Peter Phillips's pyrrhic victory
...and Bunting's victory as wellMonday, September 16, 2019
Louis E A Moyston
Peter Bunting has nothing to be ashamed of; he made his point extremely well. His political skill of reading the 'ground' seems excellent; and even more admirable, exceptional, and outstanding was his development of a rapid response crew in the field, mainly supported by the lower classes of the party in the rural areas.
Bunting is now clearly a force to be reckoned with in the party, having popular support of the youth and the rural party delegates and supporters. If he had a few more months he would have won this leadership contest, and also only if two of his rural supporters with over 150 delegates had the time to register their groups.
Phillips's victory is, however, pyrrhic and must be attributed mainly to the votes of the National Executive Council and Region Three of the People's National Party (PNP) — the status quo of the party. Still, Phillips must be congratulated for his victory with 76 votes, or 2.7 per cent majority.
It is time for Jamaican politicians to stop thinking that they are perfect beings and that there are above critique and challenge. It is time for the people to take over their political parties and transform them from private to popular enterprises. It is time also that the rural masses challenge the urban cliques for equal opportunity in party politics.
Where did so many delegates come from in the urban area, especially from places where the voter turnout was low and extremely low in the last general election? It is my thinking that there is a direct relationship between voter turnout and party/group activities in the constituencies.
I was not a part of any campaign, and I am certain that neither candidate would invite me to participate. A political campaign is not something that one just engages oneself like that. I prefer not to take sides, but to focus on the prize in the interest of party politics.
There is something that I find alarming in the campaigns — that there is hardly any growth in many of the leaders and their activist supporters. I must express extreme disappointment in some individuals I have known from the 1970s, and the kind of immature and backward campaign that they ran. I find this most disturbing. There is friendship in politics, we must cherish friendship; but political activity and leadership involves people — it is not about friendship. It is about having the best prepared for leadership. The recent election result took the PNP to a crossroads it has never encountered and which direction to take is going to be puzzling.
Phillips, “Mr Fix-It”, the ball is in your court, now is the time to show that you can really fix it. The truth is there has to be real changes in the PNP; the election results ask for that. There is the need to have an individual and/or department in the party who will have the competencies to feel the pulse of the people and develop strategies for reading the beat of the heart and responding with a sense of urgency.
It was compassionate of party leader Peter Phillips to delay the naming of the shadow Cabinet until after the party's annual conference. I hope that the leadership of the PNP will rise united above the pettiness we witnessed in the past. This advice is critical in the naming of members to the shadow Cabinet. Show the Jamaican people, President Phillips, that you can choose the best people for the jobs/portfolios and not a package designed with individuals to appease and accommodate friends/loyalists.
This new force in the PNP is not just about Peter Bunting, one must recognise that there is a clear division in the party of the lower class vs the party status quo (urban). This result is amazing because it is contrary to the popular perception of the 'Rise United' leader that was concocted during the leadership battle. In just a few months the Rise United camp created a tsunami, an upheaval, mainly by the masses and the young delegates that took the PNP to a tipping point of change.
Another result of the leadership election was that changes cannot come from the inside, from status quo, but from the outside. Bunting and his team were treated as outsiders. They were even deprived of having full access to all the party delegates. When since did the PNP become a private enterprise? Even in constitutionally organised regional conferences delegates for Bunting and those who declared as independents were treated with utter contempt as if they were outsiders. One female Member of Parliament (MP) from Region Four was pointed out as one of the most aggressive and out of order offenders to Rise United supporters and even those suspected of being independents. There are those in the PNP who were out of touch with the political reality, and it was neither Bunting nor his team.
I understand how Phillips feels with the challenges. I can comprehend his thinking from my personal experiences in the party by way of challenging leadership when I entered the race for vice-president of the PNP, and also challenging the party leader at a delegates' conference in defence of my right to speak. When a leader is challenged, for whatever reason, even when the challenger has a right, that act is portrayed in terms of disrespect for the leader.
But the mass base of the party must begin to assert itself to make its voice heard and burst out of the herd mentality. This was an example of what took place in the recent leadership battle in the PNP. Leaders, in general, see themselves as demi-gods, and that those people leading the contention of ideas must be put into the periphery and relegated to political obscurity. The truth is what you see in the mirror, and more than often it is what critique has to offer.
There are not many people who are committed and prepared for political leadership, so we do not have the luxury to discard, at our whims and fancy, those who are critical of leadership. The 1954 expulsion of the 4Hs from the PNP may have been politically correct. How widespread was the critique of this action? In the election of the same year the party enjoyed a pyrrhic victory, but it lost a generation of some of the most brilliant political thinkers and organisers of that period.
As human beings we are not perfect, and this is why we must embrace the approach of being fallible and mortal. This lesson ought to be welcomed in order to appreciate critique, especially in this complex world of politics.
The campaign is over now and people must get over the hype. They must accept not just the victory but what the victory means. Somehow the outcome of the 2007 leadership election reminds me of a comment made by a long-standing female Member of Parliament from St Catherine. It was laced in humour: “Look how Portia 'ticky-ticky' team beat the star-studded ones.” This time the 'ticky-ticky' team of Rise United almost created an unprecedented upset in leadership contests in the PNP.
The politics of today is complex and fast moving and is begging for change to respond to new realities. In some countries unknown groups and unknown leaders pop up in the politics and, more than often, either become partners of existing parties or in some cases they unleashed outright defeat of those traditional movements. What Bunting and Rise United carried out was incredible, mind-blowing, and astonishing.
Phillips and Bunting, I congratulate you both on your victories in different ways. I wish you well in your challenges ahead. The time has come for a new thinking in Jamaican politics, not just responding to inside and outside party tribalism, but also a new vision within the context of the lessons we have learned over the past two and a half decades under the failure of globalisation. There must be another way to govern, with a view to guide national development and to generate prosperity.
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