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PNP's sour grapes after its narrative has gone awry

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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Euphemism is a euphemism for lying. — Bobbie Gentry

While many political pundits hedged their bets, employed trite euphemisms coloured with self-delusional imaginings, and or vacillated as to who would win the by-election in St Mary South Eastern, I wrote in my The Agenda piece that: “Dr Norman Dunn will win the by-election in St Mary South Eastern.” ( Jamaica Observer , October 8, 2017)

On Sunday, October 22, 2017, among other things, I wrote in this newspaper: “Given information which I gathered last Saturday and on National Heroes' Day, in the constituency, and findings from credible polls which a very kind soul put under my door, plus a well-oiled Jamaica Labour Party machine that has covered St Mary South Eastern from end to end, I can now say Dr Dunn will cross the finish line very comfortably ahead of the People's National Party's (PNP) Dr Shane Alexis.”

I have been proved right.

Style and tactics

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) did its homework and executed a clinical political strategy. Prime Minister Andrew Holness led a ground and grounded campaign, and he did so from the front. Local issues were the centrepiece of the JLP's campaign. Sir Alexander Bustamante's party adopted a kind of Churchillian political posture in St Mary South Eastern. It was not dissimilar to the organisational approach used in the local government election of last November and the general election of February 2016. One of Andrew Holness's biggest pluses as leader of the JLP is that he has reinvigorated and revitalised the sleeping giant of the JLP's winning mentality.

By contrast, the People's National Party (PNP) did not do its homework. President of the PNP Dr Peter Phillips flew to St Mary via helicopter. Phillips and his handlers might have been 'popping style' on the good rural folks of St Mary South Eastern. Was this a taste of the brand of socialism Phillips promised to revive?

American novelist Herman Melville wrote, “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” He might as well have been thinking about some in Jamaica who would want to perpetrate on us a cruel brand of Fabianism as a kind of convenient political crutch.

Recall this report by the Old Lady of North Street? “The new president of the People's National Party Dr Peter Phillips has told Comrades that this generation of the organisation will have to fix and eliminate poverty.

“It is for that reason Phillips says he will not apologise for embracing democratic socialism, which he insists still has a place in developing 21st-century Jamaica.

“Phillips was speaking at the National Arena minutes after taking the oath of office as the fifth PNP president of the party.

“ 'I say without reservation that Michael Manley broke down the walls of plantation society once and for all in Jamaica.' ” ( The Sunday Gleaner, March 26, 2017)

At a minimum, however, his helicopter mode of transport was politically imprudent. Any mediocre first year major in political science would have seen this error from a mile away. It's simply the optics. Is there another explanation as to why the helicopter was employed? International reggae superstar Bob Marley said: “Time will tell.” I am sure he is right.

Convenient amnesia

The PNP waged a national campaign, apparently forgetting the political axiom that all politics is local. At a meeting in Richmond, 72 hours before polling day, Phillips ironically stated that the current JLP Administration was the country's most corrupt. I say 'ironically' because Dr Phillips seems to have conveniently forgotten this bit of history. Recall a front-page story in The Gleaner, on Tuesday, February 9, 2002, which listed major money scandals that have occurred under the watch of PNP administrations:

1. Shell waiver (1991) — $29.5 million; approximately $560 million in today's terms

2. Zinc (1989) — $500 million; approx $22 billion today

3. Furniture (1991) — $10.6 million; approx $ 200 million today

4. Public sector salaries (1998) — $60 million; approx $287 million today

5. NetServ (2001) — $220 million; approx $ 856 million today

6. Operation Pride/NHDC (1997-present) — $5.5 billion projected; approx $20 billion today

TOTAL: $6.320 billion; approx $44 billion today

PNP narrative gone awry

By now a critical mass of the country recognises the antiquated narrative of 89 Old Hope Road. Phillips's political defence mechanism tactic is predictable nowadays. The PNP's addiction to fake news and political deflection are conspicuous. Dr Phillips's inverted claims of government corruption are doubtless connected with the rabid supporters who were bussed into the constituency from PNP strongholds in Kingston and parts of St Catherine.

Voters in the constituency were more interested, however, to hear when the Junction roadwork project was going to start. Dozens of farmers in and around St Mary are already calculating how many more chickens, bunches of banana, other ground provisions, and the like, they will sell to the myriad small restaurants and cook shops that will provide meals to the scores of men and women who will get employment in one of the most anticipated roadwork projects in the country.

When Dr Phillips berated the Government's zone of special operations (ZOSO) crime-fighting strategy in Richmond and elsewhere along the campaign trail, he must have forgotten that the parish of St Mary has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. He obviously did not remember that St Mary South Eastern is one of the most peaceful constituencies in Jamaica. Many voters in the constituency, however, were more interested to hear if Chesterfield would get a bridge any time soon.

