Mon | Aug 8, 2022

Editorial | There goes Dayton Campbell … again

Published:Thursday | January 27, 2022 | 12:10 PM

THERE IS a point at which the excuse of ‘youthful exuberance’ neither works nor makes sense. Dayton Campbell, the general secretary of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), is well past that point.

Dr Campbell is obviously short on political skills. He is also a potential liability to his party, which might cause its leader to seriously consider whether it would not make sense to cut his political loss, and Dr Campbell with it. But Mark Golding would do that with the finesse of elegance that his general secretary does not easily muster. If this, indeed, were Mr Golding’s course of action, Dr Campbell would be prevailed upon to tender his resignation, ostensibly on the basis of providing his president a free hand to shape the critical leadership of the PNP, without distractions.

When Dr Campbell burst on the political scene a decade ago as a young physician with a compelling story, he was viewed by many, including this newspaper, as someone of great promise. His rise from single parenthood and poverty to a medical degree and membership of Parliament was aspirational for Jamaica’s marginalised young men.

Problem, though, is that Dr Campbell cannot seem to escape the confines of his head. He chases shadows. Neither has he grown up. He may have become grey, but not mature. Over the years, he has lurched from one controversy to the other, seemingly incapable of lifting himself above the fray.

In 2013, after his hurtful and misogynistic tweet about Janaae Jackson’s body (it was “like the Jamaican economy”, he said) he got a pass because of his youth. So did some of his subsequent misstatements.

LITANY OF MISSTATEMENTS

He was also able to ride out his 2018 complaint about the ‘Labourisation of the PNP’, aimed primarily at Lisa Hanna, the leadership aspirant and MP for South East St Ann, with whom Dr Campbell had disagreements. Dr Campbell represented the neighbouring constituency until he lost the seat in the 2020 election. Ms Hanna had previously flirted with the Jamaica Labour Party.

It was widely felt that Dr Campbell passed the pale in his approach to Peter Phillips, the PNP’s then leader, in what many saw as his overenthusiastic embrace of the role as attack dog for Peter Bunting’s failed campaign for the presidency of the PNP. His side argued that Dr Campbell’s actions were misinterpreted, and that since then he had matured.

So when Mark Golding, having won his party’s leadership after the PNP’s mauling in the 2020 general election, tapped Dr Campbell for the general secretary’s job, people were implored to give him the benefit of the doubt. Mr Golding felt that not only would Dr Campbell have his back as he navigated a fractured PNP, but that the general secretary had left behind his days as the enfant terrible. There are, however, now new questions about the leader’s confidence, and Dr Campbell’s capacity for maturity.

At a press conference this week, Dr Campbell attempted to make the case that fractures and infighting were not phenomena only of the PNP. It happened, too, in the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). And he said this about the governing party and its chairman, Robert Montague: “So like Bobby Montague is the leader of the black section of the Labour Party.”

If that is indeed schisms in Jamaica’s political parties based on ethnicity and race, that is a matter that should be attacked frontally, rather than being the subject of snide imputations on the margins of the hustings.

GROSS LACK OF JUDGEMENT

We expect that Dr Campbell will fall back to the oil crutch of politicians who are caught with their feet in their mouths: that he was taken out of context. Even if he was able to cobble a case, on that score, Dr Campbell still displayed a gross lack of judgement. The implications of bringing race into Jamaica’s political discourse cannot have escaped him. Well, on his record, it would.

The irony is that the PNP is led by a proud, nationalist Jamaican, who happens to be white and who, from all appearances, has lived his life beyond the confines of colour. Yet, Dr Campbell has placed his leader in an invidious position and under a different kind of scrutiny, where he has less control of the narrative, at the direct and subliminal levels.

Of course, race, colour are significant features in the Jamaican society. They are important markers of class and wealth and social status and acceptance. So, they are worthy of full and frank discussion and debate. That discourse, however, ought not be mired in partisan one-upmanship and vulgar grab for votes – unless there is a real and plausible argument that one party pursues policies that favour specific racial, ethnic or social groups, rather than all Jamaicans.

In the final analysis, unless Dr Campbell can make a serious case to the contrary, Mark Golding has important choices to make about his politics, his party and his general secretary.