Somewhere around the beginning of my teenage years my mother put up a sign over the door. A sign you could never miss if you were leaving the house. With sparkling silver letters in an Old English font against a blue background it said:
In Everything Give Thanks.
“Everything?” I asked, incredulous.
“Everything,” she replied.
My mind went back to that day so long ago as I contemplated the recent utterings of Dr. Dayton Campbell.
“The party can’t run pon water… On Election Day almost everybody want money fi vote. It need a leader with money… So the party needs to have a leader that is respected in the country and respected in the private sector so they can raise money.”
Dr. Campbell was, of course, speaking of the People’s National Party (PNP) which, following a devastating non-performance in the last election, is now seeking to find Nirvana through electing a new leader. MPs Lisa Hanna and Mark Golding are contesting the leadership.
Dr. Campbell, a fierce backer of the Rise United faction in the PNP led by moneyman Peter Bunting, has now turned his support to Bunting’s friend and colleague Mark Golding who is believed to have some money. So there is no question as to what and who Dr. Campbell believes will make a good leader of the PNP.
Fortunately, Mr. Golding has repudiated his earnest supporter. As well he should.
The PNP was formed around ideas. Ideas from people at all levels of society and a wide variety of pursuits. Then they called for a leader and yes, Norman Manley, the pre-eminent barrister who eventually answered the call, was a man of some money from his profession. But the qualification they sought was not so much a party leader as a national leader. A man who could lead Jamaica, using the party as the vehicle. In any event, it is well known that Norman Manley died a pauper. It is also well known that that did not, in any way, diminish or erode his leadership abilities.
The recent general election was notable for the fact that only a few people — 37% of the voters on the list — bothered to cast a vote at the polls. Many of those who voted were recipients of financial enticements — money said to be between $15,000 and $20,000, usually wrapped up in a party shirt.
But why have the people taken recourse to accepting bribes to vote?
They have come to believe that the politicians are in politics for themselves and their friends; to gain access to the national budget from which they cream off illegal benefits. And so, many voters conclude that the only way to get something from the process is to take money for their votes before they vote, for after the election “nothing nah gwaan fi dem”.
Thank God, for Dr. Campbell and his comments. No jestering. For it brought repudiative responses. The repudiations came swiftly from both candidates. But the first was a comprehensive statement from PNP President Peter Phillips who called vote buying a cancer.
“Vote buying and voter suppression are increasingly becoming factors in the political process. Vote buying is not new to Jamaican politics. In 1944, as is reported, some politicians were putting six pence in a bag of flour. Today’s equivalent is the $15,000 wrapped in a T-shirt.
“However, we cannot insulate Comrades against vote buying when the use of money in internal elections in the PNP is like a cancer that will kill the body of the authentic PNP. Leave it alone! Once the purchase of votes is legitimised inside the party, you cannot go out and tell the people not to sell their votes. You just won’t have any credibility.
“Rebuilding is not an easy process, and those who lead must lead by example. Rebuilding the movement, the PNP must start from the ground and it must be rooted in a philosophy.
Party groups must receive political education, become believers in the principles and objectives and purposes of the PNP and demonstrate responsible citizenship in their communities. They must participate in activities that uplift the community, such as painting a basic school, cleaning a school yard or helping the elderly. They can assist in the delivery of community healthcare or help students with homework.
“When you do that month by month, and week by week, when election time comes, the voters would already have experienced the kind of representation they will receive by electing PNP candidates. The way the PNP now operates with groups is almost an indication that we have lost the soul and forgotten the essence of what it should mean to be PNP. Rebuild the groups as foundation.
“The renewal process must bring to the PNP the social classes that originally built the national movement — the workers, small farmers, teachers, nurses, and small and medium-size entrepreneurs. At the outset, leaders at all levels of the PNP comprised farmers in their own organisations who were walking along that road of progress in their own way; teachers who had their own organisations and the leadership of the teachers’ organisation was also part of the leadership of the PNP.”
But even that does not go far enough. Even that fails to focus on the national development that has weakened and faltered in the years after the 2008 election until now it is not even being mentioned. When last did you hear a politician enthrall the people with her or his vision of what Jamaica can become? Or of what Jamaicans can become?
Let me let you into a secret. We ketch we fraid! Michael Manley was shot out of power in the bloody 1980 election and the people ketch dem fraid. And when the Bruce Golding Government had to rely on Uncle Sam to send a plane in 2010 to help track down Dudus, the people ketch dem fraid again and remember the “big fraid” of 2008. They never saw a plane like that before they said. And with big “bombs” going off nearby it was not just a matter of losing visas. It was the fear of the power of Uncle Sam and what he could do with that power, a tiny fragment of which was unfolding before their eyes.
That fear also struck the PNP. It rapidly lost its ideology and became another Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to the point now that the only discernible difference between the parties might be a pair of Clarks shoes.
The PNP used to be the party of building roads. The JLP has taken over there. The PNP used to be the party of education, remember Norman Manley’s free places in 1957 and Michael Manley’s free education including university. After Seaga’s education cess, the PNP lost its interest in free education, and the JLP took it up. The Washington Consensus became the trough from which both parties now ate their supper, and patterned their plans.
The JLP was the party with the reputation (and the money) for buying votes. And then came the PNP’s Trafigura and another Campbell. And now Dr. Campbell is telling us that the PNP can’t win an election if it doesn’t have the money to buy votes. Why vote for the make believe JLP, the people argued, when you can vote for the real one, or don’t bother to vote at all?
The PNP has lost its way. And the problem will not be fixed by a hastily effected campaign for a new leader to replace Peter Phillips. The reason we have government, democratic government, is so that the people can be assisted to live free. We are supposed to be practising government by consent, that is, a system where the people agree or consent to be ruled in a certain way that is to their benefit and edification. Benefits like housing, water, roads, postal services, fire protection, peace and safety, education and health, and freedom from (wanton) crime.
We should not be looking to Uncle Sam for a governance template. We have it in us to design our own template. Our constitution, our resilience, our tallawahness, and above all, our history, call for a different approach.
But our “leaders” do not know our history. And that is a major problem.