2017: Peter’s ‘party’ time - PNP president designate to face tough task after expected crowning
Dr Peter Phillips was convinced that he would some day be part of the leadership of the People's National Party (PNP), and with his coronation expected early this year, a former colleague says the man poised to replace Portia Simpson Miller will fulfil a lifelong dream.
Brown University Professor Anthony Bogues says Phillips has long had a belief that he would become a leader in the PNP.
Bogues told The Sunday Gleaner that he was not sure if Phillips contemplated becoming PNP president when he was recruited by the late former Prime Minister Michael Manley to serve in the party which was home to his father and grandfather.
Bogues, who served as researcher, speech writer, adviser, and a close confidant of Manley, also served as secretary of the PNP's Political Education Commission while it was chaired by Phillips.
The commission was responsible for the education and the philosophies taught in the Vernon Arnett, and later renamed the Michael Manley School of Political Education.
"I think Peter always thought that he would be in a leadership position in the party, and he wanted it too. That's not a bad thing. But wanting to be in the leadership of the party did not necessarily mean that he wanted to be the leader.
"And it's not something that I have ever discussed with him either. Now it appears that barring no other entrant he will be PNP president," said Bogues.
The United States-based Bogues, who is also a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, said Phillips must take the PNP to the days when it became distinguished for its stance on issues such as inequity/equality; justice/injustice, and restoring Jamaica's international presence.
He said any leader of the PNP must be concerned about class divisions and a society of justice, because of the party's core values and its historic mission.
"Peter must consider how he will reshape the politics of the PNP so the party will not only be seen as an electoral machine, but return to the space when it was the vehicle for intellectual political discourse among all classes, but especially among the educated, middle and lower classes," he argued.
According to Bogues, should Phillips become prime minister he must ask and answer the question of which economic model he will follow that will not further exacerbate the class divisions in the country.
"He must focus on creating a society of justice," said Bogues, as he argued that given Phillips' ministerial appointments and performances, he cannot be faulted on competence.
"He was given the ministries of health, transportation and works, national security and finance. Those are four of the most difficult ministries for a government, and he has demonstrated competence in all four areas," said Bogues.
He added that Phillips' competence in finance augurs well for him, but questioned whether the relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is in the country's best interest, given the history of the IMF in countries where it has intervened.
"That history is not a good one," charged Bogues.
For public commentator, attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley, Phillips has to immediately fix the ills of the party now in opposition.
"Let us be clear, Peter has only one chance to fix the PNP, and that chance may not be four years. He may not have the luxury of four years, given the geriatric component on both sides of the political aisle.
"Rather than having by-elections, the prime minister may call the big one, quickly. In that case, Phillips has little or no time," said Ashley.
He argued that Phillips' previous sojourn in the Rastafarian movement may help him greatly in mobilising the intellect and the under-30s age group that controls much of the votes.
"The overarching point though is that he has, as the immediate task ahead, a return to party discipline in the era of new media, where rigorous debate takes place and positions are not sent to the media.
"There has to be an agreement on the party's core values with a modern interpretation on which everyone who is going to be a PNP candidate must agree," added Ashley.
"Candidates must be properly schooled in the party's history and values. He needs to overhaul the party's electoral machinery into turbo shape, and it has to be crystal clear the messages that will be sent from the party.
"The candidates must be carefully selected and trained in political education, and its integrity commission must be proactive."
Ashley said Phillips must make clear the differences between the two parties, as the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) appears to be moving more left than the PNP.
"Being left of the JLP is not something that can be contemplated. He needs to recapture that position. He needs to begin the mobilisation of funding for the party that it badly needs," he stated flatly.
Phillips' son, businessman and member of parliament for Manchester North West, Mikael, calls him Daddy, mentor, and friend.
"It's a privilege to serve with my father. And service in your party does not necessarily mean you have to be the leader. Some of the finest Comrades I know are those who serve among the people at the organisational level to mobilise on behalf of the party," the younger Phillips argued.
He said he was not overly perturbed about the age factor, as the PNP has always encouraged young people to be among its body as it builds a coalition of age and experience.
"Daddy will continue the rich history of the engagement of young people. The PNP cannot be seen only as winning elections, but must return to its role as a vehicle for nation building and a development of the mind and thinking of the masses.
"It was a movement that gave a voice and opportunity to the masses. The reinstatement of its core values is a must," declared the younger Phillips.