Ian Boyne | PNP firm under Phillips
Peter Phillips could have been dealt a better hand than he has today playing his political cards at the National Arena. He could experience the rhetorical flourish of lashing a Government with inflation out of control, unemployment spiralling, economic decline, schools in September chaos, a health crisis, and a scandal that elicits outrage.
The Firearm Licensing Authority scandal could have been handy, except, unhappily for Phillips, that scandal showed up in a previous People's National Party (PNP) regime. Audley Shaw's staggering phone bills could also qualify as a good hand except that extravagant phone bills (though of a lesser magnitude) also featured in a former PNP administration. Shucks! But there's one card he can draw with some relish the crime card.
That 'bad card' that the criminals have drawn on this entire society has provided the opposition leader with enough ammunition to blow up his political opponents' boast that the Jamaica Labour Party is a better guardian of our security. Apart from that minuscule part of Jamaica where there is our only zone of special operations, Jamaicans dare not sleep with their doors open under this administration.
After talking for months about creating zones where criminals would be separated from communities and then coming to Parliament with a bill that was rushed through, the prime minister delayed further before naming our first zone and then in an area which, it turns out, had only seven murders for the year, not the 54 the prime minister was misadvised about. Since then, murders have been continuing outside that small zone, and right there in that same parish of crime-infested St James. Yet the prime minister has declared no other zone and we have no indication when he will or whether he will. Criminals are now thinking it's business as usual. Phillips has something to go to town about today.
He won't miss that opportunity. It doesn't matter that he might not have the magic bullet for crime. When you are in Opposition, it is enough to rail and rant against those who are in Government. We will just assume you have the answers and surely would do better. But don't take that away from Phillips today, for a man must rinse the dirty linen he finds.
It would have been much better for the former finance minister if he could point to economic decline, increasing poverty and economic hopelessness under the JLP. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme that he observed with religious devotion is being followed with equal zealotry by the Holness administration.
With bad-luck timing for Phillips (Did he not consult any of the Indian astrologers?), the IMF held its end-of-visit press conference on Thursday afternoon where it issued a sanguine assessment of the Jamaican economy under Phillips' political adversaries.
"Jamaica's economic programme continues to deliver strong results, supporting high confidence and increasing job creation. All quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks at end-June 2017 were met. The central government's primary balance surplus exceeded the programme target by a healthy margin, mainly from buoyant corporate income tax. Non-borrowed international reserves also overperformed, and inflation is anchored within the Bank of Jamaica's target of four to six per cent." Good report card for the Holness administration.
The IMF was not finished: "The Jamaican economy is rebounding despite the impact of weather swings in 2017. Growth has been positive for nine consecutive quarters, with strong performances especially in tourism, construction and manufacturing." Usually, jobless growth is a problem in contemporary capitalist growth. But not so in this case, depriving Phillips of a potentially potent criticism of the JLP's growth model.
"Unemployment reached 12.2 per cent in April 2017, a seven-year low, along with a sustained expansion in the labour force." Phillips won't have as much fodder today for histrionics and demagoguery. He will have to balance the demands of the moment for raw politics and rabble-rousing which he can't totally ignore with the imperative of raising the bar of national discourse. There are those who are looking to that from Peter Phillips. And he is eminently capable of delivering.
Peter Phillips deserves to take that platform today as leader of the People's National Party (PNP). There is nobody in that party more qualified, more intellectually prepared and sophisticated, and more experienced for leadership. No one is fit to credibly challenge him at this time. He has conducted himself honourably during the tenure of the former leader of the party, Portia Simpson Miller, wisely refusing to demean her or to undermine her, as some others have done. Peter Phillips has paid his dues, and today when he rises to give his first presidential address at a party conference, Comrades will rightly honour him in exultant jubilation.
Peter Bunting has played his cards well. He is no political fool. He cleverly did not challenge Portia for the leadership and won't challenge Phillips now. Time is on his side. While Phillip Paulwell is strong within the party and especially in the powerful Region Three, he would not have the national appeal of Bunting. Phillip has been damaged over the years with a succession of what the press has labelled scandals. Whether they are genuine scandals or not, that is the widespread public perception.
Bunting, though, with his wealth, affable, pleasant personality, and political sagacity will be formidable in the future. I expect him to give Phillips all his support and to prove a valuable member of the team. In the meantime, he will be building his base to trounce Paulwell when the time comes. Despite the ageist nonsense against Phillips, the party leader is more avant-garde and sharper than many in their thirties. They are no match for him.
The PNP is in good and firm hands under Peter Phillips. With his enviable and impressive record as finance minister, leading the heavy lifting in changing Jamaica's economic course, Phillips has gained the confidence of the moneyed classes and Jamaica's elite. He is highly favoured by this newspaper and is respected in media generally. The business class and Jamaica's power brokers trust Peter Phillips, and if Holness skids, they would easily dump him for Phillips. Phillips has a track record with them. That's why he is the best man to lead the PNP at this time.
But Phillips has one major obstacle: Andrew Holness. Andrew's major asset is not his economic management skills or his cognitive abilities, strong as those are. It is his character and personality. His emotional intelligence. Andrew's emotional maturity, his ability to take criticism without harbouring malice, his eagerness to listen and his respect for civil society make him a hardy opponent. Holness is not an arrogant, insecure leader. This is an enormous strength in politics that can lead to self-delusion. Andrew would not be leader of the JLP had he not known how to give and take and to broker compromises.
So Andrew Holness is not likely to outrage people. He is conciliatory to the point of being indecisive. (On the issue of crime, he is frustratingly so.) But there is one major vacuum that Peter Phillips is most suited to fill, and he must use the opportunity to do so today. He must articulate a clear vision for Jamaica. He must go beyond Andrew Holness' narrowly economistic programme. He must articulate a vision of building citizens; of building a people with a sense of common purpose; a sense of working for something larger than themselves.
Peter has the intellectual depth and the Norman Manleyian robustness to articulate for us a vision of a New Jamaica. A vision of our better selves. Jamaica is lacking that sense of common purpose. Economic growth alone can't inspire citizenship; only atomistic individuals. An updated version of money jingling in our pocket is empty and uninspiring. With the two parties following the same economic programme, the difference, dear Peter, must be in the vision of building that New Jamaica. Articulate that for us today. Give us some vision, lest we perish. For we can't live by economic growth (bread) alone.
He must articulate Norman Manley's vision, which is even more relevant in the 21 century.