The 1.5 victory
Eddie Seaga, who has witnessed more elections than any other career politician alive, put it best on election night: This Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaign was "one of the most thrilling campaigns ever run in the history of Jamaica".
Mark Wignall, who when he gets it wrong does so spectacularly, wrote in his pre-election column last Wednesday that, "conventional wisdom still supports the PNP retaining Governmental power". And then he began preparing the stake for Holness' crucifixion by concluding his column: "Should that happen, the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) will rue the day it did not finish the business on Andrew Holness it started last year."
Andrew Holness settled a number of scores on Thursday night, and not just with the People's National Party, but within his own. He had people in his own party who were saying not too long ago that he was not winnable, that he was not really a leader, and that he did not have what it takes to unseat Portia. There were business people who told me that and who refused to bank on him.
But as I wrote on Sunday, "If the Jamaica Labour Party wins the election this Thursday, Andrew Holness' master- and martyr-strokes this past week would have played a major part." This election was won in just a couple of weeks. It was the shortest time frame to eke out a victory that I have ever seen. As I wrote last week, "What a difference a week makes! Many who played the requiem for the JLP up to last week are talking about the glorious resurrection of this past week ... . In the view of a number of persons, the political ground shifted." It began with Andrew's surprising move to give what many saw as full disclosure on his house, which brought him much sympathy capital and cemented him in the role of victim. That torpedoed the PNP's platform attacks against him and gave him time to concentrate on his game-changing, 1.5 victory plan. It is that equation that figures most prominently in this election victory. That, along with the issue of Andrew's mansion, plus the PNP's refusal to debate, is said to be the trinity of issues which did in the PNP.
One astute journalist told me that the issue of the debates would have played against the PNP in certain marginal constituencies of "the articulate minority", especially in the Greater Corporate Area. We can still debate how much the PNP lost by not debating, but what is not up for debate is the $1.5-million tax break tsunami.
I definitely felt that force and was telling everyone that the PNP would have a Herculean task to cross it. As I said in last week's column, the PNP's focus on trumpeting its achievements and glorious past four years was yesterday's news compared with the urgency of now and what the JLP was offering. It is not about what you have done but what you can do for me now or in April, in this case.
The PNP should have concentrated all its resources, human and material, in countering that 1.5 proposal. The party did try, and last weekend alone three releases, including a lengthy one from former Prime Minister.J. Patterson, came out attacking it. But it should have bought more airtime to attack it and show us why it can't work. In fact, the PNP's ads were far inferior to the JLP's, and its messages were not resonating at all, as it was addressing issues few were moved by. The kind of genius at propaganda that we saw in the PNP of the past was just not evident this time. The air campaign was crappy and disastrously ineffective while the JLP's was simply brilliant. Their PR campaign should be studied as a model of effective communications.
First, the JLP wisely bought expensive television time to broadcast its final mass rally. Don't underestimate this move. It gave energy, force, presence and a sense of victory - reinforced by an impressively huge crowd strength. This was the JLP's masterful debate substitute.
Most impactful speech
The PNP was having its mass rally in MoBay, but no one thought of tying up critical television time before the JLP. Fatal mistake. They surrendered a captive, debate-hungry Sunday night television audience to a super-energised, reinvigorated Andrew Holness. And they allowed Andrew Holness to deliver what was, in my view, his most impressive and impactful speech ever.
Andrew Holness did everything right on Sunday night. He was well scripted, but did it so flawlessly that all seemed so seamless, so natural, so spontaneous. That moment when his mother came on stage pulled at our heartstrings. Her tears were ours.
This poor boy raised by a struggling mother in a two-bedroom board house who now simply wants to build his dream house and people bad mind him! Elections, as I said again in my column last week, are not about "the best ideas, the best plans and the best record". They are about "tactics, strategy, optics, gamesmanship and winning hearts." The JLP trounced the PNP on all counts.
The PNP ran a campaign with a manifesto so vague, with so much of it merely talking about what it will continue to do, while the JLP was offering concrete, measurable, enticing things. I will say this: It is a tribute to the PNP and an indication of the loyalty it still evokes in many that it was able to hold on to 30 seats with such a formidable and brilliant political and propaganda campaign by the JLP. It was, indeed, one of the most thrilling.
And it was executed with surgical precision, as though from a playbook. I heard one commentator early on election night saying that perhaps the JLP should have come out with its 1.5 plan earlier. Some of these people giving commentary on politics seem not to have a clue about real-world politics. The JLP came out with its seductive, tempting and enthralling $1.5-million tax-relief proposal for a short window of time, for they could not afford to take the risk of it taking too much scrutiny.
Come out with it fast, give it just enough time to take root, to gain traction, but time it so precisely that it does not lose its grip on people who might start to ask too many questions. And the JLP saw that for most Jamaicans, that was the only one of the 10-Point Plan that they were talking about. So in media and on the platform, they concentrated on that. While the PNP was talking about achievements, the past and stepping it up. The PNP needs to understand human nature and the people in its PR machinery need to be acquainted with some research in neuroscience.
Too many ground-breaking experiments have been done in neuroscience to show what moves people and how they can be motivated. People will take a gamble with a proposal which has the allurement of a big reward, despite its risk. That is established in decision theory.
The PNP, to be fair, was simply outgunned in terms of this 1.5. They never saw it coming. Whoever gave Holness that idea should get a special reward (Is that Aubyn?) Under the austerity programme of an International Monetary Fund (IMF), it was difficult for the PNP to make a counteroffer. And the party couldn't better it when it was forced to tell us the JLP was reckless and could not work. This election caught people austerity-weary and in need of some stimulus. The last election, Andrew talked about bitter medicine, but this time he had just what the doctor ordered!
The PNP has an impressive record of macroeconomic management. It must get credit for taking truly bold decisions. The Portia Simpson Miller administration took politically risky decisions, which past administrations refused to take, for precisely the fear of what hit the PNP on Thursday night. Austerity is electorally costly. But in the interest of Jamaica, Porta and Peter Phillips took tough decisions which were necessary.
Yes, the JLP says we don't have meaningful growth and we need growth, but it must be acknowledged that without the crucial macroeconomic reforms of this past PNP administration, the JLP would have no foundation on which to build growth. Portia, a champion of the working masses, has made a stellar contribution to Jamaican politics. She has fought a good fight. She wears her political crown. She is a flawed leader, like all persons, but her heart has always been with the poor and dispossessed. I salute her.
Andrew Holness made an expectedly statesmanlike acceptance address. I have always had a high regard for him, as my columns will attest. I think he will do his best to make a difference. He is deeply committed to Jamaica and has an almost Messianic sense of mission. I like his reference to his victory as stewardship, rather than a prize, and his emphasis on accountability. Let us ensure that we remind him of that commitment.