Orville Taylor | Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater…
He had a wife and couldn’t keep her. It might sound like a nursery rhyme but the PNP’s problems are about how they misused or simply lost the ability or the focus on the Ps. Perhaps because it believed that the P’s hold on power would have persisted past Portia, the People’s National Party (PNP) is in a pickle which it has actually created itself. Worse, it now has to handle another P, the ‘prosperity’ team, whose leader is more popular with his party and the electorate than either of the Ps who is punching for pilotage of their party.
Accustomed to the suitors telling the emperor that his garments are fine, even when he was naked as a pre-pubescent pickney in a pool, the party needs to ask itself one simple question. ‘Would you vote for this party to form the next government if you were not a blind, partisan, or tribalist Comrade?’ True, there are sycophants who are so benighted that they flood both traditional and social media with their diatribe, rhetoric, and demagoguery. However, elections are not won by these margin gatherers, who cannot see any good in their opponents or any negative in their own camp. These who oftentimes mislead the leadership into thinking that they are doing what is right put the ‘ass’ into the word biased.
The RJRGleaner Don Anderson polls a few months ago indicated that although the majority of electors were unimpressed by both parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had a seven per cent lead in answering the question. When the leaders of the parties were placed head to head, Andrew Holness was in fact more popular than his party, while Peter Phillips was less appealing to the public than his. That is worse news than when a man studies for the DNA test for his 12-year-old child and still fails with flying colours.
What the PNP seems to be banking on is that the myriad scandals of the present administration will give it a ‘fillip’ in the national popularity contest. However, although the words are homophones, there is a big difference. Worse, if a flat head is needed, the Phillips will never screw the joint properly. There were two protest demonstrations, one in Half-Way Tree and another in Montego Bay. However, it is spun, the first ‘tushed’ or as the British would say it ‘petered’ out. The second last week had a much larger crowd, one fitting for the incumbent party leader. It was also a decent showing of other senior party members.
More bark than bite
Yet, Sam Sharpe Square is notorious for pulling out vocal and visible supporters, who when it is time to mark the X or dip the finger are nowhere to be found. One will never forget, “150,000 strong can’t be wrong.” However, it was the prelude to one of the worst electoral defeats the party ever suffered. In any event, rallying the 30 per cent of Jamaicans who will always vote for the party is not hard at all. One does not hold an election with one handful of supporters. Rather, he must also convince non-Comrades to vote for him.
The issue at this point is not even whether Peter Phillips or Bunting will be better in leading the party or in leading the government. In order to do that, one has to defeat the JLP whenever the prime minister calls the next general election. So far, little indicates that the party can play defence, having given away their three home game points in two ‘must-win’ elections.
Given the absence of Peter the contender from the two street shows, one would be hard-pressed to believe that there is a united front. Indeed, one did observe that Bunting was also missing when the houses of Parliament honoured the memory of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, something some Comrades remarked was unbecoming.
However, absence always runs the risk of giving the impression that one does not support or find the activity sufficiently important. Whether true or not, absence might not make the heart grow fonder, but rather it might cause it to wander and the electorate of non-partisan Jamaicans to wonder.
Still, equally disturbing is the mass exodus from the House of Representatives by the PNP members on Wednesday, before Bunting was through with his presentation. No matter what the explanation is, it tells the public that they rate him so little, that they are willing to diss him in the face of their adversary and the nation.
Interestingly, his rejection of the otherwise strong Opposition support for the state of public emergency (SOPE) might also push him away from the non-committed Jamaicans, given that the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans are behind the SOPE. As uncomfortable as it might sound, dropping the SOPE and holding an election might be correlated.
Nevertheless, the PNP lost its way when it put all its eggs in Portia’s basket, harping on the P, the Poor, rather than the working poor. Portia’s PNP did little to push or pass positive, people-pointed progressive policies and legislation. The ‘socialist’ people-first agenda falling through the crack into a person-centred politic was the P that the PNP seemed to have forgotten. It’s a missing P in a hole which the party needs to slowly dig itself out of to appeal to all Jamaicans again.
Doubtless, the corruption of the present administration is as rank-smelling as red herring soaked in stale mackerel water. However, enough Jamaicans remember that the record of the PNP is not without its fair share of stale egg smells, too. Worse, there is a nervous discomfort that unanswered questions regarding Petrojelly might also precede the tenure of Andrew Wheatley.
Finally, as we stand united against corruption and violent crimes, we need a party that has the capacity to unite a historically deeply divided society. A party which cannot unite itself in the face of internal differences cannot be fit to lead a country.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.