Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Unity at what cost?

Published:Tuesday | July 25, 2017 | 7:00 AM

"We need to remember that an essential resource in the political process is the unity of the People's National Party." - Peter Phillips.

So it was that, on June 23, the PNP commenced a most brazen attack on citizens' freedoms to protect PNP "unity", a vital national interest without which, apparently, Jamaica's political process is doomed. Previously, I thought unity was achieved by an organisation coalescing around a guiding philosophy, NOT by suppressing public speech.

This is the time that we all should live as one, brothers.

This is the time that we all should live as one, sisters.

So come along brothers and come along sisters.

U-N-I-T-Y is unity.

So come along brothers and sisters, whoa, oh, oh

A word to the unwise (PNP): If it's "unity" you want, begin with the man in the mirror. Ensure he doesn't speak out of two sides of his mouth, thus attracting criticism from everywhere, including party members. If you call for "expressions of interest"; receive only two; then, a month later, because a former leader publicly disrespected your process and "nominated" her own candidate, you turn yourself inside out to appease her, you can't expect "unity". THAT is the essence of how to encourage disunity.

The July 24 online Gleaner, on July 23's PNP NEC meeting, read:

"PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson revealed that the NEC has agreed to establish a protocol to guide how party members 'deal with social media and other media.'"

Oh, dear. I now realise the PNP's prescription for "unity" is to callously breach the Constitution by restricting person's freedom of expression on social media. I also heard a clip on radio to the effect that party members will be made to exhaust all internal party processes for the resolution of concerns before exposing them on social media. The sanction for a first offence will be suspension followed by expulsion.

 

Constitutional rights

 

I've often written that our political leaders seem to have no clue that we are governed by a written Constitution and not by any political party. If ever there was a perfect example of this pathetic phenomenon, here it is. Another quiet reminder to the all-important PNP without which Jamaica will be no more: The Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights and freedoms which no individual (including PNP) or state organ should breach. Among them are:

"(c) The right to freedom of expression;

(d) The right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas THROUGH ANY MEDIA."

I expect the PNP to understand that "any media" includes social media AND that no Political Code of Conduct or any rule promulgated by any political party can override party members' guaranteed constitutional rights. Any threat to muzzle those rights by way of suspension or expulsion would expose the PNP to lawsuits for breach of constitutional rights; admit an inability to inspire "unity" or confidence; and rank as brutal contempt for citizens' freedom of expression, of which Josef Goebbels would be proud.

The online Gleaner further reported:

"Phillips said the proposed protocol is essential because Jamaicans are depending on members of the PNP to 'conduct ourselves well'.

'We can't allow people who have tunnel vision or who will allow their personal interests to dominate the long-term interest of the Jamaican people, which is to have an effective and vibrant People's National Party,' he said."

"Conducting ourselves (sic) well" in a free and democratic society means embracing diversity, diverse views and diverse personalities, and allowing same to contend, while coalescing around the party's fundamental political philosophy. Pretending that disagreements don't exist or fearing they will dominate, then reacting by muzzling them is the opposite of "effective and vibrant".

We must live as one

'Cause, because two wrongs can never make a right

Look into the age that we're living in today, brothers

Look into the age that we're living in today, sisters

So come along brothers and come along sisters

U-N-I-T-Y is unity

Desmond Dekker and the Aces placed second in the 1969 Festival Song Contest with U-N-I-T-Y. Forty years later, Peter Phillips, contributing to the debate on Jamaica's new Charter of Rights, declared:

"It sets out a new constitutional doctrine almost. Fundamentally, it places sovereignty clearly and unequivocally with the people rather than Parliament. And it effectively circumscribes, for the first time really, the exercise of the powers by Parliament, and by other agencies of the executive, in that they may pass no law and may not undertake any action that is not ... demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.