Mon | Jul 15, 2019

Mark Wignall | Peter vs Peter spells pain for Phillips

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2019 | 12:15 AM

The column you are reading now was written by me last Thursday. At that time, it was my expectation that Central Manchester MP Peter Bunting of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) would make his official declaration for a challenge against Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips on Saturday, and there remains an outside chance that Phillips may not even contest it and throw in the towel.

But this is politics, the most fluid and unpredictable game of smoke-and-mirrors in all countries across the globe. Which is another way of providing me an escape route from my political musings and assessments of the likely trend in political behaviour from now until September.

“Mark, what do you expect us to do?” the PNP MP said to me late last week. “Sacrifice Peter Phillips for the PNP or sacrifice the PNP for Peter Phillips? This is a no-contest. Peter is spent.”

We spoke of numerous polls, which included internal PNP polls done, and he did not know that I was in possession of those results.

“Some of the best results we have had is the 52 per cent of the voting population saying that the PNP cannot win with Peter Phillips at its helm,” he said. “When that counts among your best poll results, then it is time to make an open challenge to the leader.”

PNP leader Peter Phillips is a highly intelligent man, and even if he was prone to weak moments that required him to delude himself for the sake of prolonging his political sanity, he ought to know, at the very least, about those poll numbers, which have been seeing him as that big, lumbering weight holding back the PNP’s electoral chances.

In the summer of 2008, I was in the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC, when the call came in. It was from a man who was a key centre of influence in the PNP. “So what do you think? Should Phillips challenge Portia?”

My answer was a simple yes as I thought that Phillips was not likely to have many more chances to challenge the lady who was not only PNP president, but in my estimation, she had in one year, from early 2006 to when she lost to the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Bruce Golding in September 2007, demonstrated that her leadership challenges were simply not, at that late stage in her life, fixable.

“If not now then when?” I asked.

He became quiet, then subdued, then went on about those supporting Peter Phillips’ 2008 challenge to then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller.

Well, history has now turned up and it has reared its head to face Peter Phillips, and if he does not devise at this time a new and political savvier side of himself and the team around him, that history is likely to bite him in the face, shove him aside, and shine the PNP spotlight on someone else.

My thinking is that Peter Phillips is close to being a slave to the history of the PNP, and he does not want to end up among the pantheon of those who did well but only in the pits of the political hellish part of the party.

PRIVATE SECTOR SEES PHILLIPS AS A NEGATIVE

It must be hard for a big businessman to constantly hold a political leader in the highest of regard but then, at times close to elections, one is forced to offer only sympathies and not cash support to the party’s re-election effort.

“As long as Phillips is there, we will not get any big private sector election campaign support,” said another PNP MP.

I decided one was troublesome. “But isn’t that a good thing? Could that not lead to public support for funding elections?”

“That is pure fairy tale for now and I deal with reality, not mirages. If we want our PNP to win, we have to have in place some basics – a leader who not only has the respect of the business community but more importantly, the support of the voting community. At this time, the PNP is failing on those two fronts. The very presence of Peter Phillips is making Andrew Holness look good even when Holness does not deserve it.”

Even with the debilitating murder rate – up one minute, down the next but constantly hovering like hungry and angry turkey vultures – the open show of physical infrastructural improvements and the willingness of PM Holness to present himself in good and in bad times have made the JLP government seem, in the mind of many voters, a more viable electoral option than the PNP under the ‘professorial’ Dr Peter Phillips.

WHERE DOES BUNTING SUPPORT LIE?

I have done a head count of MPs supporting the energetic Bunting and those still willing to stick with the slow-moving uphill train driven by Peter Phillips.

There are about 10 MPs now in Phillips’ corner, and in the opposite corner, where Bunting sits huffing and puffing and rearing to go, is a team of about 12 MPs willing to be his support cast for their sweet September song.

“About seven MPs are playing a waiting game,” said my young MP friend. “That is standard politics. People are not just going to jump all at one time. Politics is a cruel, but worse, patiently unkind game. Those MPs are looking in all different directions in the PNP.

“The one thing that unites them is seeing the JLP lose at the next elections. Unfortunately, they also know of the dead weight of the PNP party leader. Nuff respect is still there, but I know that a lot of them would just prefer if Peter Phillips just announced that he will not put himself up for return to leadership this year.”

LET THE OBEAH MAN MAKE MONEY LIKE THE PASTOR

It is a testament to our emotional, intellectual, and cultural illiteracy that in 2019, the laws banning the practice of obeah are still on the books.

Many may not agree with me, but by my assessment, there is hardly any difference between standard religious practice in Jamaica and the-often thought spooky thing called obeah.

Most religious people in Jamaica are Christians, and most people who subscribe to the power of obeah are Jamaican Christians.

Had a duppy riding you last night at 3:30 a.m.? Call on the name of the Lord, tell Satan that he will not survive. “Get thee behind me Satan! The blood of Jesus is blessing this house. Shula masakala undela, yes, Lord. Turn away the devil!”

At 9:00 a.m., grab your bible, your wife, and the children you hold so dear and read from your most comforting Psalm. Then bid them goodbye until later, hop in your car, and take a nice drive to St Thomas or Westmoreland.

“The duppy was holding mi dung last night. For about an hour. A want you tek him off.”

Obeah man: “How you know is a man duppy? Woman duppy worse, an from a look into yu eye, a know is a woman duppy riding yu.”

“So, yu can help mi?”

Obeah man: “Yes, but it harder fi deal wid woman duppy. It more expensive.”

“So, how much?”

Obeah man: “A giving yu a discount. Only $35,000. But mek wi read some Psalm before a give yu di annointing . Yu fraid a croaking lizard?”

“Yes.”

Obeah man: “Is a pity. Dat would work instantly. A gwine haffi charge yu another $5,000.”

“No problem.”

And then by the next Sunday, you are in church praying to your God, cussing bad-mind people and caring little if the pastor is slyly gazing at your 13-year-old daughter.

Life is all about the storms and the calm, the scams, the knowledge of them and the redemption. The pastor makes money, so why not free up the obeah man to do his thing.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com