Mark Ricketts | PNP Conference might save divided house
Last Sunday’s Gleaner carried a poignant but telling cartoon by Las May depicting a beautiful building with imposing columns conveying strength. The building was flattened to the ground as if hit by a hurricane.
An inquiring onlooker, seeing the demolished struture, asked quizzically, “Who win the presidential race?” A bystander, staring at the once-impressive building, replied, “I don’t know, but I know who lose.” Her words were a gem, capturing the phrase ‘a house divided cannot stand’.
The PNP house is divided irrespective of the overtures made by the combatants after the results were announced. This division is confirmed by the clear expectation of victory by either side, the number of votes each side got in the high delegate turnout, and the close margin of victory, making it harder for opposing sides to get together.
The let-down is tough, irrespective of the irrelevant analogies pundits offer with other leadership contests – Portia vs Phillips and Holness vs Shaw.
With those challenges, the party leader either led the party in a general election or had been prime minister. Not so with Phillips. Two years after assuming the leadership, uncontested, he wasn’t even given a chance to continue rebuilding the party organisation and be at the helm for the next election.
This is why I find Bunting’s precipitous move so disturbing, especially as Phillips had begun to recruit new faces to represent the party, including Wolmer’s past principal Walton Small; university lecturer, Dr André Haughton attorney Valerie Neita-Robertson; ex-parliamentarian Joan Webley; and business entrepreneur Imani Duncan-Price.
What made it more troubling was that Phillips, aware that the PNP campaign capabilities, social media savvy, marketing strength, and outreach needed beefing up, offered the campaign manager’s job to Bunting. This, to me, was a call for help.
Bunting turned it down, opting instead to challenge his leader, although he knew the general election could be called anytime between now and 2021. The PNP, having lost the last general and municipal elections, as well as two recent by-elections, needed all hands on deck to be ready for the next election.
Instead of harmony and cooperation, the house was divided. Bunting’s Rise United assumed they could not lose; Phillips’ One PNP saw no way they wouldn’t win. Both sides brought in separate pollsters who must have offered comfort to each candidate by acknowledging that they would lose to Holness but win against each other.
To get a sense of the division among Comrades in the party, listen to the sincerity and pain in the words of Mark Golding, Rise United’s chairman, after the results were announced: “I expected to win. Our canvass was done in a very surgical way and had been stress-tested.” In other words, provision was made for every possible hiccup. Such a loss is not dispensed with easily, and momentum is not quickly restored.
Dr Dayton Campbell, the campaign manager, was floored, having predicted a comfortable cushion of 300 votes to cover all contingencies.
One major benefit Phillips has from this confab is that Bunting won’t be appointed PNP campaign and communications manager again. He just can’t cut it.
The major thrust of Bunting and his inner circle was that Phillips is not a leader who can win, and there is no way he can outdo the sprightly and younger Holness. Age and agility were recurring themes, implying that the younger Bunting, closer in age to the prime minister, stood a better chance of leading the PNP to victory.
Discounting Phillips’ qualities further, they said that the party was weak, lifeless, and asleep. He was not strong on reaching out and soliciting delegate participation.
With all those negatives, what a gift for Bunting! In our high-school days when I wore a younger man’s clothes, we called that ‘bat up and ketch’.
Now if Bunting can’t beat Phillips, who he considered old, inept, and enfeebled, how is he going to beat a younger and more agile Andrew?
Let’s concede that the party was in the awful state that Bunting described. Why was combativeness and confrontation a better option in energising the party than cooperation, coordination, and consolidation?
There was more publicity during the contest, but that can’t awaken the sleeping giant or ensure reconciliation once the battle is over.
The vitriol was too extreme, the acrimony too intense, the animosity too deep-seated, and the jostling was about personality over policy. This was political bloodsport firing up the adrenaline of delegates and onlookers, but the momentum was unsustainable once the victor was anointed.
The fallout from the leadership contest is not yet over. Many are on their Ps and Qs waiting for revenge or validation, come the next election.
If the party wins, the Bunting camp will take kudos for re-energising it.
If Phillips loses, the recriminations will start with the reminder that Phillips as leader is not a winner; Andrew will whip him every time.
The IBF (Is Bunting Fault) barbs will emerge from the Phillips camp. They will place the party’s loss squarely on Bunting’s impetuous leadership challenge, which divided the party, and hand Holness more than enough ammunition to ensure victory.
Even now, faith in reconciliation and redemption is fleeting as delegates publicly declare expressions of disgust in phrases such as, “Prime Minister Holness must be overjoyed getting his beating stick”, and “Phillips win, but Andrew laughing, Lord Gad.”
By Monday, there were resignations from the shadow Cabinet. By Wednesday, Phillips announced that investigations of claims of vote-buying and other allegations would be conducted.
Hopefully, this is not to get back at anyone, but is a principled stance dealing with corruption, to which the party is adhering.
It would have been better if there was no heavyweight fight so near to the election and more serious attempts had been made to pull the party together.
If the fight for leadership was inescapable, it should have been more centred on policy than on personality, on economic growth issues than on agility and stamina, on strategies for reducing our trillion-dollar debt than on age, and on modernising our agricultural sector than on self-centredness.
Such debates would help delegates focus more on a leader’s vision and competence in moving the party forward.
One consolation is that Phillips and Bunting had an amicable meeting on Tuesday. Another consolation, which is huge, is that the annual party conference is set for Sunday, September 22, and orange-clad delegates, all decked out in what might be ‘ONE PETER’ T-shirts, signifying unity, will come alive hearing:
The trumpet has sounded.
Let’s answer the call,
Let’s all be united.