Editorial | If the PNP is to save itself
It may indeed be true, as the officers of the People’s National Party (PNP) allege, that there is more that unites than divides them, thereby providing a basis for the party to rebuild itself into “a formidable and unstoppable” political force.
The problem for the PNP, though, which preceded Mark Golding, is that the people they need to convince of the merits of that claim, the voters of Jamaica, cannot discern those supposed common interests. And on that matter they neither believe nor trust Mark Golding, et al.
The real, and existential, crisis facing the PNP, therefore, is not fundamentally the squabble over Dayton Campbell or the other social media scrums that have become perennial to the party.
The Dayton Campbell affair is merely a symptom of a deeper malaise. The PNP has long lost its way. The party does not know what it stands for. The PNP, in the second decade of the 21st century, has no core philosophy around which its adherents can rally. It has articulated none.
During its recent long stint in Government, the PNP could paper over these deficiencies. Leaders engaged in transactional relationships, toeing the line for the benefits of power and office. In a way, when the party now appeals for support, it is like expecting voters to act on muscle memory.
Which is why this newspaper, as we believe to be the case with most Jamaicans, looks for more than how the PNP resolves the Dayton Campbell matter, to determine whether it is behaving like a political party worthy of being considered a government-in-waiting, rather than one hoping to come into the job by default.
Dr Campbell is the PNP’s general secretary, the choice of the party’s president, Mark Golding. He, however, only squeaked through to the post after Mr Golding’s victory in a presidential contest. That leadership race was because of the resignation of Mr Golding’s predecessor, Peter Phillips, following the PNP’s disastrous performance in last September’s general election.
Only a year earlier, after two years as the party’s president, Dr Phillips narrowly survived a bruising leadership challenge from Peter Bunting, whose stoutest backers were Mr Golding and Dr Campbell. The latter was the campaign’s aggressive attack dog. Dr Phillips’ supporters insist that his presidency was being actively undermined long before the challenge and that the contest, that close to an election, contributed to the collapse of the PNP votes.
Ironically, Mr Bunting was among PNP’s members of parliament who lost their seats. It is in this febrile environment, overlaid with distrust, some stemming from previous leadership contests, that Mr Golding assumed the PNP presidency, with Dr Campbell, a polarising figure, as his top lieutenant.
That is part of the background against which Dr Campbell was accused by some party activists of having had sex in the past with underage girls. He insisted that he was being traduced, with the aim of weakening Mr Golding’s leadership, opening the way for a new challenge. The police, having investigated the allegations, said they found no basis for the accusations.
Dr Campbell, as would be expected of a public figure against whom such serious allegations were made, assuming he is confident of his innocence, sued for defamation. The subject of the suits subsequently produced witness statements, ostensibly from the victims, whose names are redacted.
There are claims of discrepancies in those documents, and Mr Golding and Dr Campbell have resisted calls for Mr Campbell to temporarily step aside. That, they argue, would be acquiescing to political blackmail. Ultimately, unless something precipitous happens before then, the court will decide on the truth tellers in this matter.
However, beyond whatever machinations may or may not be involved in these allegations, there are legitimate questions about Mr Golding’s political judgement in his choice of Dr Campbell as general secretary. Needing someone you trust to have your back in that post is understandable for a political leader. But a polarising personality like Dr Campbell is another matter.
REASONS TO BELIEVE
Presuming that he gets over this political hurdle, Mr Golding will have to show his political talents in the larger issues that are fundamental to bringing unity to the PNP. The unity conversations, under the chairmanship of one of the party’s grandees, Maxine Henry-Wilson, will probably achieve something. The partisans and protagonists may bury the hatchets and refrain from social media posts, but will know exactly where those hatchets are and how to reactivate Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp.
In other words, people have to have reasons to believe in something. Great institutions are built on ideas. There was a time when the PNP, for good or bad, called itself a democratic socialist party, and operated like the great social democratic parties of Western Europe – such as the British Labour Party and Germany’s now-limping SPD.
In its latest statement, the PNP declared its mission as “building equality and social justice”, but there is no evidence of the institutional framework within which it is to be done, or what is meant by those words.
Those are the kinds of issues that Mr Golding must begin to address if he is to be really successful in healing his party and winning the public’s trust and support.
Put another way, Mr Golding has an opportunity to be transformative, but it will require hard work and extraordinary leadership.