Peter Espeut | Looking back, looking forward
On this fourth day of the Christmas season, may I wish all my readers a very happy and holy Christmas. I would like also to congratulate CVMTV for running the feature The Twelve Days of Christmas, exposing to Jamaicans that this holy season begins on December 25, and runs to January 6. Now is the time for Christmas trees and carols.
WINNERS AND LOSERS IN 2017
Politically, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Andrew Holness came out winners in 2017. They began the year with a one-seat majority in the Lower House, and tripled that by year end. The People's National Party (PNP) and Peter Phillips ended the year with a bloody nose after a by-election defeat in SE St. Mary.
We must not take lightly the parliamentary survival of the JLP under marginal conditions; not only have they been able to pursue their legislative agenda, but at times they have even been able to appear heavy-handed. That may yet turn out to be their Achilles heel; for, as they focus on defeating the PNP in Parliament, they may lose the battle for hearts and minds in the court of public opinion. They may have good ideas, but if they ram through legislation without adequate public consultation (as they did with the National Identification System bill), they may face a backlash from a public that is largely of no fixed party affiliation.
The political strategy of the PNP seems to be to sit back and wait for the JLP to make mistakes. That reactionary approach is not going to endear them to the electorate. The JLP has no stated guiding philosophy to inspire and attract devotees, which in the past has put them at a disadvantage against the PNP with its national vision and appealing mantra of "equality and justice"; but under a series of opportunistic leaders, the PNP has lost its way, and is suffering electorally.
The PNP has surrendered the moral high ground to the JLP, especially in the area of the environmental sustainability of the development options it has advocated. Unless the PNP puts petty politics aside and focuses on renewing a national vision, its public support is likely to continue to slip.
The disillusionment of those who expected the JLP under its young leader to practise a new style of politics, with less corruption and cronyism, may by now be far advanced. For the JLP to consolidate their political position, they need to renounce old-style politics - not only in word but also in deed. A repeat of pre-election bollo-work bushing and road work, and crony contracts, will turn off even more well-thinking Jamaicans. We await serious campaign finance reform, public declaration of assets by politicians and public servants, and transparent appointments of boards and public officials. Without these advances, the same old-style politics will thrive, and the JLP will be indistinguishable from the PNP.
OUTLOOK FOR 2018
Despite the big talk, the link between politics and crime has not yet been broken; we bring few Ponzy schemers and lotto scammers to book in Jamaica, largely because of inter-connectedness. Our efforts at "zero-tolerance" have been laughable: just count the number of motorcyclists who openly ride past police stations without helmets.
How the government handles the industrial action by police lawbreakers will be a measure of how serious we can expect them to approach the escalating murder rate in 2018.
The national unions of teachers, nurses, and farmers are foundation members of the PNP; their members repeatedly are appointed to the Senate on the PNP side. This is why the PNP, when in government, are better able to get the public-sector unions to accept wage freezes and to hold strain. We watch to see how the government negotiates itself around the present situation which the PNP, I am sure, will not wish to take credit for.
This coming year will be interesting, if nothing else. We will either see the beginnings of political and social renewal, or the continued triumph of old-style politics.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org