Told ya so
Cawn't sey mi neva dida warn yu! Discerning readers would've spotted the 'rake' in the figurative political football game played out in my last three coded Sunday columns ending with JLP edging out PNP by 3 goals to 2. As predicted, JLP edged the government out of office (PNP 30; JLP 33).
Many Jamaicans were caught unawares, but none more so than our professional pollsters who were once again forced to lick raw egg from their lips. All had confidently predicted a PNP win. By the end of Thursday night's proceedings, the polling Don's body language on TV was not good, as his chair appeared more and more uncomfortable. He produced a pretty fair impression of John Maxwell on October 30, 1980 while desperately trying to wordsmith the actual results to fit his predictions. Maybe I'm biased, having published my own decoded, unscientific prediction and reasons on Twitter on February 23.
I'm tired of telling you to ignore poll results. They'll never be useful in predicting election results in Jamaica where the system of governance is winner-take-all and there are too many garrison constituencies. Furthermore, outside of garrisons, Jamaicans are private people who keep their voting intentions private. This obsession of pollsters with the 'uncommitted' or 'undecided' is a joke. In Jamaican politics, NOBODY is uncommitted, and their sole indecision surrounds whether they'll vote.
Jamaicans, who are private but polite, will always be coy with pollsters. And please don't quote me occasions when some polls appear to have been correct, because even a broken clock is right twice per day. The only way to accurately predict Jamaican elections is to habitually and genuinely spend time with voters as pals (not interrogators) and LISTEN to their stories. Don't send proxies; don't ask questions; stop trying to science Jamaican elections. You can't.
What pollsters missed was the PNP base's intense anger at their own government. By "base", I'm not speaking about professional ballot box stuffers or election-day intimidators. I'm talking about the regular people who make Jamaica 'PNP Country'. They include teachers, nurses, gardeners, waiters, security guards and domestic helpers. The only way one can get a sense of what's going to happen is to live well with these people. In moments of joint reflection, they'll tell you the truth about their feelings. This is a lifestyle thing, achieved over a period of years, and can't be encapsulated into a field trip with a pile of survey forms in your hand asking personal questions to strangers. Maybe that works in the first world, but not here.
Over two years ago, I told The Old Ball and Chain I was picking up a deep-seated, irreversible anger against the PNP from their supporters. As I tweeted when someone asked me, disbelievingly, how on earth I could be predicting a JLP win (impossible!), one security guard said to me, "Sir G, I can't even afford a burger for lunch. "Plus," he added in a tired, matter-of-fact tone 'Mi haffe walk to work and back home every day." His eyes filled with tears as he concluded, "An' she say she love de poor."
I've written about this repeatedly in my columns as an abstract concept, but this lament by this security guard was my source of identifying the political issue. A waiter once said to me, "Please write about the logistics hub, because only you can explain to me how it going to help me." That's when I realised I'd been wrong to assume I was only being read by two university nerds. Persons you wouldn't expect to be reading boring newspaper columns were regular readers. That's why I say these are the people I'm writing for. I don't write for Tom Topanaris.
PNP leaders never felt this anger because:
n Short-sightedness prevented them from seeing beyond the walls of their ivory towers;
- Voters' complaints were distorted by the towers' acoustics until they sounded like indiscipline.
So, Comrades lied to PNP pollsters encouraging Portia to 'call it', thus permitting them to serve that coldest of dishes, revenge. They were astounded that the PNP would so blatantly disregard the faithful in favour of passing IMF tests. To their shock and amazement, the PNP had become a conservative party, while JLP sounded more and more socialist, and Andrew Holness like Michael Manley.
The PNP only exacerbated matters by constantly obsessing about Andrew Holness' house rather than focusing on Comrades' plight; arrogantly refusing to debate the issues, as if the electorate were mindless dogs craving their masters' touch and obeying their masters' every command; and expecting music, curry goat and rum could buy forgiveness.
