Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Gordon Robinson: Jamaica's lost chance

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2016 | 1:20 PM

In 2011, the PNP successfully countered the JLP's campaign focus on Andrew Holness with a slew of youthful candidates.

Several under-40s were successful, including Lisa Hanna (South East St Ann; Region 1 chairman; minister, youth and culture); Dr Dayton Campbell (North West St Ann); Damion Crawford (East Rural St Andrew; state minister, tourism and entertainment); Jolyan Silvera (West St Mary); Arnaldo Brown (East Central St Catherine; state minister, foreign affairs); Mikael Phillips (North West Manchester; Region 5 chairman); Julian Robinson (South East St Andrew; state minister, STEM; deputy general secretary); and Raymond Pryce (North East St Elizabeth).

Of the eight listed, four secured ministerial appointments and two regional chairmanships (one secured both). Of the three remaining, Dr Dayton Campbell had begun in the law faculty before election so couldn't have handled any more responsibility in his first term, and Jolyan Silvera, more than once, found himself publicly at odds with PNP leadership. In 2014, he was reportedly prevented by the PM from attending the Mount Rosser bypass opening in an official capacity for being too casually dressed. In 2015, he joined disgruntled constituents in criticising the PNP for allegedly abandoning St Mary: "St Mary, which has delivered time and time again to the PNP, hasn't been treated favourably," he complained.

So, Campbell and Silvera's close association with Parliament's back benches can be appreciated based on reason. The meteoric fall of Raymond Pryce from bright young shining star and 'son' of the PM to political pariah isn't so easily understood.

Enough was thought of young Raymond Pryce before the 2011 election that he was one of a select few (only five) to represent the party in televised national debates. He handled himself with poise, skill and class (some thought his style a bit overbearing, but that's youth) in contributing significantly to a massive PNP youth debate win (teammates Lisa Hanna and Dayton Campbell). In the election itself, he won 63.5 per cent of the vote to rout JLP candidate Corris Samuels. In 2007, that number was 56.7 per cent when the PNP candidate was Kern Spencer.

Emotional Pryce

Who could forget election night's emotional photo of young Raymond Pryce, wiping away tears of relief and joy, hugged by Portia Simpson Miller? That was only a momentary loss of control, however, as Raymond's contribution to Parliament has been nothing short of superb, always professional, often brilliant and just the sort of youthful tonic required in a nation paralysed by decades of copying English tradition as compatible with local culture as selling chips wrapped in newspaper.

On the subject of Pryce's parliamentary performance, I need only quote the great George Davis, another sensational Generation Next product, who wrote (Gleaner column; September 16, 2015 ('Tears of a different kind for Pryce'):

"Only those with the coldest heart will smile at what has befallen this proud, intelligent man. More than a year before the tragic death of Mario Deane, ... Raymond Pryce asked his fellow legislators to support radical changes to the ganja laws. Pryce gave notice of his private member's motion on the subject on January 29, 2013.

"As was expected of him, his motion was crisp, sensible and benefited from his sharp intellect as he fended off the objections of those who wished to continue criminalising young men and keeping the country in the Dark Ages. His will go down as a significant intervention in the move to decriminalise and, ultimately, legalise marijuana use and cultivation in [Jamaica].

"His private member's motion about registration requirements for civil-society entities is perhaps more controversial, but, as is typical of him, has caused the nation to think and act on a very important matter.

"Raymond Pryce, the legislator, has done far more in his three years in the House than so many of his colleagues on the government benches in this cycle and even those who've been there long before him."

Borrowing comprehensively from some of the best appeal court judgments, I can only say, "I concur and have nothing to add."

With Jamaica at a cross roads like never before; when the choice of pathway forward is fundamental constitutional reform or death, the wit, intellect, youthful enthusiasm and commitment of Raymond Pryce in Parliament seems almost a sine qua non, especially with the experience of a first term under his belt. Yet, no place can be found for a man with his history and performance in any constituency.

In East Portland, incumbent MP Lynvale Bloomfield was challenged by, and lost a run-off vote to, Andrea Moore, but, before you could say "Burke's Law", Moore was out and the PNP had reinstated Bloomfield. Damion Crawford was challenged by Peter Blake and lost a run-off vote. But, before you could say "Burke's Law" twice, Blake was out and only Damion's refusal to take 'what-lef'' forced a brand new candidate on constituents. Attempts are being made by the party to find a seat for Damion, whose mouth is often engaged long before proof of brain activity and who gleefully advised constituents, 'Trick you!"

In North East St Elizabeth, Raymond was challenged by Evon Redman and lost a run-off vote. Somehow this brilliant young representative's run-off loss can't be overturned. The national investment in Raymond Pryce's parliamentary debut is to be discarded like bad gas. Constituents' protests are met with the sort of cold shoulder that could cause hell to freeze over. But Dwayne Vaz (I haven't forgotten you, Dwingbat) remains a candidate despite inciting horrific violence against Labourites from a political platform.

WHY? I believe the dirty little PNP secret at the root of this disgraceful discrimination is its bowing to bigotry. It begins before 2011's election, when Pryce produced and posted a perfectly suitable YouTube campaign video. Read the torrent of nasty comments from Jamaican bigots at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbmG54ijynA. Some of the more moderate comments include "Could this be Jamaica's first gay MP?" No, you closeted clown, we've had several in the past and will have more in future. These kinds of inane accusations are nothing new to politics, as even former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson felt he had to make a public declaration that he was an "impeccable" heterosexual.

If Raymond were gay - and I have no proof whether he is or isn't - it's no more of our business than it'd be should some moron ask if Portia, Lisa, Babsy, Shahine or Sandrea were gay. Gayness is no bar to being an MP; it should be of no moment in any election campaign; and comments like this expose why we desperately need sex education in schools from the earliest possible age.

Showing superb professionalism, Raymond soldiered on, ignoring the noisemakers. Then, one day in parliament, another St Elizabeth MP, J.C. Hutchinson, called Raymond a "fish", which is Jamaican for you-know-what. This, of course, exposed more of Hutchinson's pusillanimous puerility than anything about Raymond Pryce but the disgustingly callous, unnecessary slur suddenly went national. Again, Raymond responded professionally, which is to say he refused to make the substance of the allegation the issue and, like Mel McLaughin, moved on. It seems to me, the PNP has not.

In a rural constituency like North East St Elizabeth, no matter how "safe" the seat, it's politically dangerous to run a man facing these kinds of allegations. So, to my mind, the PNP had a simple choice. It could stand up for principle, performance and propriety or it could bow to the lowest common denominator. Guess which won the day?

Raymond is accused of conducting behind-the-scenes machinations, the public face of which include recent protests and the emergence of an articulate, intelligent, visionary independent candidate whose 'camp' includes many PNP stalwarts. What if he has been scheming? If his reward for loyalty and professionalism is discrimination vis-a-vis other incumbents, I don't blame him. Nobody can be more loyal to the PNP than the PNP itself. Plus, there's always Burke's Law: All's fair in love and politics.

Nationally, this is a sad moment. If the PNP doesn't reconsider, Jamaica will be the loser. Portia's unfulfilled promise to review the buggery law is now exposed as disingenuous proving PNP no different from JLP on this issue. I salute Raymond Pryce for his seminal parliamentary contribution. Don't worry, Raymond, you'll be admired. Your talents will be sought after. You'll succeed in life. Your legacy will be rich. Just not in a bigoted backwater like Jamaica.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.