Orville Taylor | Phillips steps out of his shadow
So the big man has cast a relatively large shadow Cabinet and has clearly put his own stamp and flavour on the People's National Party (PNP) as it waits with 'baited' breath for the next general election. Of course, the election is not due for another four years.
However, the retirement of the former Comrade leader, Portia Simpson Miller, PhD (honoris causa), and Dr Omar Davies, and the untimely demise of Dr Winston Green, have left the party with a larger deficit in Parliament, and there is nothing that indicates that the polls might be open soon.
Perhaps, though, the journey to St Mary might just give a hint, as the buzz of activity seems to suggest that the election is really a bye election, assuming that I got the spelling correct. Even so, if the PNP wins all, it would be only be defending its turf and, at best, would still be down by three seats. Therefore, choosing a shadow cabinet and offering the Jamaican electorate a viable alternative is all that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of the PNP, can do.
Dr Phillips, like his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) counterpart, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, can be guaranteed that his party stalwarts will vote for him. But tribalists do not win elections for their parties. It is the voters who are on the margins and who have no deep party loyalty. If he cannot capture the imagination of the non-green, he will continue to fill up the opposition seats until he retires from politics.
Despite what many see as a betrayal of some core elements in her thrusting Dr Angela Brown Burke upon her core supporters, Simpson Miller is still a popular figure in the party, and, though retired, does not look like a loser. Therefore, he must not marginalise those people who back her blindly and for whom she could do no wrong. He must also realise that he has to win over those other voters who had fallen out of love with Portia's PNP. It is a delicate balancing act.
NOT ABOUT COMPETENCE
At the back of his mind must be the fact that it is not about competence. It is about getting the voters to believe that the team he has put together can do a better job than the JLP is currently doing. Phillips remembers that in spite of the thumbs up that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave to his stewardship as finance minister, the voters still gave him and the party the middle finger, having dipped the index into the ink.
Although virtually a senior citizen himself, the good doctor carries the hope of the next generation of PNP supporters. He is, like Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, in the Matrix, when he is faced with the choice of two pills; the red, which opens up his eyes to the harsh reality, and the blue one, which keeps him in electoral slumber.
Facing a man young enough to be his son, who still has a menagerie of septuagenarians in his camp, sextuagenarian Phillips' picks have to masterly debate the present Cabinet and come up with viable criticisms. The set he has chosen is a reasonable bunch. Let us evaluate some of them.
Back from the future are Horace Dalley and Floyd Morris with labour and welfare. Phillip Paulwell returns to mining and energy; Dr Wykeham McNeill, tourism and entertainment; and the Rev Ronald Thwaites, education and training. Dr Morais Guy has got a step up to full responsibility for housing. Similarly, Mikael Phillips inherited his daddy's first ministry, transport and works; and Portiaphile Richard Azan is back there.
Young blood flows again in the shadow Cabinet, with Miss World, Lisa Hanna, now overseeing ambassadors with foreign affairs and foreign trade. Kamina Johnson Smith has a long jump on her, but Lisa has presence. She will be a good match, assuming that she learns fast. General Secretary Julian Robinson has a fuller role now in science and technology. Dayton Campbell will be a good foil for Dr Christopher Tufton in health, and the Ras is back - Damian Crawford, with full responsibility for youth. Good pick. I would have liked to see Raymond, but apparently the former finance minister is still keeping Pryces under control. By the way, how come Anthony Hylton has been saddled with development and planning?
Selecting attorney Mark Golding as finance and planning minister is a shrewd move. Not a PhD like Phillips, but Golding has lots of practical and tested experience in understanding and making money. He is bright and could have made a great academic but his role in establishing and running the super successful financial entity, Dehring Bunting and Golding (DB&G), is unquestionable. Still, he will have to contend with the communicative skills of finance minister, Audley Shaw, who might not have the kind of business record; however, Shaw is such a powerful speaker that he can sell manure to a cow farmer. He is a formidable adversary.
Peter Bunting, another part of the DB&G triad, gets industry, investment and competitiveness. Here, he faces the experienced politician who has been around so long, he might have ridden tramcars. The grass may be greener on the other side, but Bunting is a financial sage. He will be a handful for Minister Karl Samuda.
Fitz Jackson is a more experienced politician than Bobby Montague, who I assume will retain his position as national security minister. The murder figures have climbed under Montague's watch, despite the clear-up rates increasing and other major crimes continuing their overall downward trend.
Jackson has emerged as a sort of a hero, standing up for the poor account holders facing punitive action by the commercial banks. Montague has work to do, given some of the issues with demotivation and attrition within the constabulary, and the ambivalent messages the public get. Interestingly, Jackson's constituency has prepared him more for the job than Montague was. After all, the major St Catherine gangs reach into his Portmore 'Empire'. However, interestingly, the cops who investigate major crimes in that parish have one of the best clear-up rates in the entire detective corps. Montague is, however, a great debater.
This is the sort of opposition that is good for our democracy. Nevertheless, let us see if it takes the PNP back into the driver's seat. This is Phillips' last hurrah. He discarded the temptation of an idyllic ride and off into the sunset. He is no Neo. The electile reality is a harsh one, and he won't have the choice of taking the other pill.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and tayloronblackline