History of internal political party disunity


Thursday, June 14, 2018

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Ever since Peter Phillips became president of the People's National Party (PNP) and leader of the Opposition there have been conflicting criticisms about him. One is that he is ineffective, and the other is that under his leadership all the PNP has done is to criticise everything the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government has done. How can Phillips be ineffective and criticise everything at the same time?

But from whom is the criticism of Phillips's ineffectiveness coming? Is it coming from the same JLP supporters who also state that under Phillips's leadership of the PNP the party criticises everything? Or is the criticism of being ineffective coming from individuals within the PNP who want to challenge Phillips's leadership sometime in the future?

Internal divisions cannot help any political party at election time. Ever since Sir Alexander Bustamante stepped down as an active politician the JLP has been challenged at keeping the party united. The fact is that, historically, the PNP was organised around its aims and objectives, while the JLP was organised around the charismatic Sir Alexander Bustamante, mainly because of his role in championing better wages for the poor.

When Bustamante stepped down the unity went with him. He himself feared that this would happen, as he told his biographer, George Eaton, and was recorded in Eaton's book Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica (page 244). The PNP has had its internal divisions also, chief of which was the matter involving the so-called Four-H's (Ken Hill, Frank Hill, Richard Hart and Arthur Henry) in 1952.

The expulsion of the Four H's split the PNP down the middle. So how is it that the PNP won the following general election on January 12, 1955? The JLP was firmly united under Bustamante, but it had a gravely serious voter split, as the Farmers' Party drew mainly on JLP voters in the 1955 election ,which received more votes than the National Labour Party, led by Ken Hill, that drew votes from the PNP. In any event, at that time in Jamaica's political history the PNP understood political organisation far better than the JLP. Some might argue that it still does.

By 1957, Ken Hill tried to rejoin the PNP and was denied, but was let into the JLP. This particular move had both a positive and negative effect on the JLP. Ken Hill drew votes to the JLP-affiliated Democratic Labour Party in the federal elections of 1958. But the JLP could not call Ken Hill a communist when he rejoined the PNP in 1962, as they would then be asked why they did not say so when Hill was with them.

The PNP won the ensuing general election on July 28 1959 on political organisation alone, of which the main organiser was P J Patterson, then in his early 20s. The JLP had a serious internal split in 1960, as Bustamante declared the election of deputy leaders invalid. One, in particular, David Clement Tavares, was not to his liking.

This did not go down well with then JLP Chairman Rose Leon. One is not sure if Rose Leon was expelled from the JLP because of that conflict or because of a rumoured physical altercation between herself and Gladys Longbridge (later Lady Bustamante) on the steps of the Carib Theatre, where the conference took place. Did a physical altercation take place at all? One day we might know the truth.

But the firm, iron-fisted discipline of Sir Alexander Bustamante did bring the JLP back in check as a united political party around the figure of himself. Bustamante's firm action reunited the JLP sufficiently to challenge the PNP and win the referendum of 1961, which had been to determine whether Jamaica should remain in the the West Indies Federation.

But even so, the real reason the PNP lost the referendum was not so much on the issues surrounding the pros and cons of federation, but because the PNP itself was divided on the issue of federation. By 1964, the PNP was divided once again on ideology as the Young Socialist League was quashed and its leaders expelled. The party's right wing, led by Wills Isaacs, Florizel Glasspole and Ivan Lloyd, who took greater control of the PNP after the expulsion of the Four H's, would have none of it.

Indeed, both Norman Manley and his son Michael, during their tenures as PNP president, acted as referees between the two ideological factions in the PNP. In the JLP there was really no referee after Bustamante left active leadership. Actually, all JLP political leaders after Bustamante have been a part of the division, rather than being the referee between the internal political rivals.

When P J Patterson was prime minister and won three of the PNP's four consecutive terms between 1989 and 2007, Edward Seaga provided him with the greatest political advantage because of the divisions involving him in the rival JLP. Seaga's stubborn refusal to step down was certainly the PNP's gain.

In the case of the JLP, it should find a common ideology. In the case of the PNP, it needs to keep its principles on the front burner so that the party does not degenerate into personal conflicts and split down the middle. If this talk about Phillips being ineffective is coming from the PNP, then it should be stopped as it cannot unite the PNP.

By the way, Gordon Robinson made some very important points in his article in the Sunday Gleaner of June 10. However, is Robinson correct in writing of an irony in the upcoming PNP vice-presidential race with Angela Brown Burke and Phillip Paulwell?

The delegates in the PNP vote annually for four vice-presidents if there are more than four nominees. If there are only four nominees, then they are declared elected unopposed. And any ballot with less than four nominees voted for is invalid. In the JLP, the delegates vote by region and have one vote for deputy leader.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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