Mon | Nov 18, 2019

Bunting: No regrets challenging Phillips

Published:Monday | September 23, 2019 | 12:13 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (right) welcomes Peter Bunting onstage while making his president’s speech at yesterday’s annual conference.
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (right) welcomes Peter Bunting onstage while making his president’s speech at yesterday’s annual conference.

The disunity set on by the presidential challenge in the People’s National Party was on full display yesterday at the public session of the party’s 81st annual conference.

Peter Bunting, who lost by 76 votes to the incumbent Dr Peter Phillips, did not address the Comrades at the public session, a situation which raised eyebrows among onlookers.

Bunting, who had campaigned telling Comrades that Phillips could not defeat the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party at the polls, said he did not to address the conference because of internal resistance within the party.

He was originally scheduled to address the Comrades at 12:35 p.m., outside of prime time, for five minutes.

Sources told The Gleaner yesterday that Phillips’ supporters opposed Bunting’s speech as they were not sure what message he would have brought or how he would have been received.

“Different people have different opinions, and I think that it is better that we wait until all are welcoming of the initiative rather than force it too quickly,” Bunting said, addressing the issue.

One of Bunting’s allies told The Gleaner that despite public and private efforts to show unity, some from Phillips’ camp had been less than warm behind closed doors.

“Our people have been getting bad vibes ever since, and I am not sure where all of this will take us, but it seems as if it will be a while before anything substantial [in terms of unity] is achieved because, according to them, we are the losers, so we have no say in anything. So it is a ‘wait and see’ from here,” said the member of parliament, who asked not to be named out of fear of being further targeted.

‘peak experience’

Bunting, however, said he had no regrets challenging Phillips for the presidency of the party.

“I have no regrets about it. In fact, it was really one of the most profound experiences of my life. Certainly, it was a peak experience in terms of my political career. We really energised the party, and the opportunity now is how to channel that energy into a genuine, long-term renewal of the party,” said Bunting.

He said that he had an important role to play in uniting the party going into the election season.

“I had signalled from the very evening [of the presidential election] that we accept the will of the delegates and that we would all fall in line behind Dr Phillips,” the former PNP general secretary said.

Bunting disclosed that he met with Phillips a few days ago and that they have established a committee to bring the factions together.

“In any campaign, there is going to be some bruised feelings and some hurt, and you just don’t ignore it and move on,” Bunting said as he sought to explain the role of the committee established to mend the fences.

Bunting surrogates, including Ian Hayles, Mark Golding, and Dayton Campbell, were all pushed to the back seat of the conference, and they appeared less than ecstatic about the afternoon’s proceedings.

Bunting, however, said that he has told Phillips that he and other members of the Rise United camp were available to serve in the shadow cabinet.

Most of the opposition spokespersons who supported Bunting during the presidential campaign offered resignations from the shadow cabinet, but Phillips had asked them to remain in their positions until after the conference.

Phillips has said that he will shuffle the shadow cabinet.

In the meantime, Bunting said he has shed leadership ambitions, for now.

“That is not on the table now at all. We have had the contest, and the delegates have spoken. We accept that and now move forward under the leadership of Dr Peter Phillips to the next general election,” he said in response to queries about his next move.