PNP divided, derailed and distressed ...but not deadSunday, June 06, 2021
Opposition leader and president of the People's National Party (PNP) Mark Golding was up and out on the political hustings in Petersfield, Westmoreland, last week. Petersfield is located in the constituency of Westmoreland Central which, except in recent times, was a stronghold of the party. The seat was once dubbed Roger Clarke's stomping ground.
Golding, who is in desperate need of political oxygen, doubtless is figuring that if a by-election were to be held there the 'political gods' will throw him an urgent lifeline. If there are such things as political gods, I suspect 89 Old Hope Road will have to appease them.
Maybe that is the explanation for a release by the PNP very late last Monday night, which, among other things, noted that the party had devised a “unity plan”. According to the PNP, regional unity builders and mediators will be deployed to address matters as they arise. The PNP said its unity plan will be further operationalised through unity conversations that will be held across the island.
This latest unity détente sounds like a rehash of the aborted 'Comrades Grassroot Reasoning', which ended in a whimper in 2016. Recall that roughly two and half months after the defeat in the February 25, 2016 General Election the PNP held, at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown, Kingston, a 'reasoning session' in which members of the organisation were asked to express their heartfelt views about the party. The attempt at rapprochement, the PNP said, was designed to facilitate the development of a template for the organisation to “reposition itself and move forward”.
At the mentioned reasoning, which was actually held on Sunday, April 24, 2016, vocal party councillor for the Papine Division, Venesha Phillips, tore off a political scab. A mix of political puss and blood spewed out. She submitted that the PNP had helped to destroy the self-worth and the pride of Jamaicans and used them as pawns in a game.
“Instead of empowering them… we use money as a weapon, and we have brought our people to their knees just so we can establish our own cause,” Phillips protested. Media reports say, reasoning sessions, thereafter, were few and far between.
I have repeatedly said in this space that it is in the interest of the country to have an effective Opposition. I have not recoiled from that position.
I hope these latest efforts to return political sanity to the PNP bear good fruits. I, however, have misgivings. Why? Firstly, it is not a good look that former senator and Cabinet minister K D Knight has stepped down as a formal member of the party's unity committee.
But I think there is even a bigger problem. There are some folks in the PNP who are totally drunk on the fuel of political narcissism. They will likely stop at nothing to satisfy their morbid political obsessions.
“Power intoxicates men. When a man is intoxicated by alcohol he can recover, but when intoxicated by power, he seldom recovers,” said James F Byrnes, renowned American judge.
I believe a parting of ways between the PNP and those programmed by unenlightened and personal political aggrandisement is sensible if the unity plan is to have a fighting chance. Otherwise, the initiative will suffer a similar fate as the failed Comrades Grassroot Reasoning held five years ago.
We are by no means strangers to political intrigue in this country. The topsy-turvy state of the internal dynamics of party politics predates our political independence in 1962. Recall, for example, the explosive saga of the four 4Hs. For the more youthful among my readers, a bit of history is warranted here: Richard Hart; the Hill brothers, Frank and Ken; and Arthur Henry were expelled from the PNP in 1952 for allegedly operating a Marxist unit in the party. The expulsion of the 'Four Hs' signalled a parting of ways between the PNP and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which was aligned to the PNP. The National Workers' Union (NWU) effectively filled the vacuum left by the TUC.
Elaborate and carefully manufactured political distractions are commonplace, too, in this country. For some, the last few weeks, doubtless, would have brought back memories of werewolf plots, clandestine schemes, and Alfred Hitchcock-like cliffhangers, which dominated our politics intermittently in the 1970s and periods in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Whether in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or PNP, these turbulent epochs were almost always put to bed by a victory at the ballot box. The PNP went through a period akin to political self-immolation after the decimation by Edward Seaga and the JLP in the October 30, 1980 General Election. By 1983, however, the PNP had dusted themselves off and were well on the way to starting all over again.
Three years after a political spanking by the JLP, polls by world-renowned psephologist and The University of the West Indies social scientist, the late Professor Carl Stone, indicated that the PNP was firmly in the political ascendancy. The PNP delivered a body blow to the JLP in the parish council election of 1986. Of course, by then Michael Manley had discarded his kariba suit, replaced the PNP's '10 steps to socialism', and embraced free market policies. The PNP went on from there to win the February 1989 General Election and remained in power for just over 18 years.
Sometimes, though, the political easement in the form of a victory at the ballot box, after prolonged internal party disruption, is short-lived; for example, in 2003, when the Edward Seaga-led JLP whipped the P J Patterson-led PNP in the local government elections. Some mistakenly believed that the country had signalled that it wanted back “Papa Eddie” as prime minister. The JLP's 2003 parish council elections victory turned out to be Seaga's political last lick. By very early 2004 several credible polls had found that the JLP did not stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected to form the Government as long as Seaga was its leader. He was forced to accept that his political shelf life had been exhausted and retired in January 2005.
