Michael Abrahams | Trying to understand the PNP
In the 2011 general election, Andrew Holness, who had been installed as prime minister and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) after Bruce Golding’s resignation, ran against Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of the People’s National Party (PNP). During their campaign, the JLP saw it fit to go after Simpson Miller and openly question her intellect and ridicule her. The plan backfired. The populace was still reeling from the Manatt Phelps and Phillips/Dudus/Tivoli debacle, and found the personal attacks on Simpson Miller to be below the belt. Jamaicans let their fingers do the talking, and the JLP got an ass-whooping.
The year is now 2016. The PNP is running the country and the economy is stable. The stock market is performing exceptionally well, tourism is thriving, and food imports are down. The PNP is confident of victory in the upcoming election. Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness, is building a new house, a massive structure in an affluent neighbourhood, and the PNP has concerns about his source of funds for the building. Their concerns are valid, and they have a right to express them. But the house has become a central theme in their campaign, and their attempts to discredit him become what appears to be an obsession, with the prime minister even refusing to debate him.
The JLP, on the other hand, runs a positive campaign, focusing on “prosperity”. They promise Jamaicans a better quality of life. While the PNP hovers over Holness’ house, the JLP is busy mastering social media and working on the ground, engaging young people and neutral members of the population. The JLP wins the election.
Many voters were not impressed with the PNP’s focus on Holness’ house during their campaign. It was seen by many as “bad mind” behaviour. They couldn’t care less about how Holness got his house. They saw a man who came from humble beginnings now prospering, and they wanted to prosper too. Also, many had not forgotten the “articulate minority” comment by the PNP’s Robert Pickersgill when he dismissed the relevance of Jamaicans who use Twitter, and they were out to prove him wrong.
The JLP went hard on social media, and the PNP ignored it. During the PNP’s reign, I got to know several members of the party, and recall having conversations with at least three government ministers, encouraging them to utilise social media, as the opposition was doing it and expanding their reach. But they all dismissed me and thought that it was not necessary or important.
The JLP was very clear in its prosperity message, and they remained on message, with a very positive campaign, and won the election.
It is now 2019. There are many intelligent people in the PNP, so you would expect them to learn from the mistakes of the JLP in 2011 and their own missteps in 2016. They apparently have not. Following the untimely death of PNP Member of Parliament for Eastern Portland, Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, the PNP chose Damion Crawford to run against the JLP’s Ann-Marie Vaz. Vaz has been doing work in the parish and has a very likeable personality, but public speaking is not one of her strong points. Like Vaz, Damion Crawford is very charismatic. He is also well-educated and is a brilliant speaker. Crawford is not only an educator, but also has a degree in tourism. He has the potential to deliver much to the parish and its people.
But rather than focusing on what he can bring to the table and giving a clear picture of what he intends to do, he brought ethnicity and class into his campaign and used them against Vaz. His comment about her not going any farther than “Mrs Vaz”, rubbed many persons inside and outside of Portland the wrong way. His attacks on Vaz’s intellect, at one point saying that a three-year-old is brighter than her, were seen not only as being disrespectful, but also hypocritical, as his party was recently led by Portia Simpson Miller, who did not excel in public speaking and whose intellect was often questioned, with her detractors being harshly criticised by Comrades.
And this is not just about Crawford. Leader of the Opposition Peter Phillips, joined Crawford in mocking Vaz’s intellect. But when Phillips went up against Simpson Miller for party president, attacks against her regarding her perceived lack of intelligence backfired then too. People loved and connected with her. Phillips’ degrees and eloquence meant nothing to them. Similarly, when the JLP tried that strategy against her in the 2011 election, they too bit the dust. As party leader, Phillips should have known better.
Also, during an interview prior to the election, when a journalist attempted to ask Phillips what would happen if the PNP were to lose the seat, Phillips cut him off saying that “it is a PNP seat” and repeatedly stated that “there is no if”. Didn’t Phillips recall an interview with Simpson Miller prior to the last election, when she was asked what she would do if the PNP were to lose, and her response was, "If I lose? What kind of question are you asking? Do I look like a loser to you?" We all know what happened after that.
We all know what happened in Eastern Portland too. Crawford lost. The margin of victory was not wide. It was less than 400 votes. I believe that if Crawford ran a positive campaign, and refrained from personally attacking Vaz, he could have won. He had a glorious opportunity, and he and his party made a mess of it.
Who are the strategists for the PNP? What are they thinking? Or, better yet, what are they smoking?