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Road map towards a possible JLP victory?

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 12:00 AMMark Wignall

Politics is the art of the possible, not just in creating policy and passing laws to benefit the greatest number of a country’s people but in traversing the route to attaining the power needed to do those things.

For the Opposition JLP to keep its head and believe in its viability for the February 25 election, it must first assume that the recent opinion polls have opened up enough space for it to eke out a victory. But it also needs to develop a better message and clean up its mode of delivery.

A little background first.

Outside the JLP government of the 1960s and the Manley-led PNP administration of the 1970s, governance in Jamaica has always adopted the mode of cautious incrementalism. It is as if members of the Cabinet need to have an extended period of settling into their fancy chairs and offices, and staff running behind them after the swearing-in ceremony.

And that is when they begin to wonder what each is doing instead of them actually doing anything.

Of course, there were many errors made in the administrations I mentioned above. The growth spurt of the 1960s flew over the head of the poorest among us while Manley’s political experimentation and social changes came at the cost of sidestepping a workable and sustainable economic plan for the country.

For the JLP to develop a winning message, all the caretakers and MPs seeking to win or retain their seats must come across as authentic and believable and raring to go as non-incrementalist politicians. I know, it sounds impossible.

Jamaican politicians basically appeal to only one demographic: the uneducated and those who they believe are ‘know-nothings’.

Because much of the JLP’s base has a greater affinity to Jamaican talk than standard English, and many, in fact, did not secure a decent education, the politicians believe it gives them the right to talk down to their base, where the worst sort of nonsense is constantly peddled and leaches out by various media to independent thinkers where it is a great turn-off.

To a significant degree, like the PNP, the base of the JLP is not brimming over with issue voters; they are traditional voters, supporting the JLP in varying percentages every election season. Diehards.

The sadder part is, the JLP is itself filled with traditional politicians, so in the mutuality of the message, all that happens is that the party is forced to energise its core without crafting a believable message for the cadre of voters needed to take it across the winning tape.

Independent thinkers. Issue voters.

Only by accepting that it is the independents who will take them over the edge to victory will the JLP bring an appealing message other than cussing out Peter Phillips and calling Michael Manley an idiot.

To independents, a demographic that is between 25 and 40, fairly well educated and mostly issues involved, the crude cussing from the podium will have to cease, as it will not earn the JLP a single vote from this grouping, whose members are looking for authenticity and civility and a new politics.

I have my doubts that the PNP and the JLP will have a message that goes beyond getting out their diehard base, but the PNP has state power as an advantage. For the JLP to make a real difference in this election campaign, it has to move beyond just being the louder voice with the crudest message.

Under the IMF regime, Dr Peter Phillips has been an unqualified success. He has earned kudos from influential voices and entities here and in the international arena. With the economy slowly beginning to move in the right direction, the JLP would be advised not to commit political suicide by making Phillips out as a pen-pusher and a robot.

The JLP needs to remind itself that there is a potential community of voters who are sick and plainly tired and angry at the general direction of our politics. Although I don’t believe that JLP diehards are exactly in love with the memory of Michael Manley, it was plainly stupid to have a JLP councillor, even if he subsequently apologised, disrespecting a PNP icon. That is not how new voters are brought in.

While I can appreciate that some amount of panic has set in now that we are in full election mode, the JLP has to bear in mind that it will have to overperform as election day nears.

It must assume that the present poll numbers are trending against the PNP and that by the time the election is held, a different picture will emerge. If the JLP cannot do that, it may as well roll over and play dead.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to and