Mark Wignall | JLP on a high and PNP in neutral
By the time you read this column, you will know that the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will have completed two-thirds of its annual conference, and today, Sunday, PM Andrew Holness will seek to deliver his best speech in the hope of delivering a long-term knockout punch to the Opposition People's National Party (PNP).
The Holness administration has been borrowing quite heavily from political history. Most of that history spoke to political parties having strong leaders, but (held back from the people) with those using autocratic leadership when the need arises to consolidate power, especially in the three months before an election.
In 1991 when now-PNP near-icon P.J. Patterson was finance minister, he was fired by Prime Minister Michael Manley. The person who settled on delivering the letter of separation (after other attempts) eventually became Dr Peter Phillips. It was all about a sticky business/political matter when the first batch of low-sulphur fuel was being imported into Jamaica.
The head of the oil company in Jamaica was a senior member of the ruling PNP, and P.J. Patterson, of that same PNP as finance minister, had decided that the company, Shell, merited a huge tax waiver. It looked plainly like self-dealing although nothing was ever shown to be that way.
But it was the media (and other business elites) that forced Manley to rid the administration of Patterson as finance minister. We know, of course, how the story unfolded after that.
P.J. proudly proclaimed "I shall return" as if he was some wartime hero winning back what he had previously lost. And he did win back. Big. In the PNP, he won elections until, it appears, he called it a day at his own leisure.
Other factors were there working in Patterson's favour.
A negative electoral map constantly faced Eddie Seaga, head of the JLP, who continued to harp on about winning the next election. After the PNP had chalked up much too many for Seaga, he stepped aside in 2005 and gave the JLP a shot in late 2007.
In the 2011-2016 Simpson Miller administration, many sources in the PNP at that time told me that it was Dr Peter Phillips who was calling the shots because many complex policy matters did not naturally attract the attention of the prime minister.
Fact: The leader of the Opposition has been made into his present role at a time when a significant number of younger voters are staring at him negatively.
Peter Phillips cannot afford to slip.
In the interim appointment of Colonel Daniel Pryce as executive director of the Integrity Commission, Peter Phillips, sensible PhD head of the Opposition PNP, could have determined the facts before he sounded out that it was Prime Minister Holness who had pushed that action.
He turned out to be dead wrong. Why was this? Who is it that is directing political strategy in the PNP who has decided that (1) either nitpicking at the JLP-run Government or (2) making juvenile claims that all current major infrastructural works were initiated by the PNP when it previously held power is a winning argument?
Here is the fool-fool part of that argument. If the many thousands of PNP supporters and especially PNP voters had sensed what was in the pipeline of development in the 2011-2016 period, why did they not come out in bigger numbers than JLP voters?
We know it was not exactly a backsiding, but PNP voters sent a signal that the party had lost its early P.J. and early Portia shine and it wanted to give, by a shade, a chance to the JLP.
The real problem with the PNP, structurally and cohesively, is that, in plain political language Peter Phillips does not look good optically beside Andrew Holness.
Let us face it. Holness has still a long way to go to prove that he is some political and electoral guru and master controller. Today, he needs to move beyond stirring up his captive audience. He needs to deliver a message that is relevant and believable, knowing that such messages are only bought by the rabid party faithful.
There have not been, so far, any reliable opinion polls to inform us of the many political, social, and economic moods of our people. Many people I speak with either tell me of
positives or negatives of the JLP Government. The PNP is hardly ever mentioned, but when the party's name comes up, it is mostly about criticism of the PNP leader. That is a big problem there.
A plaza at Constant Spring Market?
At first, it was the usual song and dance. The Government sending out messages that in China Harbour Engineering fiercely engaging in road building, for the widening of Constant Spring Road, the property housing the Constant Spring Market had to be torn down.
Was it that the JLP Government was taking us for idiots? A few weeks ago when I visited the market environs, it was quite obvious to me that the road widening was planned, and in operation, for the opposite side of the road. But, it came upon, quite physically, the big pharmacy on that side of the road. So there was a stall, and the argument died down.
Surely, if the lands occupied directly in front of Constant Spring Market where Discount Pharmacy and its parking lot had been an area where politicians had allowed people to capture land, and, in a road-building exercise, that space was needed, a political solution would long have been found.
But based on new information that has come to me that the relative of a powerful relative wants the Constant Spring Market site for the building out of a plaza, I am tempted to wonder if the whole smoke and mirrors was not staged to move the public in many directions all at once because the ultimate objective was to breed confusion.
Let us be factual here. If you are overcharged on restoration of physical spaces that have long outlasted temporal and cultural significance like the Constant Spring Market, you will be in favour of keeping it in place 'for the people'.
It will, of course, not matter much that for the last three decades, that market has been only affordable by fairly wealthy people. Over that same period, even that vogue wore off, and in the last decade, the business model of the Constant Spring Market has found it underwater and gasping for survival.
Why are governments so cagey?
I have visited with residents living in the vicinity of the Constant Spring Market, and I have spoken to three vendors in the market (not much more there), and I get the sense they are prepared for the inevitable.
"If a did di PNP government, at lease dem woulda meet wid wi and a gi wi a sweet talk even if dem a fool wi. Di JLP cold bad," said a small businessman operating close to the area.
Sources inside of China Harbour have told me that they have no interest in the market in terms of road-widening. But here is the puzzle. With no one from China Harbour willing to attach a name to a position on the road widening there, and with other governmental sources playing a very tight-lipped game, I am prepared to believe the source that told me that a plaza is planned for the location.