Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Mark Wignall | Is Phillips finding new strength?

Published:Sunday | September 1, 2019 | 12:14 AM
In this December 13, 2018, photograph, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson (centre) speaks with Dr Peter Phillips (left), PNP president, and Peter Bunting. Phillips is fighting for his political life as he and Bunting will clash in an internal election on September 7.

Dr Peter Phillips of the PNP is the JLP’s dolly baby. Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his JLP administration would all like to buy Peter Phillips a fluffy teddy bear, give him a lollipop, sing him a lullaby, and send him back to bed.

Long before the Bunting challenge, that was the JLP’s general position.

But there is a big problem, and it includes the reality of Peter Phillips being fully out of his previous sleeping mode and actually liking the idea of finding new political relevance. That is now part of the JLP’s problem.

A year ago, and in the months that followed, Peter Phillips was in ‘Seaga’ territory, where his political relevance could not be questioned, but his electoral possibilities were deemed less than nil. And I speak, of course, to that time in the JLP, in the 1990s, when Seaga railroaded his party apparatus into believing that he had another electoral hurrah in him after the huge 1980 win.

It was quite difficult to convince Seaga that there would be nothing in the political future that would include him being prime minister again. Thus, through his political eyes, the last thing he wanted to see was his electoral unviability staring him in the face and seeing it happen in real time as the PNP won election after election.

But it happened and, Seaga had to be forced out of JLP leadership to give the party a chance to breathe the sweet air of electoral relevance.

“The PNP is going to do what we have always done. We will stand by the leader, Peter Phillips,” a 67-year-old delegate from the Eastern Kingston constituency said to me late last week. “Yu sey him weak now, but when we rally roun di leader, we always come out stronger.”

The point the PNP delegate was making to me is that although he absolutely hates what Bunting has done in challenging the PNP leader, he must confess that it has brought new life in the opposition leader. “Yu nuh see di man all a dance now. A him we gwine stand behind. Him is our only leader,” the delegate told me.

I am still not entirely convinced that there has been a radical change among PNP delegates to create any mystery in how they are likely to vote on September 7. Tradition drives those, especially those who refuse to see a train heading fast to crash into them.

Is the Rise United Bunting team at its peak, and has it peaked too early? “That is foolishness,” said a PNP delegate from Linstead. “Don’t follow di big guys who pushing up dem face. Is we gwine mek di change and elect Bunting,” the delegate said.

JLP money men may support the Phillips team

It is the biggest open secret in this country that the present JLP administration and its party apparatus want to see Dr Peter Phillips returned as PNP president.

The opposition leader has not, in any interview that he has done, made out the case that he is not an electoral handicap. He cannot fully face up to the fact that polls have consistently placed him not just behind his own party, but always in a losing position to Andrew Holness’s JLP.

But in making his campaign about his fairly decent political past, that very past is blinding him to seeing where the future of the PNP lies.

“I can’t speak for all the rest of them, but I am comfortable with this JLP administration,” said a businessman of note who preferred to remain unnamed. We were at his office one day last week. “For the longest time, we are now seeing some stability in the system, and there is an effort to pumping up the employment rate,” he said.

I asked him the direct question: “Would you push any funds now in the PNP race, and, which side which you prefer?”

He laughed heartily. “It doesn’t work like that. My company gives just about equally to both political parties for strategic reasons, but I will always find a way to push more to the JLP than the PNP, especially in campaign times.”

He was being evasive. “Would you give money to the Peter Phillips side to ensure his victory and eventually a JLP victory in the next election?’

He stared me in the face and said, “What do you think?” I took that as a yes.

“Would you say that there are others like you who would do that?” I asked.

“Everyone has their own approach, and so I cannot speak for them. What I know about them is that they like stability, and many of them will never forget the time of the 1990s and Omar Davies as PNP finance minister during the financial meltdown.”

It’s crazy work if you can get it

Chupski and I exited the car, and as she headed to the pharmacy, I made my way to a little joint in the well-known shopping centre. As I rounded the corner near to two ATMs, a lady, well decked out in full denim suit, greeted me, saying, “Could you please give me $50, if you can afford it?”

I stopped and stared at her. “Did I not give you a hundred dollars right here about six months ago?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, with little hesitation. As we spoke, a man exited one of the ATMs and gave her a $100 bill.

She seemed willing to talk. “Do you do this for a living?” I asked.

“Yes,”’ she said. I asked her where she lived, and she told me that she lived in the community that gave its name to the well-known shopping centre.

“Why do you do this?” I asked. “Don’t you feel any shame?” I asked her that because all of her language, her bearing, and her responses pointed to her being middle class.

“I used to feel that way once before I was used by someone who was close to me.” As I heard Chupski calling me, I gave the lady a hundred dollars and accepted that I had been conned.

About a year ago, the 64-year-old man got sick and was taken to KPH. When he left, he was placed in a wheelchair and many of his friends thought he was at death’s door.

There are times I pass him while I am close to a transportation hub in Kingston 19. I never liked him before he became sick because of how he behaved. But seeing him in the wheelchair prompted me to give him ‘two bills’.

Then about a week later, I was in a little joint in a ghetto community nearby and he was in the bar while his wheelchair was wrapped up outside. He offered me a drink and I accepted a beer. He was laughing and his ‘confederate’, the person who pushed him around, was laughing, too, as he greeted me.

I led the ‘confederate’ outside because I knew him. “Is what going on? Di man sick or him no sick?”

He placed one arm around me and said, “Di man get better, but him mek so much money inna di wheelchair dat it nuh mek nuh sense him can’t get a hustle out a it.”

“So how it work?” I asked.

“Mi push him round just likkle bit, but mostly, him park outside one supermarket wid me behind him. Him face heng dung and look sick, and when we mek enough money deh so, we move to a different spot.”

“At the end a di day, we split it up between me and him. We nah rob nobody.”

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.