Matondo K. Mukulu | Goodbye to the PNP – as we know it
Just a few days after his People’s National Party (PNP) was rightfully trounced at the polls, Paul Burke (former general secretary), came out and showed us why his party lost the election: too much inward analysis by persons whose time in the party has expired. It is now a ritual that, each time something of great public importance takes place that relates to the PNP, Paul Burke comes out with a tome. The last time he offered us an epistle, it was to scold his wife. I did not bother to read that partial love letter, but this time I engaged, while at the same time knowing full well that not much that he would have written would have impressed me.
It is still my view that one of the chief problems that the PNP has is the fact that it is hijacked by persons who are hell-bent on ensuring that the party’s maximum point of achievement will and must be what took place between 1972 and 1976. They pivot to that period and little do they recognise that the true lesson from that period for today is not what was achieved but how it was achieved.
What do I mean? Well in the first instance, the party at that time placed its faith in a leader who was relatively youthful and who, by virtue of his youth and earlier experience, had a radical social
vision for his country. He did not care to wallow in the party’s achievements of the past or prior to 1967. Instead, he set out to conquer new terrain with novel ideas.
Compare that with what we are hearing from Paul Burke in his latest missive: the worn-out slogan of “we put people first”, which was used in the 1989 election when I was a child. This type of unforgivable reluctance to engage the future with new ideas and a complete rethink of how to make a new party relevant for the next 60 years is reflective of an organisation that is not sufficiently persuaded of its irrelevance, and it would seem to me that, until it engages in a type of psychological and symbolic death, it will struggle to present itself as a government in waiting.
Secondly, the PNP under Michael Manley had the all-important feature without which no political party can hope to attain state power - trust. The PNP is not trusted by the Jamaican electorate because, during its tenure in office, it had questionable associations and/or Cabinet members who were not regarded as trustworthy.
Paul Burke makes reference to arrogance. That is not what is eating away at the party in the eyes of the youth. The party lacks credibility as an entity and, until it faces this, it will not be regarded as worthy of state power. In this regard, the great albatross of Trafigura and those associated with it must be confronted now, and those persons who are implicated should be told in clear terms that they have no place in a reformed PNP. Anything less than this course of action will not be sufficient.
Time for tinkering around the edges is no more if the party is serious about the future. It will therefore mean that, in selecting its next leader, it should apply the following materially relevant test – which of the contenders have a track record that imbues trust? It cannot elect a leader about whom there are whispers of impropriety. This is not something that the Party can dither about with the hope that somehow the electorate will forget by the time the next election comes about.
Political parties, those serious about attaining state power, invest in and promote young minds that are fired with the zeal to work hard on policies, or in the social media spaces and also on the ground in the constituencies. There is this perception among persons who want to serve that the PNP is the party that thinks that long service is sure proof of ability. It is this thinking that saw Dr Phillips being elevated as leader, despite the obvious fact that his time had long passed.
The young and capable minds are no longer gravitating towards this party, because they do not think that they have a realistic shot at being taken seriously, and those that it attracts were exposed on September 3rd. Witness Damion Crawford’s shockingly empty manifesto and his frequent “much more to be desired” attempts to sell a document that only a paid attorney would defend with much energy.
I must be clear here, when I say bright, I am not referring merely to one having attended a university. Instead, I am referring to that type of young person with the ability and time to engage in serious analysis of present and future policies across a range of disciplines, with the ultimate objective being to package a national vision that can change the quality of life for the Jamaican people. The party must attract those who are serious about engaging in a sort of permanent revolution and a never-ending search for solutions to the challenges that will confront our nation over the next 60 years.
It is not enough to say that the party has plans to promote coding. A party in a state of permanent revolution, and one that is deserving of the privilege of serving the Jamaican people, will be thinking through both the challenges and opportunities that such engagement will bring, and how this can be linked to the new type of agriculture that will guarantee food security while yielding increased revenues from the export market.
A talented bunch will work daily on how to create a modern healthcare system that does not ignore the sexual and reproductive health of the nation’s females. Importantly, a talented bunch will not attack media practitioners who do not readily agree with their views. On the contrary, they will engage in every media space, confident that nothing convicts and convinces like results, while focusing on that national project.
At this time, prescriptions are a plenty, but I will make this simple historical observation. When Tony Blair became leader of the British Labour Party in 1994, he recognised the importance of implementing radical reforms to his party in his quest to end the desert of power that it had experienced since 1979. The PNP were obliterated across the island. No real quest for state power will be taken seriously if the PNP undertakes lukewarm reforms. As a start, it needs to distance itself from those who yearn for a bygone era, and embrace those who are obsessed with creating a new, better and different national vision. James Baldwin was correct: you cannot fix what you are not willing to face.
Matondo Mukulu is a UK-based public-law barrister and attorney and Jamaica’s former deputy public defender.