Colin Campbell | All that glitters is not Gold-ing
Elections, they say, have consequences. That is regardless of whether they are in a state, a corporation, or a political organisation.
The People’s National Party (PNP) will have perhaps its most consequential internal presidential election since the Michael Manley versus Vivian Blake contest in February 1969, which solidified the party’s philosophical direction and decisively championed the cause of improving the conditions of the Jamaican masses.
On Saturday, November 7, 2020, four days after the United States would have had its most consequential elections, Lisa Hanna and Mark Golding will duel to determine the future of the party that championed our Independence and prepared much of the foundation for modern Jamaica.
Only the second woman to be on a PNP presidential ballot, Lisa Hanna, a brave, tenacious political fighter, could share the legend with Portia Simpson Miller, who became the country’s seventh prime minister.
Lisa Hanna, the four-term Member of Parliament for South East St Ann, goes into battle against the Member of Parliament for South St Andrew, Mark Golding, a stand-out in the last PNP administration of 2012-2016, who piloted a series of legislations through Parliament to facilitate the game-changing Economic Reform Programme, facilitated by the IMF Extended Fund Facility Loan and brilliantly led by outgoing Party Leader Dr Peter Phillips as the then minister of finance and planning.
The one thing they share in common is that they were both spotted by Portia as ones for the future. When she lost her vice-presidential bid in September 2016, Portia offered soothing counsel of wisdom, “Your day will come.” With those insightful and prophetic words from her dear leader, Lisa bounced back immediately and joined the congratulatory receiving line.
Is November 7 her day? Will she triumph or will someone who lived his political life in the shadows of Dr Omar Davies and Peter Bunting prevail in this “head-scratching” environment of predicting the outcome of PNP delegates’ vote, which for the first time in the party’s history will take place at polling stations in 13 parishes. A new experience, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The answer lies in understanding, not only what the delegates are thinking now, but what they see in this interregnum to 2025. They want to know who can reunite, rebuild, regain ground, and restore Norman Manley’s party as the pre-eminent political party in the land.
Make no mistake, the PNP National Party remains one of the most enduring political movements in the English-speaking Caribbean, modelled by many within the region and beyond. Finally, they want to know who can win, or more specifically, who can beat the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Andrew Holness.
Exiting a pharmacy in Matilda’s Corner recently, I was called over by a youth who declared his PNP credentials and fired two questions. Firstly, “Wha unnu a do?” To be quickly followed by, “Unnu no think sey we shame and mi tired fi shame?” This I interpreted as the voice of our supporters making it clear that, as supporters, they are feeling the pressure, too, and want to see lasting changes that can restore the party’s pre-eminence in the eyes of the electorate. In other words, do the right thing.
A survey conducted by pollster Don Anderson between September 19 and 24, 2020, revealed how Jamaicans, including our members, delegates and supporters, see the contenders. The sample of 1,061 people had 50 per cent PNP supporters, of which 13 per cent identified themselves as delegates, 35 per cent JLP, and the balance, neither.
From the sample, 37 per cent favoured Lisa Hanna and 26 per cent Golding, an 11-point difference. Anderson commented that Golding should start as the presumptive favourite as he inherited the remnants of Bunting’s failed Rise United. So, where are we?
The delegates list has 3,242 electors, of which nearly a quarter is from the powerful Region 3, with regions 4 and 6 having significant strength. The candidates have been campaigning heavily in all constituencies, from Negril in the west to Morant Point in the east, with Mark waging a high-profile media blitz to make up his 11-point deficit in the public’s eyes. On the other hand, Lisa Hanna has developed a well-targeted strategy of delegate contact and rapprochement, in keeping with her campaign theme of ‘Bring Back di Love’.
RACE AMONG DELEGATES
A Gleaner columnist referred to these strategies as “Golding speeding ahead and Lisa in neutral”. The race is among the delegates in their houses, their communities, and small meetings, which are taking place all over the island currently and will culminate on November 7, 2020.
You do not need multi-million-dollar world launches with Hollywood film stars, successful bankers, or heads of gigantic conglomerates to meddle. They are not delegates, and perhaps have no influence in the cut and thrust of our internal politics.
The 2020 campaign is reminiscent of 2006 in many ways, and some of the old hackneyed phrases have come back, along with some of the most misogynistic comments about women and beauty, as if Lisa Hanna does not represent the perfect combination. When will we learn? The same thing happened in Portia’s campaign.
We can rise above that in 2020. Lisa and Mark have put out good plans, and we are yet to see any analysis from any commentator. They, instead, prefer to provide grist for bloggers by majoring in the minor and raising duppy stories on issues they know not about or even intend to do a fair investigative piece. They are the same ones pronouncing the PNP dead and building a statue for Andrew Holness.
There are proposals such as the opening up of leadership voting to all party members, potentially increasing the voters’ list from 3,242 to almost 40,000, and thereby eliminating the private-club image and rendering vote-buying as a redundant phenomenon. Yet, this passes without comment.
Another proposal by Lisa Hanna is that the party be more rigorous in selecting and vetting candidates for national and local elections. The proposal includes a structured system of orientation, training, and development, as well as an on-going field-monitoring component. The establishment of key performance indicators for candidates and elected representatives to stay on the ground with the people they represent, which are vital ingredients for improving the quality of people representation, are highlighted in her Way Forward plan.
Golding’s key proposal is that of a social welfare fund for retiring workers and those experiencing financial difficulties. This is an excellent idea and is in keeping with the party’s ‘good and welfare’ traditions. My concern is that the same idea was floated during the Bunting 2019 campaign, but, after his loss, the members learnt that it was contingent on his electoral success. So, nothing happened. Now one wonders if the Golding plan has the same hidden caveat, making it all that glitters not being ‘Gold-ing’.
Both candidates talk about dealing with disputes and finding ways to lower the conflicts quickly, to maintain party unity. On Lisa’s part, she will establish new protocols to deal with mediation and promote an open-door policy, allowing access to all to contribute to party policies, programmes, and political work. An effective and functioning disciplinary committee will also be established.
These planks are among the key points that delegates will use to decide the future direction of the party.
Lisa Hanna is running an effective internal campaign, perhaps a textbook precision campaign, which I believe will garner her not a working but an effective majority of delegates in this consequential November 7 election. The PNP will have its second woman leader.
- Colin Campbell is former general secretary of the People’s National Party.