Fri | Dec 4, 2020

Steve Rogers | Reasons for its loss the PNP should not ignore

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2020 | 12:07 AMSteve Rogers - Guest Columnist
FILE 
Dr Peter Phillips arrives at the People’s National Party’s annual conference last year September. The party has a serious need to address the core internal issues and reconstruct itself after the massive defeat in the 2020 general election.
FILE Dr Peter Phillips arrives at the People’s National Party’s annual conference last year September. The party has a serious need to address the core internal issues and reconstruct itself after the massive defeat in the 2020 general election.

I accept all the opinions that suggested that the ageing People’s National Party (PNP) leader was not an ideal match for the young Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader in terms of popularity and that that was, indeed, a factor in the choice made by voters on September 3, 2020. However, it was also evident for some time, and confirmed by their debate performances, that the PNP leader was light years ahead of the JLP leader in terms of understanding critical national issues and the management of solutions for the various problems facing our country. The JLP leader’s public-relations bubble was burst in that debate performance, and the PNP leader got a bounce.

But it was not enough, and why was that so? There was simply too much to overcome. A significant deficit was created as a result of two basic reasons.

One was the ill-advised challenge to the PNP leader in September 2019 at a time when all political analysts were predicting an early election. Indeed, the election occurred within one year of that debacle. And it was a debacle because one side – the so-called Rise United faction – ran a mudslinging and disgusting campaign with an emphasis on tearing down the incumbent more than on promoting the challenger. That damaged the PNP leader significantly and gave the JLP fodder for their advertising campaign. It also created a serious division within the PNP from which it never recovered. Unity in a political party – real or perceived – is essential to the party’s electoral fortunes. It is still a mystery how persons aspiring to lead a party would expect to achieve the necessary unity by creating and maintaining, even after a loss, a clearly defined faction within the party. This is inimical to the interests of the PNP.

But the PNP leader went on the road and, surprisingly, recovered some support. The results of national opinion polls confirmed this. After trailing the JLP by double-digit margins in 2019 polls, the PNP was able to reduce the margin to a single digit in February 2020.

Then came the second reason. In May 2020, with even greater expectation of an early election and a view by many that the PNP could have a fighting chance, the so-called Rise United faction of 15 MPs decided to strike again, this time by writing a letter to the PNP leader giving him an ultimatum to meet with them, or else. That was a devastating body blow to the party and the final nail in its coffin.

NO COMING BACK

Any objective observer must ask whether that was the intent. There was no coming back, and the JLP leader only bided his time before taking full advantage of what was clearly shown to be a seriously and hopelessly divided PNP. No amount of Band-aids could cover that festering sore.

The election results in those 15 constituencies have confirmed the deep divisions and the backlash from these ill-advised actions by the so-called Rise United faction. The PNP lost 15 constituencies in the election. Eleven of those 15 are constituencies where the then MPs signed the infamous May 2020 letter. The four of the 15 constituencies where MPs who had signed prevailed did so with significantly reduced PNP voter turnout and equally significant lower margins of victory, even in known garrison constituencies.

There are three possible conclusions to draw from these results. PNP voters were disgusted with what the 15 MPs had done to damage the party (by supporting the challenge and signing the letter) and they stayed away from the polls, or the MPs did not do enough to secure a win since their ‘leader’ was not party leader, or a combination of both. Identifying the answer requires further analysis.

It seems patently clear that the two basic reasons mentioned are what kept PNP voters from coming out to vote. Let us not be distracted by simplistic comments about an apology to a former leader being the reason, especially since those comments were made by a known Rise United apologist.

Another indication of the deep divisions in the PNP is the refusal by a high-ranking member of the so-called Rise United faction to sign the letter agreeing to the PNP leader being leader of the Opposition until the transition of leadership.

The bottom line is that so long as this so-called Rise United faction exists within the PNP (like a party within a party), unity will not be achieved, and the party needs to understand that and urgently address it if it is to have any chance of once again being a viable political option. Failure to deal with this problem will see what is left of the PNP remaining in the political wilderness for many years.

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