Mark Wignall | The PNP shall return
There will always be 101 versions as to the factors which led to the devastating defeat of the PNP’s charisma king, Michael Manley, by the JLP’s Eddie Seaga in 1980, just as there will be countless iterations of what led to Manley’s re-emergence in triumph in 1989.
Coming from a defeat by the widest-ever margin of loss in Jamaican elections in 1980, to electoral triumph in 1989, gives sound testament to the view that party politics and electoral jockeying are easier to look back at than to predict in any two cycles of the ballot call.
Manley was widely admired and loved by the majority of the voting population of Jamaica, from 1971 to 1980. Jamaica turned away from him in earnest by early 1980 and voted him out in October 1980, not because they had fallen out of love with him. They did it to save Manley from the destructive manifestations of his political and policy inadequacies and a polity from the rampant and rampaging street rule by the M-16 assault rifle.
By early 1989, Seaga had effected a highly underappreciated turnaround of the economy and presided over infrastructural work of the near total loss power grid after Jamaica suffered a direct hit from category four Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988. As far as Jamaica was concerned, Seaga had done major parts of what the voting population had hired him to do, thus it was time for him to pack his bags and go. Manley was warmly re-embraced.
It is useful in the present time to examine if there are any lessons of that past that Peter Phillips can draw on, learn from or even find brief solace in, any chosen part of Manley’s return to power in 1989. To do that, one has to make the most obvious assumption of a widely known fact. Phillips is no oracle and icon as Manley was in his time.
In the wake of the East Portland defeat at the hands of the JLP, the younger, less impatient voices in the PNP are ‘chawing fire’ at aspects of the PNP leadership and its relevance to charting the way forward. Structures in the party are clogged up because the machine isn’t being properly maintained and regularly lubricated.
WHAT CAN PHILLIPS DO DIFFERENTlY?
Michael Manley had the ability to deliver a talk to party workers or a speech from a public platform, and those very deliveries had the potential to stir the party back into the best of its organisational mode and the party base to electoral readiness. One is not so sure that even if Phillips stooped to repeated begging and cajoling, he would be able to attain 20 per cent of the effectiveness of a Michael Manley.
Against the background of a huge swing to the JLP in terms of that percentage of the potential voting population which now has JLP tendencies in comparison with 2016, significant lowering of the unemployment rate, a quite visible infrastructural presence in roads and a JLP administration that is more in a positive performance mode than it is presiding over corruption, it is difficult to imagine what sort of magic Dr Peter Phillips can conjure up that is different to and better than him just standing there talking while his base is increasingly moved to boredom and a general wish for more of his absence.
The name that increasingly crops up in the PNP as the man who can rescue the PNP from Phillips is his parliamentary colleague Fitz Jackson.“Paulwell have to much duppy, Bunting lack popularity and Mark Golding is a brown man,” said a PNP councillor to me last Monday.
“Fitz Jackson is the man,” he said.