Many young residents in St Mary South Eastern who have earned numerous passes in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects and/or other internationally recognised certification after great sacrifice were anxious to get news about jobs and additional opportunities for post-secondary training and community development pertinent to important constituency assets, like Gray's Inn and Castleton Gardens. In response, JLP leader Andrew Holness and Dr Norman Dunn hammered home plans for specific development in the constituency at almost every point of engagement.

Politics is an arena in which you first have to win the hearts of men. I believe that an emphasis on results is just as important as on social connectivity with voters.

Unfriendly topography or persona?

As I indicated in last Sunday's piece, many constituents were not pleased with what they said was Dr Phillips' stand-offish persona. Voters, especially in rustic treasures like St Mary South Eastern, like the personal touch of their political representatives, literally. While JLP leader Andrew Holness traversed the riverbanks and tackled the hilly terrain to meet the voters in their natural state and places of abode, Phillips was too often married to the political rostrum, several feet above the ground. One of the oft-quoted dictums of Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush, is: “In politics, perception is reality.” That has not changed.

Some might believe Phillips will do a better job on the plains. I rather doubt it.

Sour grapes by the PNP

Last week I wrote, among other things: “The birds also shriek that some in the upper echelons of the PNP are again making rattling sounds about the longevity of Dr Peter Phillips as party president. How come the leadership did not see this inevitable backlash? This is a frequent question being asked in the hallways and inner sanctum of the PNP.

“The Black-bellied Plovers, Banana Quits and John Chewits sing in unison that Phillips's bombast, will come back to haunt him and will also serve as a Trojan horse for one from 'Middle Jamaica' and another from the once-wickedest city in the world. Recall, Phillips trumpeted in Annotto Bay, earlier this month, that the by-election in St Mary South Eastern is a referendum on the Administration. Rural folks often say, 'Cock mouth kill cock.' ”

The political daggers are drawn, according to the tweets by my fine feathered friends. The birds warble that feverish attempts are being made by the political Praetorian Guard to shield Phillips from an inevitable internal backlash. The birds sing that reports in the media last week that Dr Phillips was blind-sided by news that Dr Alexis wasn't a Jamaican citizen is one of the strategies that has been dispersed.

Last week, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson revealed to Nationwide News Network that the party did not know Dr Alexis was not a Jamaican till shortly before nomination day on October 9. Some 'tapanaris' in the party are questioning this explanation and have categorised Robinson's management of this matter as amateurish. The Black-bellied Plovers shriek that some are drawing parallels between the secretariat's bungling of the Shane Alexis matter and what they term as mismanagement by former General Secretary Paul Burke.

Many in the PNP, the birds tweet, still point to Burke as a major reason for the defeat of the PNP in 2016. The birds also tweet that the monied faction in the party is calling for strong actions, akin to political house-cleaning, since they expect a 2019, 2020 or 2021 general election by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. More anon!

Fitz Jackson's short memory

Chairman of the PNP, Fitz Jackson said on radio last week that intimidation and vote-buying were big factors which impacted the outcome in the by-election in St Mary South Eastern. I am sure Jackson is old enough to remember reports in the media that the night before Shahine Robinson and the JLP first prevailed over his party, people affiliated with the PNP were seen with lanterns and flashlights repairing roads in St Ann North Eastern.

Just in case Jackson does not remember that sad episode, maybe he remembers when the former general secretary told Nationwide News Network that the PNP might have got 500 fewer votes in the Westmoreland Central by-election if some supporters of the PNP had not bought votes. When asked if the PNP bought votes, Burke said: “I am not going to deny that there are members of the PNP who made or fulfilled promises...Some of our supporters felt that if they did not do what they had to, we would have reduced our majority or lose.” When asked how many votes for the PNP he thought might have been bought, Burke said: “I don't think it could have been more than 500 votes.”

Jackson might also remember that in the Westmoreland Central by-election there were reports in the media of mobile ATMs from which some voters made handsome withdrawals. Of note is the fact that the Westmoreland Central by-election was sure to win for the PNP. Political deflection, Mr Jackson, won't heal this sore.

Bribery and variant forms of it have been part of the electoral landscape in Jamaica for decades. The big difference now is that it seems to be ubiquitous, if not a prerequisite enticement for a seemingly critical mass of voters who have been marginalised socially, economically and politically.

Nevertheless, to me, voting-buying and selling are betrayals almost tantamount to treason. Mass disaffection from the political process is a main contributing factor that has expedited the growth of the cancer on our democracy, as evidenced in the decreasing involvement of the national electorate, especially over the last 25 years. I believe we can best begin to fix this problem by liberating more our people, at a faster rate, through the provision of economic, social and political opportunities.

Congratulations to Dr Norman Dunn. I expect good things from you.

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. — Carlos Santana

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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