In 2011, the JLP did everything wrong and the PNP everything right. JLP spokespersons trashed the public service as being full of PNP hacks blocking progress and threatened to dismiss them. This alienated the entire civil service. Then, too close to election for comfort, Andrew took Omar Davies' ranting about JDIP seriously and fired Mike Henry. A disenchanted Mike Henry equals Clarendon lost.
This time around, the JLP offered civil servants a pay rise. Mike Henry was embraced, made a campaign manager, and transformed into an enthusiastic campaigner and dancer extraordinaire. I suspect Mike will receive a Christmas card every year from Ruddy Spencer. Meanwhile, the PNP, which campaigned against the JLP's defence of Dudus in 2011, embraced Dwayne Vaz and his notorious "load up de gu..!" in 2016. The PNP relied on traditional TV/radio/newspaper advertising, while the JLP commandeered social media.
THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN
Peter Phillips made a decisive contribution to PNP's defeat. As campaign manager, he jumped all over Andrew Holness' house like an Olympic bobsledder and wouldn't let go until Andrew publicised his private business. Then, Phillips produced not a scintilla of evidence of wrongdoing. It turns out the basis of Peter's curiosity was bald speculation and the urge to sling mud. When asked about it on election day, pre- and post-results, Peter continued to reference "integrity". But that's why we have an Integrity Commission (IC). If you've no evidence of corruption, shut up and let IC do its job.
Then, there was his persistent rubbishing (on flawed premises) of the JLP's tax plan. I've written that the plan needs tweaking, but is fundamentally sound. Peter Phillips' unreasoned attack on the tax plan, following on the heels of his persistent whine about Holness' house, exposed the PNP's priorities, none of which appeared to be redressing the electorate's financial devastation.
Like the proverbial bull in a china shop, Peter Phillips appeared capable of one gear: squeeze taxpayers to death; kowtow to IMF demands; pay foreign exchange bondholders on time. Meanwhile, his thrashing about to that end destroyed the china in the shop as taxpayers' purchasing power dwindled to wretched while they watched their leaders living high off the hog; driving Audis and SUVs; travelling the world first class; and racking up ridiculous paid-for expenses, including telephone bills. The stark incongruity of it NEVER seemed to dawn on PNP.
So, on Thursday, many PNP voters who couldn't bring themselves to vote JLP stayed home. Some accepted a free ride to the polls offered by the PNP's efficient election-day machinery, and then, once inside, stabbed PNP in the ballot. Late Thursday night, on her way to the massive stage blocking the public thoroughfare near PNP headquarters allegedly to make her first ever concession speech after her second electoral defeat as prime minister, I could've sworn I heard Portia mutter, "Et tu, Comrade?"
On election morning, asked if she would step down as party president should the PNP lose, Portia applied for entry to the Guinness Book of Records in the category of world's most-famous last words with, "Do I look like a loser?" Well, er, um, ma'am, yes, you do. You see, Mama, the only Jamaican political party leader to have lost more elections than you was Edward Seaga. Planning to try for the record?
Later, even after such an ugly defeat; after 42 seats were turned into 30; and despite facing clear rejection of PNP policies, Portia seemingly couldn't bring herself to make a REAL concession speech. After she'd finished, partisan or pusillanimous TV 'analysts' salivated all over her speech, calling it "gracious" and even repeating her description of herself as "big". I must've missed that speech. What I heard was her grudging concession that JLP seemed to have won but there'll be recounts and PNP recount reps must be vigilant and strong and pay attention to every detail. If that's a concession speech, then call me Pearl.
On the other hand, Julian Robinson tweeted, "The people have spoken. We accept the results. Congrats to the JLP. We will be a vigorous, constructive Opposition." He also said as much from the platform at PNP headquarters. Now THAT's a concession speech; THAT's graciousness; THAT's leadership.
The clear message from the Jamaican electorate to Portia and Peter delivered on Thursday night was "time to pack your bags and go".
Leave the PNP's future to youth like Julian and Lisa.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm .com.