Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Is PNP playing to lose?

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 1:00 AM

It is more than tongue in cheek to suggest that a political party in power would set out, like a tired and frustrated tennis player down by two sets to nil, to deliberately hit the ball in the net or outside the baseline just so that his opponent can win and he gets to retreat to the privacy of his locker room to shed tears and rue his poor form.

Political power is heady stuff. It is stronger than the lure of many sultry nights with a stunningly attractive lover and the reality of tens of million dollars mounting up in the bank. Indeed, it is not that difficult to see the former as the prelude to the rest of the goodies.

In the latter part of last year, I had introduced the fact, hardly original, that whichever political administration was unfortunate enough to be in power in the first half of 2016 would not have the benefit of a honeymoon. The beautiful bride and her eager groom would immediately depart the church to move in with the mother-in-law.

I hold no dislike or disrespect for mothers-in-law, but newly-weds do not coexist well when they are in the physical earshot and endless and open scrutiny of the mother of one of them.

His mother will want to know about the strictures attached to public-sector transformation and sending home civil servants en masse. Then there is pension reform and the long-delayed toughening under tax reform. With less funds available for the Government to spend on the barest of welfare items, it will be quite difficult for any government to control its base and party workers and massage its way to another win.

Last year, I had asked a JLP MP: Why would your party want state power in 2016 when most of the policy initiatives that will be available to it under the IMF are not conducive to maintaining power and staving off pressures from the people and the Opposition?

His answer? "Power, by itself, is, to a politician, what a flame is to a moth. The moth really doesn't care if the flame burns him to a crisp or be his guide to a better place. They can't help themselves, the politician and the moth."

Those looking at all possible sides of political strategy would not eliminate the ruling PNP administration ceding power because the flame has singed its wings and it wants to create distance from the agonising heat and free its collective mind from the awesome responsibility of daily governance.

This would satisfy at least three objectives of the PNP. It would place the JLP as the team at the batting crease when the pitch is at its most dangerous, whether or not the bowling is good. The JLP would soon become 'the enemy of the people.' It would also give the PNP the opportunity to rebuild its leadership and second-tier structure, a process more difficult to complete when the party has power.

Lastly, looking in from the outside of political power, it is not difficult to see the PNP using the time in Opposition to tweak its basic political philosophy and approach to matters of governance.

 

TIME FOR DINOSAURS TO ROLL OVER

 

One part of the quiet coup taking place inside the party may not necessarily be related to PNP dysfunction as it has been presented by me and others (and the PNP) to the public.

Last year when East Rural St Andrew MP Damion Crawford began spouting off on views that were disturbing to the ears of the dinosaur class in his party and the Cabinet, it began to trigger the notion among the younger and brighter cohort in the PNP administration that they need not be unheard on important matters like constituency management and local political philosophy.

Handout policies at the constituency level were the life and breath of the dinosaur class in both the PNP and the JLP. Bleat all it wanted to that its management of the economy over its previous runs of power made it the party of choice in its own head, the JLP knew that at constituency level there, was hardly any difference between it and the PNP.

'Big men' in the constituency had to be drawn into the contracting process during the gathering of those fighting for a place of preference at swill time. Lumpen party favourites and lesser centres of influence had to have their lives enhanced by regular infusions of cash. The nexus of local business partnerships and the constituency enforcers had to be maintained.

Young voices like Crawford's invoked others to speak without permission and the private editing by the dinosaur class clogging up the top. Sure, there were a few oldies in both parties who had proven that they were capable of syncing with new thought, but those were just as endangered as the youngsters who wanted to buck the old system.

It seems to me that the PNP is not unaware of these political realities. On closer examination, it was a mix of the potential for political disfavour in 2016, and the energy brought on by a vocal element in the PNP registering the need for political evolution at constituency and national levels, that gave the PNP its major jitters in the latter part of last year.

The Opposition JLP has its fair share of those who have added their presence to the primeval ooze and are beyond political redemption. Somehow I sense that 2016 will be the year when major political tremors will rattle the political structures of both political parties, with the first to demonstrate the pain of this evolution burst being the PNP.

I take note that two of the elder class in the PNP and JLP, respectively, Omar Davies and Mike Henry, have, by their public utterances, demonstrated radically different approaches in dealing with our newest colonisers, the Chinese.

I prefer Henry's approaches, but who knows how much the words uttered behind closed doors may veer from the publicly splashed-out ones.

 

WILL WINT-TUFTON MATTER HARM JLP?

 

Compared with the last quarter of 2015 when the propaganda arm of the PNP was all over the place, especially on social media and very vocal in small communities across the island, the silence of those groups in these early days of 2016 is quite palpable.

All of the energies of the JLP in the first half of last year were the placement of Chris Tufton, a man with demonstrative failings in retail politics but seen as having wide respect across political lines. Inside the JLP, there were those who wanted to see Tufton placed in a seat where more than a few PNP votes would not be his undoing again.

After Devon Wint, a man with unquestioned loyalty to the JLP's causes, had beaten Tufton in a selection exercise by 15 votes in the West Central St Catherine constituency where the highly respected Dr Ken Baugh has stepped away, it wasn't long before the the JLP fates had conveniently decided that Mr Wint was not fit enough to represent that or any other seat.

The PNP propagandists, short on ammo, have suggested to me that with Wint deciding to hire the most high-profile lawyer in Jamaica on political matters - K.D. Knight, QC - it is worth rehashing and recounting the September 2015 matter.

I agree with the PNP propagandists. The allegations against Mr Wint were much too politically convenient, especially where the anti-Holness faction in the JLP saw Tufton as their next action hero in leadership.

One reader summed it up in an email to me last Thursday:

"The PNP has done for the JLP what they couldn't by themselves. Had the PNP not been demonstrating poor leadership at more than one level, and indecisive in their decision making, resulting in so many squabbles, the JLP would still be in disarray. It only takes common sense for the JLP to lay aside their infighting over leadership, etc., and watch the PNP self-destruct."

Sensible observation.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.