PNP’s confidence waning
As the dead babies scandal goes beyond individual pain and national tragedy and seeps into every crack of the People's National Party's political campaign, and amid the prime minister's stripping of the health portfolio from Fenton Ferguson, a quiet panic has set in and pollsters are once again measuring the political temperature.
"Mi can't study Portia," said a staunch Comrade to me late last week. "Me support my party, but mi nuh stand fi foolishness. All she haffi do is fire di man and she would look like a leader. As long as she keep him, it look like she nuh care bout di mothers of the babies. A just Fenton Ferguson she care bout. Strictly politics. Mi lose offa har."
While he told me that he still had every intention of voting PNP, his greatest fear was that the fiasco would embolden JLP supporters who were only lukewarm on voting to go out on election day and vote for the JLP. "It look like di woman a try dash wey di election," he said. Time will tell whether last Friday afternoon's mini Cabinet reshuffle will soothe his anger.
Inside the JLP, there has been a resurgence of 'unity', with folks who, until weeks ago, were not talking to each other now opening up the conversation as they sense that the PNP has exposed a weakness in its flanks.
One JLP MP telephoned me and sounded more upbeat than usual. "Many of us are circling around the leader, although we do not support him 100%. We would be fools not to do so. We know what the major concerns are. Violent crime and, lately, the PNP's shabby handling of the dead babies scandal. It was handled badly from the very start, and we are certain that the PNP's poor leadership can only react instead of giving the perception of fixing the problem."
A JLP caretaker who seems set to retake his rural constituency also spoke with me by telephone. "The last time we spoke, I told you that Dr Peter Phillips seems to be on a different page from the prime minister in so far as calling the date for elections. It seems that Peter wants it early, and he has been pre-empting the PM by going public and giving loud hints of an early election.
"I am not so sure now that they are any closer in terms of agreeing on a date. Our informants have been telling us that the dead babies scandal has been handled so badly, with one faction wanting Ferguson to be fired and another supporting him full hundred. This is poor leadership."
"That aside, what practical steps have you been taking in using this opportunity to get the necessary funding to fight the elections?" I asked.
"That is where the good news is. A few weeks ago, there was just a little more than a trickle of funds coming in. That has now changed. It is obvious that the Big Business class is looking beyond Holness and is seeing us as in with more than a chance."
Will big business open the money spigot on the JLP?
He did not wish his name to be called as he said: "For the first in a long time, I feel like I would give those fellows (the JLP) some funding. They have been calling me up and sending me all kinds of documents and poll results."
My very wealthy friend has never indicated to me that he had a party choice in the 15 years I have know him. "You know what I cannot stand: the glaring incompetence of this PNP administration. National Security is a joke, but even if Peter Bunting and the commissioner of police cannot be outside everybody's gate to protect them from gunmen, I believe the prime minister was given adequate and sound reason to fire Fenton Ferguson. This is unbelievable incompetence at the very top."
One source told me that Portia will not be calling any election unless she is three or four percentage points clear. Any very recent poll findings showing the same dead heat will result in the JLP securing well-needed funding from the Big Business community.
I called Daryl Vaz, well-known funding guru. "Markie, I am getting a feel that many in the business community have decided to give us some well-needed funding because of two factors. First, they are disgusted with the incompetence of the PNP government. Second, with what has been happening recently in the health sector and crime, I have been told that they do not wish to see five more years of the PNP. For the sake of the country, they are embarrassed."
A PNP insider who speaks with me by telephone about 20 times per week said to me last Thursday, "Are you getting the sense that the PNP might not call the elections in the time frame they had initially planned?"
"Very definitely so," I answered. "Plus, it seems that the JLP is getting in some well-needed funding. If you guys allow that to happen and the JLP is given the luxury of having its annual conference, that bump it could get from a bumper conference could make a December election very problematic for the PNP."
We both agreed that a lot had changed in the last few weeks when just about every pundit was handing the elections to the PNP. "The key is funding, and I don't think your party has a problem with that. The way the PM has handled the dead babies scandal and the fact that she has retained Fenton Ferguson [for so long] are openings for the JLP to make a case to the Big Business community that it is not a lost cause," I said.
"But you told me that trends do not change overnight," he said.
"Yes, I did say so, but there is always the possibility that changes to that understanding can happen and we only detect it after it happens. In 2006, no one would ever dare say America would elect a black president. Two years later, the impossible happened."
A measure of Holness's political desperation
It is an old argument bandied about by the JLP that the economy does well under the JLP and crime goes down also.
The problem with that is that we would need a multiverse of sorts to arrive at the truth of those assertions. The times change and criminality also evolves. The PNP had its long run from 1989 to 2007; that is just over 18 years.
The JLP would also need to exist in that same time time frame as government (in a parallel universe) for the comparison to be complete. But we live in the real world and not in that fancy space-time continuum.
Taking full advantage of a quite curious spike in ferocious murders, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness recently spat out words that were best left for a verandah discussion of like-minded politicians. Over a bottle of white rum.
Before a crowd of about 2,000 cheering JLP supporters in 'JLP territory' in May Pen the weekend before, he said, "If yuh want to live safe in yuh yard, and if yuh want to be able to fall asleep with yuh door open and wake up in the morning and still be alive, you cannot make the mistake of putting in the PNP."
He should not have stopped there. He should have promised that if the JLP came to power, we would all get $80,000 smartphones with full Internet for five years, free university education, and the JLP administration would find for all of us the perfect spouses. And foot the cost of the wedding, too. And pay the cost of raising our children.
This almost sounded like a threat - as if Mr Holness could make certain things happen. We know, of course, that Holness was not saying that it is the PNP that has been unleashing murderous gunmen in our people. Nor was he saying that his own party was in a position to ensure that the murders continue. What exactly was he saying?
In his stunning display of political desperation, political power gave him an instant fever and he unleashed on his crowd and the nation. He is wont to utter disgusting and shameful words not simply because he knows that he has one last chance at political power.
He knows that if the JLP loses the next elections, he is political toast. So he has to hit the shock-and-awe button and bring politics into a matter where it least belongs.
The sad thing is, he knows better, but as the season heats up, the fever gets to his head, trips out his brain, and the end result is a green-clad man making a fool of himself before the nation.
It could be worse. Maybe he doesn't really know any better. If so, we know how to 'reward' him. At the next election.
- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.