Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Fatal flaw - Failure to debate sounded PNP’s death knell says Robinson review committee

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2016 | 6:00 AMArthur Hall
Head of the PNP election review committee Julian Robinson (centre) with the man who had the official title of campaign director for the 2016 general election, Dr Peter Phillips (left), and Phillip Paulwell (right), who many Comrades claim ran a parallel campaign.
Simpson Miller's silence when the PNP opted out of the debate might have cost the party the election.
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Sunday Gleaner sources in the People's National Party (PNP) are reporting that a review of the party's defeat in the recent general election has concluded that the decision not to participate in the national political debates was a fatal error that consigned it to defeat.

According to the sources, that is the major finding of the Julian Robinson-led committee, established to conduct a formal assessment of the factors that contributed to the electoral loss that has left Comrades still hurting more than three months after the results were announced.

While the report has not yet been made public, it was presented to members of the PNP executive last Monday, and sources say many were shocked by the frank and brutal language it contains.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that the review committee found that the PNP entered the election campaign with unresolved issues among members of its leadership team who did not trust each other, and this led to a dysfunctional and disjointed campaign.

In addition, the Robinson-led committee found that the party's message did not communicate hope and was incoherent.

"The committee said the poor communication was made worse by the decision to raise the issue of Andrew's (Holness) house and the failure to offer an effective counter to the JLP's tax plan," said one source.

"It also found that the party's internal machinery was not ready to fight the Jamaica Labour Party on the ground as there was low morale with the issues relating to the selection of candidates like Damion Crawford, Raymond Pryce, and even the effort to oust Lisa Hanna, splitting Comrades," added the source.

The Sunday Gleaner also understands that the report bashes the leadership of the party over the timing of the election, which it initially indicated would be called before the end of 2015 when the PNP was active on the campaign trail, but was finally called for February 25 and ended with the party suffering a one-seat defeat.

"The report does not name the persons who should shoulder the blame but anyone who reads it would know at whose feet the blame should be laid," said the source.

"Many persons will not want this to go public because they expected the usually mild-mannered Julian Robinson would have walked circumspectly through the raindrops, but the report presented is anything but mild," added the source.

At last Monday's executive meeting, a decision was made to delay going public with the report, with some senior Comrades arguing that it should remain an internal document, while others argued that at least an executive summary should be released.

That issue is expected to be discussed when the PNP executives meet again tomorrow, but the source says Robinson, a deputy general secretary of the party, is among those who believe the public should be privy to the findings of his committee.

"We cannot be like the JLP which commissioned a report into its 2011 general election defeat and all now senior members of that party have not seen it," argued a senior member of the PNP who believes the report should not be kept secret.

"We have to win back the confidence of the majority of Jamaicans, and to do that we have to show that we can do an honest review, and that we did not follow the other party and make wild promises that we knew we could not keep. In addition, it has valuable recommendations for us going forward," the PNP official added.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that among the key recommendations are for a strengthening of the party's secretariat, a reform of the party's groups and the need to develop a time frame in which internal disputes are to be settled, and the adoption of a central campaign management manual to guide national election campaigns.

Robinson has already indicated that the report will be assessed by internal party channels before being made public. However, he said some of the recommendations can be immediately implemented.

According to Robinson, the report is expected to go to the party's National Executive Council in July for ratification.

The Robinson led-committee focused on three key areas for review: the government, the party and the campaign.

The review of the government was slated to assess the impact of the economic reform programme on the population, with emphasis on the communication of the benefits of this programme.

The party review was to examine issues related to candidate selection, the groups and structures and its core message, among other areas. In looking at the campaign, the committee was slated to examine the campaign strategy and message, communications, including social media and its management structure.

The committee conducted several meetings across the island and heard from scores of persons from the media, academia, the business community and grass-roots Comrades.