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Editorial: Dayton Campbell and the old PNP

Published:Sunday | August 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We used to consider Dayton Campbell a promising young politician to whom his party and the country might look, in the future, for leadership. He still might be. But he has given thoughtful Jamaicans grave cause to wonder.

Indeed, Lloyd B. Smith, the People's National Party (PNP) parliamentarian for Central St James and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, would no doubt have had Dr Campbell in mind when he lamented the sense of siege being felt among many former members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) who crossed over to the PNP.

Several weeks ago, in a speech in his North West St Ann constituency, Dr Campbell complained bitterly about the "Labourisation of the PNP", which, at the time, might have been interpreted as his rejection of the willingness of the executive to welcome Joan Gordon-Webley into the party.

A hardened position against Mrs Gordon-Webley is in some ways understandable. She was a former JLP MP and, until recently, a hard-core activist, a throwback to the sad, old days of Jamaican politics when the country was split along ideological lines and came close to a civil war. Mrs Gordon-Webley was Roy McGann's opponent in the violent 1980 election, when he became the first sitting parliamentarian and government minister killed in a campaign.

But last week, Dr Campbell clarified that it wasn't Mrs Gordon-Webley that he had in mind, but several former JLP members who are now in the PNP, and especially Lisa Hanna, a former Miss World, who is now the youth minister and MP for the neighbouring constituency of North East St Ann.

Dr Campbell is publicly supporting an insurgency by some members of Ms Hanna's constituency against her, which is his right. But in a speech supporting Ms Hanna's challenger, Lydia Richards, Dr Campbell was not only borderline sexist, but could well have been a politician of the Gordon-Webley-McGann era. He suggested that Ms Hanna's political currency was primarily her beauty and her status as a former Miss World, and there was in his speech echoes of the PNP's old and discredited paradigm of class warfare.

"I am a socialist," he declared in a combative drawl.




Mr Smith has a right to be uncomfortable. Patrick Atkinson, the attorney general and a former JLP member, who says he isn't, should be. Beyond Dayton Campbell, their discomfort should be exacerbated by the statements of others such as Khia Duncan, the daughter of D.K. Duncan, PNP veteran of the ideological wars, who is being challenged for the party's Region Six chairmanship by a youngish JLP defector, Ian Hayles. Ms Duncan says that Mr Hayles' roots in the PNP are not deep enough.

Internal democracy is good for political parties. But there is a difference between mature debate, sexism and an appeal to class divisions and ideological extremism that brought Jamaica close to a political implosion, which the PNP, having come to its senses and to its credit, decided to dump. Dr Campbell, and fellow travellers, should not be allowed to reprise the bad, old days.

Perhaps Dr Campbell - who once, on Twitter, compared the figure of a young woman to the shape of the Jamaican economy - would prefer that people having previously voted for the JLP not cast ballots for the PNP.