PNP Unity, JLP Rift and a Generational Divide
Published: Sunday | September 26, 2010
Kevin O'Brien Chang, Gleaner Writer

To those who believe that a strong democracy requires a strong opposition, last Sunday's vibrant People's National Party (PNP) conference was a very edifying sight. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd, it was incident free, and Portia Simpson Miller gave perhaps her best-ever public performance.

The highlight, of course, was the show of unity between Mrs Simpson Miller and her erstwhile leadership rival, Dr Peter Phillips. Jamaica could feel well pleased. For the last thing this country needs is a return to the 1990s, when a not very popular government was still able to do almost as it pleased with the public purse because of an all, but, unelectable opposition.

For a deeper analysis, I turned to my friend Mr C, a Central Manchester PNP delegate, who describes himself as a die-hard Comrade, but a Jamaican first.

A good conference

"I like the direction my party is going in. I was worried going in that we would look disorganised and disunited. But it was a very good conference all around. It was well organised, there was a big crowd, we heard excellent speeches, especially by the president, and I was very happy to see Portia and Peter joining together in a show of unity. All in all, I would give us nine and three quarters out of ten. My only concern is that I wonder if this came too late or too early.

"The auditing of the party books is a very good first step and Mark Golding gave an insightful press conference. It shows that some thinking is taking place and that the party is doing some groundwork.

"But my question is, what comes next? We keep hearing talk about this Progressive Agenda, but we need to define exactly what it is and how it relates to governance and development. Right now, to be frank, it just sounds like empty talk.

"We also need to put some closure to Trafigura by showing some proof that the money really was returned. And yes, I think the integrity commission is a good idea. But it should go further and publish all its findings on all 60 candidates chosen to represent the party in the next election. Then, we will say, that is a start.

"But again, action speaks louder than words. And if we are going to convince the public we are serious about change, one step should be to reshuffle the shadow Cabinet. And here is what I think the new shadow Cabinet should look like:

Mr C undoubtedly makes some very good points that are being seriously discussed on the ground among his party stalwarts. One reason P.J. Patterson never lost a general election is that he always kept in touch with the grass roots, and the PNP has traditionally been considered a more 'listening-to-the-people' party than the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Time will tell if that is still the case.

While the PNP, on the surface at least, is uniting, the rifts in the JLP are widening. With Daryl Vaz reportedly set to seek the post of general secretary, even clearer battle lines are being drawn.

As a Gleaner September 17 editorial put it:

"The re-emergence of the papered-over fault lines in the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) may not be so bad after all. That, though, depends on whether the party's leader, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, can rediscover the persona who led the JLP to victory and the gumption to take on the old guard and some of the young nasties, who have tolerated his leadership as one merely of convenience ... .

"Mr Golding, the idealist and reformer, has been recaptured by the old JLP that he left, returned to, and sought to change ... . The Bruce Golding who used to inveigh against the comity between crime and politics and the creation of political garrisons, and insisted on a new quality of governance would not, in whatever capacity, have sanctioned the engagement of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips for the purpose the JLP did ... .

"Mr Golding's attempt to appease the JLP's calcified old guard and their acolytes merely provides openings for the launching of raids on a reform agenda, which has been largely dormant, but which the prime minister claims to have rediscovered.

"Perhaps Mr Golding, if he is serious, should seek neither to suture the wounds nor paper over the cracks. In that case, he would throw down the gauntlet, insist on an open fight, allowing the JLP to settle its direction.

"Hopefully, that would mean the defeat of the old guard and the freeing of Golding the reformer. Mr Golding may fear that such a fight could lead to the collapse of his government, which is possible, but not the most likely of outcomes. If the fight ends with the reformist at the head of the party, with or without Mr Golding, they could get on with the job of modernising the JLP.

"The lurching from crisis to crisis by the ruling party is untenable. If Mr Golding is to be Jamaica's prime minister, he must recapture himself and proceed, as we have suggested, as though he has just come to office, with much to do and with little time in which to do it."

Perhaps the JLP's divisions are a symptom of a deeper underlying problem with Jamaican politics, the refusal of an aging cadre of career politicians to make way for a new generation. The PNP itself recently saw such a confrontation, but the old boys again fought off the challenge.

Golding an anomaly

Bruce Golding may be a bit of an anomaly, for though 62, he has, since 1995, styled himself - in words, if not always in deeds - a new-age man fighting against 'old time politics'. And ever since his 2002 return, he has been seen as the natural leader of Labour's reform wing.

In fact, 'NDMisation' was, and perhaps still is, shorthand for 'JLP reform''. And it was essentially the NDM crew of Chris Tufton, Daryl Vaz, Gregory Mair, and Michael Stern who got the JLP over the line in 2007. Odds are that, without Mr Golding's return and the resulting injection of new blood, the JLP would still be in its 21st consecutive year of opposition. Something perhaps for the 'rockstone Labourite' old guard to ponder.

Jamaican politics has become almost a sort of gerontocracy at the top. Most of our senior leaders are in their 60s or late 50s. This is not the case in places like Britain, the US, Canada and Australia, where David Cameron, Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and Julia Gillard became national leaders at the ages of 43, 47, 47 and 48, respectively. Even Barbados' David Thompson was elected prime minister at 46.

Some would argue that one of the reasons Jamaica seems to be increasingly left behind by a rapidly moving globalised world is that our born-in-the-1940s leaders just have not been able to adjust to these modern computerised times. This may or may not be true, and in fact, our dearth of female politicians of all ages may be an even bigger issue than any generational divide.

Still, you have to wonder why our leaders and potential leaders are so much older than those in most of the English-speaking world.

Mr C's ideal shadow Cabinet

  • Finance - Mark Golding
  • Investment and Development - Peter Bunting
  • Security - Peter Phillips
  • Local Government - Fitz Jackson
  • Youth, Sports and Women's Affairs - Lisa Hanna
  • Information - Sandrea Falconer
  • Education - Basil Waite
  • Agriculture - Norman Grant
  • Mining and Energy - Phillip Paulwell
  • Transport - Michael Peart
  • Water and Housing - Omar Davies
  • Tourism - Wykeham McNeill
  • Health - Fenton Ferguson
  • Justice - A.J. Nicholson
  • Foreign Affairs - Anthony Hylton
  • Labour - Derrick Kellier."

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