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Looking Glass Chronicles - An Editorial Flashback

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2023 | 8:35 AM

The role of the general secretary

The leader of the People's National Party appears unperturbed by the statements made by the party's general secretary, Dr Dayton Campbell. While Dr Campbell possesses the skill of energising a crowd, his remarks often border on being problematic or outright contentious. Although some harm has already been done, there is still an opportunity to curtail such statements. Leader Mark Golding supports Campbell's outspokenness, highlighting that the general secretary's role involves challenging vested interests.

Mark Golding’s weight

12 Sep 2023

WHEN IT comes to wisdom, political or otherwise, it is increasingly irrefutable that Dayton Campbell, the general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP), is caught in an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

What is worse is not that Dr Campbell is ignorant of his circumstance, but that Mark Golding, his party’s president, despite the many dire warnings – from this newspaper and others – is seemingly oblivious of the dangers posed by Dr Campbell to himself and his once-great party, which is not yet too far gone to rediscover itself.

That absence of awareness – of self by Dr Campbell and of his party’s place in the history of Jamaica in the case of Mr Golding – was on flagrant display last week at a forum hosted by The Gleaner at which both men paraded their mutual admiration and defence pact in which Dr Campbell was presented as something akin to loyal general of the ramparts, ready to rally the hordes in defence of the leader.

Or as Dr Campbell, a physician, put it, what others see as his less-than-thoughtful or often irresponsible statements was merely him exercising his role as an “electrifying speaker”, whipping up the PNP’s base.

“In a political party, it’s dynamic,” Dr Campbell said. “You have different persons with different responsibilities; persons who are qualified to speak to the middle class, the upper class; and you have persons who speak to the base, and persons who speak to the young people. We all have our roles.”

His explanation of his role was to ensure that the PNP defends its beliefs and keeps itself before the Jamaican people.

And that, according to Mr Golding, involves, at times, standing up to vested interests.

“Not everybody is going to feel comfortable with it,” said Mr Golding. “But part of the general secretary’s role is to be forthright on these matters and be courageous.”


We offer two observations to those comments. First, Mr Golding is right that political parties establish and pursue principles which they defend. Pursuing what they stand for, the good of the majority, may, at times, bring them in conflict with vested interests.

Except that at this point, too few people know what the PNP really stands for, except for a vague notion, as suggested in a review document, that it is of the “democratic left”. It is yet to define what distinguishes it from the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) whether by way of declarations or policy offerings.

Second, Dr Campbell seems to conflate noise and incivility and attempts to create mass hysteria among the faithful with bringing clarity to issues. In that, he misses the point. It is unfortunate that being too young, he missed Michael Manley, a former leader of his party, explaining to the PNP’s base the concept of terms of trade in relation to how many tonnes of raw sugar, say, Jamaica had to sell on global markets to buy a tractor to plough sugar cane fields.

Where Dr Campbell excels is in comments such as his description of Robert Montague as the leader of the black wing of the JLP; his claim of the “Labourisation” of the JLP aimed at Lisa Hanna, an MP who started her political life in that party; or his crude takedowns of the former PNP president, Peter Phillips, when he supported Peter Bunting’s 2019 leadership challenge against Dr Phillips.

He apologised, of sorts, to Dr Phillips a week ago at a function to mark the former leader’s continuing disengagement from representational politics. Dr Campbell euphemised his behaviour as throwing “one or two things” at Dr Phillips.

“So, if I throwing dem one and two things it was most undeserving, and you are a big man, and we have spoken and we have put that behind us and we have moved on,” he said.

The reality seems to be that Dr Campbell learnt little from that episode and that his apology was mere reflex for the occasion.

While Dr Campbell continues to electrify the PNP’s base, Mr Golding might contemplate why that base is not expanding; why his party has a hard time winning in upper and northern St Andrew; and why, given all the circumstances that might otherwise be in favour, it is not making greater inroads with voters. None of it, of course, has to do with Dr Campbell.

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