Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Editorial | Peter Phillips’ shadow Cabinet

Published:Monday | October 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

If Dayton Campbell is given to thoughtful reflection about the human condition and is analytical about politics, he would be keenly aware of two things. One is that elections, even those internal to a political party, have consequences. The second is that it couldn’t have been surprising to Dr Campbell that he wasn’t named in Peter Phillips’ shadow Cabinet.

For, not only was Dr Campbell the manager of Peter Bunting’s campaign to unseat Dr Phillips as president of the People’s National Party (PNP), he was a most virulent carrier of Rise United’s message of Dr Phillips’ inability to inspire people and to lead the party to victory in a general election.

Of course, the greater responsibility for leading the post-vote healing of the PNP rests with the victor, in this case, Dr Phillips. And that obligation is more significant, given how fractured the PNP became and the relative narrowness of Dr Phillips’ victory – by 76 votes, or under three per cent. That, nonetheless, doesn’t remove the president’s mandate to lead, which includes putting in place a team that he believes will be best able to deliver on the PNP’s mission, but balanced against appointees with whom he can work.

So, while conventional wisdom, especially in the Bunting faction of the PNP, is that Dr Campbell was an effective spokesman on health who robustly challenged the actions and policies of the incumbent minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, for Dr Phillips, whatever else may be his calculations, the wounds left by Dr Campbell’s blunt campaign axe remain too raw for immediate conciliation.

And by not inviting Dr Campbell to the shadow Cabinet, he is perhaps signalling to his internal supporters his ability for political toughness, which many claimed he failed to exercise during his two years of leadership prior to the challenge, even in the face of warnings of forces being ranged against him.

However, while Dr Campbell was sidelined, it is significant that Mr Bunting himself, as well as his key ally and campaign chairman, Mark Golding, as well as prominent supporter of his challenge, Fenton Ferguson, remain in the shadow Cabinet – all with important roles. Mr Golding retains responsibility for the critical and prestigious portfolio of finance, while Dr Ferguson will oversee water, the environment, and climate change – a highly significant job for a small-island developing state like Jamaica, which has already begun to feel the ravages of global warming.

Appointment a Demotion?

We expect that some will see Mr Bunting’s appointment as the shadow minister for education and training a demotion from his previous role as spokesman on industry, commerce and competitiveness, to which he gave little specific focus, preferring to range over broad national issues, especially governmental corruption and national security, for which he had ministerial responsibility in the PNP’s 2012-2016 administration.

However, in today’s global environment, improving Jamaica’s educational outcomes, in tandem with its economic reforms, will be key to its competitiveness. Except for a few countries with extremely strategic resources, global competitiveness and wealth creation are increasingly knowledge-driven industries, especially those based in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Yet, not only does Jamaica lag in these areas, but no more than a fifth of students complete high school with passes in five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, including maths and English, at a single sitting.

Obviously, the circumstances demand that the policies and outcomes in education be transformative, for which there is emerging national consensus. Whether in policy formulation in Opposition, or as minister, should the PNP come to Government, Mr Bunting possesses the intellect and energy, if he has the will, to drive that transformation. We presume, given his post-election strength in the PNP, he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he didn’t perceive the assignment in these large terms.

What Dr Phillips must now demonstrate is that he can overcome the schisms in his party and position the PNP as a credible alternative Government. He doesn’t have much time to do it. And it can’t be done only by him.