Thu | Jan 24, 2019

Mark Wignall | Street more relevant than politicians

Published:Thursday | July 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

All of last week, the major argument at street level was what many perceived as the impending release of their hero, Vybz Kartel, due to what they saw as new information unearthed during Kartel's appeal case.

'Him a come a road fi Christmas', was one recurring theme, and that was supported by many saying that he was sentenced due to what they saw as class bias. 'Whole heap a big man do worse an nutten nuh happen to them. Fi wi system mek 'gainst di poor man.'

It was, indeed, the brave man who would dare suggest that Kartel would lose his appeal. Many were speaking in pragmatic terms and that gave way to a non-consideration of whether he committed a crime or was related to all the angels in heaven. That was the sort of relevance that our politicians were hungry for.

The relevance where in every other conversation, the politician is on the lips of the people. The last time that happened was not when Portia was in her ackee, leading up to her winning the PNP presidency and being named, automatically, prime minister. That time belonged solely to the late Michael Manley and, in the early to mid-1970s, he could do no wrong for the broad mass of people.




The present JLP administration and the opposition PNP probably know that as social media take over our lives, for every politician who is fashioned into an earthly God or a new messiah, there are enough people to highlight his fascination for dabbling in gutter politics or just plain guns.

It could be that Jamaica has not yet received the memo that a wave of populism is on the move, and the way a message is formulated and the more it is trumpeted are far more 'important' than effective policy changes for most of the people.

Moody's latest favourable rating for Jamaica is lost in this. 'Every few years yu hear that the country's economic system is stable and we are on the right track,' said the owner of a small business employing 12 people. Last weekend as we spoke he said, 'When are we ever going to be at that place where unemployment is at eight per cent and falling, real wages are up, and crime and shootings for two or three years are in decline?'

There is a sound reason why politicians are drawn to the hottest entertainment commodity on the market, or, at the very least, the music and the lyrics that are on most people's lips. In the early 1970s, Michael Manley held so high a popularity that the PNP was able to co-opt its own pop message in the form of a song done by someone with strong Michael Manley sympathies - My Leader born Yah by Neville 'Struggle' Martin.

In 1980, the JLP reached for Bunny Wailer's hit song Crucial and, just as how strains of My Leader would fire up the PNP base at a mass meeting, so would Crucial energise the JLP faithful in the days leading up to the October 1980 election.

The relevance that an Andrew Holness or Peter Phillips can immediately bring to the people is not to be be found in large numbers of Jamaicans outside of the party base speaking loudly of them and in glowing terms. "Mi like Andrew", said a young woman to me last week. She lives in a JLP garrison. "Him irie", was all she added.

"Right now Peter Phillips is a far, far way from Michael in the 1970s," said a 64-year old PNP supporter. "Him is a good man, but him boring."