Many months ago, I pointed out in this space that the bloodletting in the PNP would not halt until they again tasted of the fruit of victory at the ballot box. I stand by that view.
Political parties are different from pressure groups, civil society entities, and other associations. Political parties exist to secure and retain State power.
Golding's sojourn to Westmoreland Central last week, notwithstanding the pleasantness related to completing a house for a long-serving PNP member, had more to do, in my view, with the fact that he senses a possible escape route from the political trials and tribulations which have afflicted the PNP since the country rejected them in 2016.
I suspect that Golding also is aware that if for some reason a by-election were held in Westmoreland Central, and the PNP were to contest and lose, or not contest, that would almost certainly signal curtains on his presidency.
Some months ago, someone looked into a political crystal ball and said Golding would not last more than two years at the top. Will that person be proved right? Time will tell.
No PNP obituary
On the matter of time, I am not calling time on the PNP. Those who are in a rush to write its political obituary would do well to remember this local adage: “What nuh dead nuh call it duppy.”
Recall only six short years ago, in a brutally accurate article entitled 'Autocrats and autoclaps', journalist, the late Ken Jones, said, among other things: “Today's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), more than ever before, seems to be tumbling from one debilitating debacle to another. Doubt and distrust divide, the blame game flourishes, executive fingers point at each other, and the itch for internecine conflict spreads beneath thin skins and thick skulls. Worse, there appears to be no redeeming factor; and there is unlikely to be a lasting remedy until the party comes to grips with the root cause, which is the strong and stubborn tradition of autocratic leadership that has been a dominant characteristic from the inception, and for at least 60 years thereafter. This is a tale of autocrats and 'autoclaps'.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 14, 2015)
This was the reality of the JLP.
JLP leaders Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping to heal many of the generational-like wounds in the JLP, which were presided over and/or worsened, but certainly not all created by former party leader, the late Edward Seaga.
Those who are busy measuring up the PNP, and have already identified a coffin, would do well to remember also that political fortunes move in a circle on a central axis. Only those who like to bury their heads in the political sands do not realise, too, that the era when it was widely perceived that there was such a thing as a political party of natural choice is over and done.
As for the ruling JLP Administration, they will have to deliver on their promises, come hell or high water, or suffer a similar political ignominy which befell 89 Old Hope Road. The Andrew Holness-led Administration has absolutely no time to strut like peacocks. Any attempt to dazzle us with carefully choreographed optics will be only too obvious in this Information Age.
Maya Angelou, American civil rights activist, poet and memoirist, said: “I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.” This gem of advice is especially applicable to people in all forms of leadership. Always have a viable option, alternative in the pocket.
The editorial in this newspaper last Tuesday noted, among other things: “Golding has firmly hitched his wagon to that of General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell…”
Just over a week ago Golding publicly defended his Campbell, who is at the centre of a nasty sex scandal allegedly involving under-age girls. Golding has described Campbell as an upstanding and fine individual.
The PNP president, when asked whether he could credibly stand by Dr Campbell in light of his calls for George Wright to resign from the House, said there's no comparison. Golding has put himself way out on a limb, and there are a lot of people in his party with giant power saws who are ready to cut and have him fall to the ground.
He, for reasons best known to him, knows why he has invested total confidence in his general secretary. Many in the inner sanctum of the PNP evidently do not share his level of confidence, though.
Last week, Nationwide News Network reported that Opposition Senator Floyd Morris urged the PNP's leadership to have Campbell step down from the post.
'PNP split but Campbell survives' was the banner headline in The Gleaner last Friday. The news item noted these and other details: “But all four vice-presidents of the party said during the meeting that Campbell should step aside, or at least take a leave of absence.
“ The Gleaner also understands that PNP Chairman Phillip Paulwell was among those who did not give Campbell full backing.
“One senior member of the group who had discussions on his fate on Thursday contends that the party is on the wrong path.”
The Jamaica Observer editorial last Tuesday was also instructive here: “Clearly, Mr Golding believes implicitly in the innocence of his right-hand man, and is even willing to risk his political career should, God forbid, it turn out that Dr Campbell is culpable in the accusations made against him by PNP member Ms Karen Cross.”
Golding seems to me to have put a catcher's mitt on both hands?
A pall hangs over Campbell's head, notwithstanding his repeated and vociferous denials of guilt. It will be very difficult, if not near impossible, for him to successfully sell the PNP to middle Jamaica and voters in key marginal seats. He will have an equally difficult time attracting crucial support from those in the PNP who see him as a usurper and one who suffers with “vaulting ambition”.
I said in this space last week, but it bears repeating, that Campbell should step aside until the matters are adjudicated in court. Let us not forget, too, that Campbell is also a nominated commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). I think he should withdraw.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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