Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Editorial | PNPYO needs philosophy

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2020 | 12:11 AM

THE PEOPLE’S National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO) and its president, Krystal Tomlinson, should be careful, or at least give serious thought to what it wishes for, unless they believe that populism founded in noise, bling and frenetic activity is a viable and sustainable political ideology.

After its recent years of internal tensions and its heavy defeat in the September 3 general election, there is obvious consensus outside and within the PNP of the need for renewal and rebuilding, the contours of which should be the outcome of discussion and debate among stakeholders framed in the organisation’s philosophy or ideology, or the evolution thereof.

Which is what we expect to be the case after the sensible and accountable decision by the party’s president, Dr Peter Phillips, to resign, having taken responsibility for the defeat. Indeed, Dr Phillips’ departure will be formalised with the election of a new president, the process and timing, which is being determined by the PNP’s policy and administrative apparatus led by its chairman, Fitz Jackson.

Yet, this week, Ms Tomlinson, a losing candidate in the election of a fortnight ago, addressed a letter to Dr Phillips, dated September 14, telling him to be gone within 30 days. The urgency of Dr Phillips’ departure, she said, was to facilitate change in the PNP, without which the party will die. Curiously, the letter, though signed by Ms Tomlinson and widely circulated on the day of its date, was claimed to have been a draft, not intended for public release.

Extraordinarily, too, Ms Tomlinson listed herself among eight prospective candidates for the Senate, whose appointment Dr Phillips, as leader of the Opposition, was constitutionally required to make. The PNPYO president argued, however, that the responsibility should be ceded to the party’s executive should circumstances require that Dr Phillips departs before the PNP elected its new leader.

Stripped to its core, Ms Tomlinson’s suggestion, it could be argued, would be tantamount to Dr Phillips taking advice on a decision – which leaders do all the time. That, therefore, posed no conflict with Jamaica’s Constitution.

But the 30-day marching orders suggests poor judgement and the absence of rigorous analysis of the demand. First, Dr Phillips has accepted that he has to go as leader. There’s nothing contentious here. However, his precipitous departure, rather than being rejuvenating for the PNP, would lurch it into a deeper crisis.

Clearly, Dr Phillips cannot stay on for so long that the party loses the urgency of the moment. His departure cannot be too quick as to deprive the party organisation of the opportunity to regroup, with the possibility of the succession process being chaotic.

Further, it is not clear what assumption Ms Tomlinson made about Dr Phillips after his resignation becomes effective, including where his leaving as president would also mean leaving Parliament, triggering a by-election, which there is no certainty the PNP would win in the present circumstance.

These, though, are not the most fundamental issues on which Ms Tomlinson and the PNPYO are wanting. Where they betray the greater crisis in the PNP, as the party has chugged along in recent times, is in their absence of values.

Like the critics who have salivated, or cringed, at the party’s discomfiture, the PNPYO focuses on personalities, organisational incapacities and weakness in communication. The PNP’s inability to connect with young people is placed within the frame of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and so on. That is important.

The problems, though, are that they have offered few real messages to be delivered on those platforms, except for the gilded and shiny-object varieties. The PNPYO, like the party itself, has not articulated a vision of the PNP – of where it wants to take the Jamaican people, why and how. There are no principles on which they ask people to stand.

This was an opportunity missed by Dr Phillips when he became the party’s leader and seemingly intent on invoking the spirit of its founder, Norman Manley. Dr Phillips either was unable to sell that vision or became distracted from that mission and lost his way.

A vibrant PNP, strong enough to compete for and win state power, is important for Jamaica’s democracy. The question, though, is, to what end? While political parties have to be in tune with their followers, they, at the same time, have to be the vanguard of change. The PNPYO needs to tell Jamaicans what is their mission.