Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Whither PNP?

Published:Sunday | September 1, 2019 | 12:15 AM
PNP President Peter Phillips greets supporters at an anti-corruption vigil in Half-Way Tree on July 11.

It’s time to provide those interested with an independent, incisive analysis of the PNP leadership contest.

Previously, Jamaica has been fed with a steady diet of hype in national media; irrelevant polls; Comrades keeping JLP recorders hyperactive with devastating public insults against other Comrades; and a series of Luke Cage ‘columns’ reading more like advertorials than analyses. One such, presented as an ‘interview’ (in an opinion column?), allegedly took place at the challenger’s home while Luke slurped free oxtail and sipped free wine as the challenger munched on grapes. My usually reliable sources tell me no video or audio recording of the ‘interview’ was produced. Sigh!

So let’s take a closer look at reality. What we have here is a PNP incumbent leader elected by acclaim by party delegates just two years ago to rebuild a shattered organisation and take it into the next general election being challenged for leadership BEFORE that election by a third-tier leader whose APS (not a new digital discovery; an abbreviation for Ants-in-Pants Syndrome) seems to have run amok. The challenger’s previous flirtation with delegates to be leader was unambiguously unrequited by the same delegates he now asks to support him. Apparently, he never got over the rejection.

I can’t take it!

I’m so lonely.

Gee, I need you so!

I can’t take it!

Oh, I wonder

why you had to go

But, baby,

every night I wake up crying;

tears on my pillow;

pain in my heart;

and you on my mind

The challenger can’t wait. He just can’t abide any substitute for the seeming love of his life, namely, becoming PNP president.

Outsider’s chance of winning

But he has a problem. As shown two years ago, he’s not exactly popular with PNP delegates who’ll decide the outcome of his premature challenge in six days’ time. Also, he faces an incumbent leader who has the unqualified support (motives irrelevant) of every vice-president, every regional chairperson, and, in my opinion, save for Mark Golding (whose position is understandably unavoidable), every MP/caretaker of substance. So why does this contest appear to disenfranchised onlookers to be close? Why does it seem that Bunting has at least an outsider’s chance of winning? Is it Luke Cage’s hollow hype?

Answers have more to do with the archaic, undemocratic way PNP leaders are chosen than the large sums of money apparently available to the challenger for national promos. In the PNP, ‘delegates’ aren’t just chosen by groups of party members, but also by ‘affiliates’. Based on my own research, these affiliates have been (er, um) ‘recruiting’ members from as far back as early 2018 in anticipation of this very challenge. For example, former MP Jolyan Silvera openly admitted that he’d expected the challenge for more than a year so joined the NWU to ensure he’d have a vote. How’d he know he’d be a delegate? So, some of us, including me, would be justified in opining that this challenge was cynically conceived from before Peter Phillips was acclaimed leader, planned and strategised over two years unconnected to any ‘performance’ issues the current leader may have. The wide-eyed ‘oh-my-gosh’ innocence that relies on recent ‘callings’ is exposed as comical.

Delegates chosen by affiliates needn’t be PNP members, which creates the incongruous hostility to democracy that non-PNP members may cast votes for PNP leader while many PNP members can’t. Then there are party ‘affiliates’ frequently appointing affiliate members AND THEIR WIVES as delegates. Affiliates should be careful what they ask for in this regard because recent happenings in the Burke household prove that predicting wifely behaviour in 2019 isn’t as easy as it was in 1950. Generally speaking (Angela’s peculiar circumstances notwithstanding), I expect PNP women to vote solidly for Peter Phillips as the safer proposition.

Raw realities

Intra-party delegate selection is as artificial as ‘affiliate’ delegate selection, but at least these delegates are PNP members. Many party ‘groups’ don’t exist, so some delegates’ qualifications are questionable while some genuine group delegates are eliminated because of late submissions or other technical breaches foreign to fairness or equality. So, welcome to democracy PNP-style. Don’t read more than the raw realities into whatever result is announced on Saturday. Do you wonder why the Jamaican collective is always last on the list of political priorities? Wonder no longer.

