Mark Ricketts | Too many mistakes plus the PNP’s wrong message
Until Peter Phillips, the People’s National Party (PNP), and Damion Crawford accept that their losses are due to too many mistakes by a leader with unfavourable rating, as well as their continued belief in yesterday’s message that has little relevance today, the party will only bumble from one loss to another.
As I said in my critique of the party leader at his last annual conference, “Imagine in this day and age of relatively weak GDP growth, a national debt that is still too high, and an inadequately trained and certified labour force, Dr Phillips major plank was a social revolution.” Big mistake.
Not a technology revolution, not a productivity revolution, not a growth revolution, in a country that produces no capital goods, and raw materials for the construction and manufacturing sectors are largely imported, but a social revolution.
Phillips social revolution encompassed the party’s populist themes of more than 50 years ago: mobilisation, volunteerism, community development, and land reform. To that, Crawford added a goat for every family in Portland and reiterated the party leader’s ill-conceived and inadequately thought-out policy of first in family university scholarships. That policy idea with its emphasis on redistribution and difficulty in implementation was dead on arrival. Huge mistake.
Why the leader, the vice-presidents, and the membership body of Comrades are without imagination and vision for today’s economy and tomorrow’s breakout is that they are stuck with a non-productive ideology and economic policy tools that they can’t parade as a model of development for small, import-dependent countries.
Moreover, they can’t use their own past performance in growing the economy to demonstrate their ideology works.
While the PNP muzzles its commitment to democratic socialism, that’s the party’s manifesto, and the leaders are still influenced by its major tenets, Dr Phillips continues to exaggerate the role of Government in production and resource allocation, and recites the party’s glossary of terms that “the basic motive forces for personal, group, and community action are cooperation not competition, and service rather than self-interest”.
The party still struggles with the concept of capital and wealth creation. It has a hard time accepting that the value of capital is not just to create wealth but to create things that matter to the society. It contrasts capital with labour, seeing capital as the bogeyman and owners of capital as always oppressive and exploitative.
It romanticises small as against large and profitable, and is uncomfortable with the ideas of big business successes. In pitting workers against capital, it lets people feel that they are not up to the task of excelling, and of achieving success through personal initiative.
The PNP’s message is unexciting with limited motivation. Whether Phillips stays or goes, if the mistakes he makes are not eliminated and he really isn’t up to the task of articulating a new direction in economic and political thought, and there is no other leadership talent in the party to fill the breach, then the PNP is in big trouble.
That would be unfortunate, as the Andrew Holness-led administration has a penchant for waste, corruption, scandals, cronyism, nepotism, and need guardrails, such as a strong Opposition and vibrant parliamentary committees to keep it on the straight and narrow.
Just hearing the ongoing Petrojam saga unearthed by the parliamentary committees and the schemes and plans to hide it from the public is disheartening. Yet the PNP can’t make headway.
What is happening to the PNP today is a severe fall from grace, especially for PNP stalwarts who bragged for decades that Jamaica is PNP country.
Now, Phillips, since assuming leadership, cannot win a seat for the party in either local government or general elections, only in garrison constituencies.
That is disappointing and it has placed him and the party in an untenable situation of no answers and no hope, as captured in words issued by party faithful, former general secretary Paul Burke.
Burke, using a car analogy, said the party has had a defective vehicle for years and do not want to admit the truth. Elaborating, Burke said, “If you have a vehicle with four bad tyres, faulty steering, poor shock absorbers, the driver will not make a difference.” Really!
Tell that to England’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair when he took control of a moribund socialist Labour Party, changed direction, emphasis, and policy tools, and made it relevant for most of England, not just a stodgy group of unimaginative leftists. Look at Singapore, which started well behind Jamaica before Independence. That country’s car was derelict, but leadership made a difference.
PNP seems stuck. The naysayers, while conceding that Peter isn’t a winner, conclude that it has to be him, there is nobody else. Clearly not a ringing endorsement, especially when you add all his mistakes, including running ill-advised and unimaginative campaigns, even when he was campaign manager in the last general election. His party suffered a one-seat loss. Now, under his watch that loss had increased to three. It now stands at five.
Another big mistake was walking away from supporting the state of emergency.
Phillip’s supporters tend to equate leadership with academic brilliance, irrespective of his mistakes, and since he is the brightest of the lot, he has to stay.
Some, such as his chief of staff Imani Duncan-Price, remind Comrades of his stellar performance in getting Jamaica started on the austere economic reform programme six years ago and maintaining it for three years as finance minister.
But if Dr Phillips can’t run an exciting media-driven election campaign; can’t find traction with scandals buzzing around; continues his unfavourability rating; and there is nobody else on the horizon to lead; and the party does not see it as important to scuttle democratic socialism, a non-workable and non-relevant ideology for Jamaica; then hope is lost as the country needs a viable opposition.