Mark Wignall | Fighting for relevance in the PNP?
In the latter part of the campaign leading up to the February 2016 elections, Dr Peter Phillips had seemingly taken on a pet political project - questioning Andrew Holness over the ownership and construction of a mansion in Beverly Hills.
The small faction in the People's National Party (PNP) who supported such a stance were of the view that Phillips was so known to be clean and uninvolved in corrupt activities that only he had the moral remit to peddle that project.
The faction in the PNP who found disfavour with his 'Andrew house' fervour wanted him to immediately drop the matter and move on. Their reasoning was quite simple. The number-one priority among Jamaicans is the possession and ownership of a house. Second, we like big houses and tend not to openly envy those who have houses more fancy than ours. Third, the PNP had no shortage of bigwigs building out their own mansions. The matter died its natural death.
Opposition Leader Phillips is not a spontaneous man. He reasons through things and, like most politicians steeped in academia, tends not to have that excitement in his personality like others who prefer to pander to crowd support. With all of that, he was the last man I expected to make intemperate remarks recently about the illness, perceived or real, of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Derrick Smith.
Phillips has apologised and the matter will soon be forgotten. Recently, we had Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting hauling Jamaica and the JLP over the coals for his view of us selling our souls to the Chinese when not too long ago his PNP government was dancing to Chinese-directed tunes.
Under pressure, he, too, withdrew that jawboning and hopes to move on either with the public largely ignoring him or him gaining added relevance.
"Nuh body nah listen to dem man deh," said a 40-year-old welder to me on Sunday. He was referring to Bunting and the criticism of the increasing Chinese involvement in our physical infrastructural buildout.
As I have written before, the worst that can happen to an opposition party is apathy towards the Government but no direct increase in support to the Opposition. Bunting knows that at all times, there is only one word which best captures the time to make his relevance known as future leader of the PNP - 'now'. All the way to 2020.
To a large extent, I agree with Phillips that the rush of the JLP administration to pass the special zones bill in Parliament is not being met with an urgency to make it operational. It could be that having legal empowerment on its side, the Government simply doesn't know how to lay it out to meet the expectations it has been ardently selling. Or, because of the spread and the sporadic nature of the murders, it doesn't know where to start.
TIME TO BE SILENT, PAULWELL
Phillip Paulwell is the other obvious contender for future leadership of the PNP if Phillips fizzles out in 2020. Paulwell won a tactical victory when Angela Brown Burke got the nod as the PNP standard-bearer for South West St Andrew. All he has to do now is keep his head down and his mouth shut.
With Bunting supporting the candidate who lost in that local race, he needs to stick out his head at all times as his relevance wanes. What does he have to lose now? Not much. What does he have to gain? Well, quite a significant percentage of Jamaicans are of the view that 'we are giving away Jamaica to the Chinese'.
Bunting probably took that gamble on criticising the Chinese and, strategically smart as they are usually, the Chinese very definitely understand why he needs to play his political game. At the same time, Phillips cannot just allow Bunting to go off and hog the limelight, especially if Phillips really believes that Holness is likely to call a snap general election.
The most important matter at this time is, to mothers, getting school funding together for September. For young people, it is securing a job. For the rest of us, it is controlling violent crime.
For the PNP, it is taking the next breath.