Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Campbell, Buchanan deny Phillips ouster plot

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2020 | 12:23 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Peter Bunting (second right) in a joyful mood with parliamentary backers from his failed presidential bid, Dr Dayton Campbell (left), Luther Buchanan and Angela Brown Burke, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, October 8, 2019.
Peter Bunting (second right) in a joyful mood with parliamentary backers from his failed presidential bid, Dr Dayton Campbell (left), Luther Buchanan and Angela Brown Burke, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, October 8, 2019.

With loyalists of People’s National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips now on edge and preparing for another round of internal schism, two signatories of a controversial letter are insisting that the correspondence is not a launching pad for Phillips’ ouster.

On Monday night, the executive of the PNP held a meeting at The Mico University College where Phillips asserted that the party would not be divided under his leadership. Phillips also agreed to meet with all 29 opposition members of parliament (MPs) on June 8.

Insiders also told The Gleaner that Phillips told the executive that he was “cancer-free”.

Amid the call for a June 1 meeting by the so-called ‘Gang of 15’, K.D. Knight, a Phillips backer, had dispatched a missive to some supporters at the weekend saying Phillips “should not be afraid to strike”.

That support appeared to embolden an embattled Phillips, who offered an ominous warning to the unnamed ringleader of the caucus.

“There is a group, and we need to know where their head is. When we know, we will do what we have to do,” Phillips told The Gleaner on Monday night.

But St Ann North West Member of Parliament Dr Dayton Campbell, the attack dog of the failed Peter Bunting challenge to Phillips’ ­leadership, said that the 15 signatories were seeking answers on how the party would remain viable, especially as national polls draw near.

DELAY DECISION

A general election is constitutionally due in early 2021 but political pundits have theorised that the vote would be held this year. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the devastating impact of restrictions on the economy might cause Prime Minister Andrew Holness to delay that decision.

“I don’t know why Senator Knight would have come to that conclusion. What we are asking for is a meeting to discuss how the party proceed with the COVID crisis that is on … how that affects our strategy going forward,” Campbell told The Gleaner.

“With the diagnosis of the condition of the leader, how does that affect how we position ourselves as a party to remain viable?”

Former PNP deputy general ­secretary Luther Buchanan, who was also a signatory to the controversial letter, brushed aside Knight’s political aggression.

“I believe I have a right to put my signature with any group of PNP supporters or members to any letter which is a decent letter to the president of the People’s National Party,” Buchanan, member of parliament for Westmoreland Eastern, said.

“You can’t write to party president and ask for a meeting? If we wanted to undermine him, we wouldn’t have written to him. We would have done other things,” Buchanan told The Gleaner.

Campbell was at the forefront of a blistering campaign against Phillips in 2019, charging on several occasions that the current PNP leader could not beat Holness at the polls.

“All the different things that are swirling around as to what should be done or should not be done, in my mind, are devoid of serious thought because we ask for a meeting with the leader of the party that we are a part of.

But Campbell would be aware that the lobbyists for the urgent meeting with Phillips were representative, almost universally, of the parliamentary group that gave wind to Bunting’s sail in last September’s unsuccessful bid to unseat the party president.

Campbell denied suggestions that there was a putsch afoot, insisting that a meeting with Phillips was necessary to flesh out emerging concerns surrounding COVID-19 and election campaigning.

“We want to have discussions with the leader as to how we ­progress leading towards a ­campaign. I am assuming we won’t be able to have mass meetings, have motorcades,” he said, referring to social-distancing protocols associated with the pandemic and a ban on large gatherings.

Campbell, who has been tasked by Phillips to craft the party’s election manifesto, said that the planned meeting was not adversarial.

“We are not trying to fight. We are trying to have a discussion, so we will facilitate the gen sec working with a time that is mutually agreeable to the parties involved so we can have the meeting and have the discussion,” he said.