, as we say in local parlance, also killing several birds with one stone.
Broadening the pool of those who decide who leads our two major political parties is a matter which has significant political resonance, especially among certain heavyweight funders of election campaigns in this country.
Some civil society groups, over many years, have been calling for the democratisation of the process of choosing the leaders of the PNP and JLP. Golding's proposal is likely to successfully clear the hurdles of the PNP's internal structures. It will help to repair his tattered public political persona and will put Andrew Holness and the JLP under significant pressure to follow suit.
The PNP's satellites will doubtless ensure that great public pressure is brought to bear on Holness in this respect.
By getting the support of Lisa Hanna and Mikael Phillips, Golding is once again demonstrating that he is learning how to effectively use a primary vehicle of patronage, political charm. This is not the first time we are seeing Golding employ this skill, which, I believe, is still very much at the infant stage of development.
Recall Golding was able to build a critical mass of support from both the Rise United and OnePNP factions, even convincing Phillips's backer Patricia Duncan Sutherland to become his campaign spokesperson.
To Jamaica House?
Recently a reader sent me an e-mail asking why I had declared that Dr Peter Phillips would not become prime minister days after he took office, but I have not made a similar prediction in relation to Golding, who is also in the political doldrums.
Simply, I believe Mark Golding is politically more intelligent than Phillips.
Notwithstanding his very poor standing in the polls at present, the JLP would be unwise to take him for granted.
With some adroit political training Golding could potentially become a formidable opponent to Andrew Holness. Before getting to that juncture, however, he needs to learn the rudiments of being an effective leader of the Opposition.
On that score, I believe all well-thinking Jamaicans want to see a strong Opposition. We do not want the continuation of fractiousness and factionalism in its ranks. An effective Opposition is oxygen to a functional democracy.
Notwithstanding the recent poll findings and, despite the huge fissures in the 83-year-old PNP, I do not share the view of some pundits that it is time for a funeral. Self-preservation will force the PNP to coalesce sooner than later, whether they are motivated by unenlightened and personal political aggrandisement, the fleeting theory of democratic socialism as espoused by Norman and Michael Manley, or other considerations.
And remember, too, politics is cyclical.
When you make a mistake you apologise; it is the adult thing to do. The apology, if it is worth the paper it is written on, must be submitted to the aggrieved, minus prevarications and qualifications, promptly. It is the adult thing to do.
I believe the former Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green met that threshold in his apology to the Jamaican people last Wednesday.
Among other things, Green said: “No matter how briefly, and regardless of the circumstances, I should never have participated in any engagement that could indicate a lack of appreciation of the difficult and serious realities that now face the entire country.
“My actions have demonstrated a lack of sensitivity for the difficult realities that all of us are facing currently.
“It was wrong.
“I accept that this was an error in judgement and that it sends the wrong signal, especially in light of the Government's drive to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For this I am really and truly very sorry.”
Thomas Jefferson famously said: “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.”
We live in a time when technology has allowed for almost every activity to be recorded. Within seconds these recordings can be posted for all the world to see. There is no cocoon of protection for either small or great. Those in or who seek public office might want to constantly remind themselves of these realities.
Green's apology sounded like an honest admission of error. It is a far cry from what we have become accustomed to in our politics. The done thing over many years is that ministers who transgressed public trust would claim “slip of the tongue”. Some would invent ridiculous ruses so that they could hold on to government SUVs and various trappings of the State. Some hid from the light of media for days on end, hoping that the stench from their actions would dissipate, while others showed no remorse because the prime minister, and party at the time, circled the wagon and gave the finger to the taxpaying public of this country.
In a previous The Agenda piece I said the following: “Trouble comes to everyone at one time or another. Political administrations are no different. There is no utopian political administration anywhere in the world. For me, a key indicator of good governance is a demonstrated willingness [action] on the part of an Administration to put a finger in the dike and, thereafter, repair the dam quickly. This is a fundamental difference between this Andrew Holness-led Administration and that of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. She simply allowed the country to flood.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 24, 2018)
I have been proved right once again. Some will doubtless rejoice at the fall of Green. They would do well to remember this from the 'Good Book': “Let him who without sin cast the first stone.”
I believe Green's contriteness must count for something. It augurs well our democracy. It is foreseeable that Floyd Green will return, bigger and even better.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.