Team Bunting’s calculated manoeuvres should permit him to eke out a majority of delegate votes from ‘affiliates’. Those MPs supporting Bunting could also try to influence any delegates in their constituencies (not all have delegates). But the days of MPs voting for ‘sign-for’ delegates have been over since EOJ’s introduction into intra-party elections.

As I previewed on August 13 (‘Mind yu pop yu bitta gall!’), these delegates “want to know which candidate will look after THEM (first) and the short-, medium- and long-term sustainability of party machinery (second) so as to maintain their piece of the political pie for as long as possible”. Intra-party delegates know who can look after them and who can’t. Or won’t!

I remember

all the good times

that we had before.

Oh, I remember.

Now my heart;

my very soul cries out for more

PNP intra-party delegates will have to admit that they were duped or brainless to reject Bunting and acclaim Phillips just two years ago in order to justify a vote against Phillips now. But that would be as false a confession as one by a man alleging that a Benz made him drive dangerously. There’s no evidence that anyone could’ve done better with party renewal and electoral chances over such a short period having regard to the shambles into which the PNP had fallen.

In the circumstances, the PNP has done well both as Opposition and as a political party to come so close in two by-elections where, in reality, it had no chance regardless of tradition (as I predicted on both occasions). Peter Phillips, as is his style, has been doing an excellent job of quiet rebuilding, without the hype that would only assist the JLP, while also leading a robust Opposition on key national issues like corruption and crime. So I predict, based on these, as well as intangible likeability factors, comparative histories of interaction with on-the-ground party workers, and PNP delegates’ conservative history of backing incumbent leaders, Phillips should win a comfortable majority of constituency delegates’ votes. Will this be enough to keep his job? You know I’ll be turning to the only pollster I trust, namely the bookie.

On July 3, shortly after the challenger announced, betchris published a line that offered Peter Phillips as the howling 5/14 (odds-on) favourite with Peter Bunting at 9/5. On August 3, Phillips had weakened slightly to 5/9 (still long odds-on) with Bunting shortening to 7/5. A week later, the odds against Phillips held firm at 5/9, but Bunting shortened further to 6/5. On August 27, the time of writing, Phillips was steady at 5/9, while Bunting, now on the drift, offered 13/10. Betting line movements look like this:

Phillips: 5/14; 5/9; 5/9; 5/9

Bunting: 9/5; 7/5; 6/5; 13/10

For me, Glenroy Anthony Michael Archangelo (‘Ernie’) Smith is one of Jamaica’s best songwriters, but in the beginning, all he wanted to do was write (and sing?) country music, which took Jamaica by storm in the 1950s. His first recording came after he’d submitted country-flavoured I Can’t Take It to be recorded by a ‘name’ performer but ended up doing it himself. The following flood of excellence deserves a prominent place in any Jamaican music museum.

I Can’t Take It was covered by American rhythm and blues singer Johnny Nash after he fell in love with rocksteady during a visit to Jamaica. But Nash released the song under the name Tears on My Pillow, and Ernie spent years struggling to collect royalties as it was confused in the industry with the song of the same name by Little Anthony and the Imperials.

But, baby,

all your love for me is dying.

Tears on my pillow;

pain in my heart;

and you on my mind.

Last weekend, Team Bunting failed to mount any challenge to regional chairpersons or to make inroads into NEC composition then papered over their obvious disappointment with a Trumpesque release, alleging, “Those elected today … have no particular relevance for the September 7th contest to elect party president.”

DWL! And Melania’s ‘meeting’ with Kim Jong-Un was just a “feeling”.

On Saturday, there’ll be no confusion. Somebody named Peter will sing “I can’t take it” AND “Tears on my pillow”. That depressed person is likely to be Peter Bunting after another emphatic rejection from delegates. The sole issue should be, where will Peter Phillips, steady in the betting and trusted to keep a steady hand on the PNP wheel, take PNP after this bruising, debilitating contest? Who will travel with him?

Peace and love.

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