Peter Phillips, the current leader of Jamaica’s People’s National Party (PNP) should send a thank you emoji to his rival in the leadership race, Peter Bunting.
Bunting’s challenge for the leadership has certainly given the PNP the impetus it has so desperately needed since the party lost the local govt and general elections in 2016.
Phillips himself has finally put to bed his Rip Van Winkle mode and found his leadership mojo that many of his colleagues and supporters have been crying out for since he became leader in 2017.
The Peter 1 vs Peter 2 leadership race has also galvanised media houses and the growing number of social media observers, who are all playing a crucial role in analysing the leadership race in real time. Thus the PNP is getting the kind of media coverage that it has not had during this decade.
Bunting still faces an uphill task to unseat the incumbent leader. But the challenger has started his quest in a determined fashion, with a campaign launch the likes of which has never been seen in Manchester much less the wider Jamaica.
Bunting has come out of the blocks quickly and done the rounds of interviews across media platforms long before the Philips team could get their act together. But Phillips is catching up fast in the PR stakes.
The lack of vigorous media interviews by Phillips over the years has shown in his discussions with journalists. As some of his answers seem take on a life of its own and gets very long winded. Phillips does need to be sharper, succinct and punchier in his responses. Phillip needs to loosen up in how he comes across in the media.
Lately, Phillips is more aggressive and vocal in his attacks on the government over the economy, crime and corruption. He has also made significant strides in his social media messaging which was lagging light years behind Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other more savvy politicians.
If Phillips had been this active, vocal and visible from 2 years ago then Bunting may not have felt the need to challenge.
Although not widely covered, Phillips gave an impromptu speech in Kingston on nomination day. It was excellent. Full of passion, grit and determination. It was a “come if yu tink yu bad“ type of speech.
The leadership race has understandably divided senior members of the PNP. But that’s to be expected when the stakes are so high. But the PNP is used to this rough & tumble given the number of contentious leadership races it has had going back to the late 1960s.
PNP leadership race has highlighted a flaw that the party needs to fix if it has desires to attract new members in the future. The current process to select the leader on 7 September will be based on the votes of approximately 2900 delegates.
According to Julian Robinson -PNP General Secretary – the term delegates goes as follows..
“To be a recognised constituency, you need a minimum of 20 groups, plus a Youth Organisation and Women’s Movement group, Constituencies are not allowed to have more groups than the number of polling divisions, and where such breaches occur, the party will take the necessary action to correct them. It is a new rule, and there are some constituencies in breach and they are working to bring it back in line to the number of polling divisions.”
“Each recognised group with 10-19 members is entitled to one delegate. A group with 20 or more is entitled to two delegates,”
Robinson’s deputy Wentworth Skeffery added..
“For example, in the party’s Region Five, there are eight constituencies. That region is entitled to no more than eight delegates. Depending on the state of a constituency, in a particular region, no delegate may be chosen. So all eight delegates may come from one constituency,” – Source: How the PNP chooses its delegates
The PNP must move its internal election process to a simple one-member-one-vote.
[For decades the British Labour Party had a similar complicated voting process, where the trade union bloc had a sizable influence on who became leader. But in 2014, then leader Ed Miliband brought in the one-member-one-vote process. The Labour Party’s membership then shot upwards. In 2014 the UK Labour Party had 192,000 members today the membership stands at roughly 512,000.]
Interesting times ahead for the PNP until leadership election day on 7th September. But some of the party’s mouthamassies need to think more strategically before they step near a microphone or use press send on their smart phones.
- For senior figures from one campaign to publicly accuse the other team of vote buying is just political suicide for the PNP and manna for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
- It is never a good idea for a senior member of one campaign to publicly state that the opposing contender (and party colleague) is unfit to be the leader of the PNP. What if that person wins? It will simply turn off independent voters.
- Damion Crawford needs to be measured and smart in his criticism of the Bunting camp. As at times he seems angrier at Bunting than the Jamaica Labour Party. Phillip Paulwell who in trying to blame members of the Bunting camp for the ousting former leader Portia Simpson-Miller (2017) is simply on “don’t even go there” soil. Mikael Phillips (the leader’s son) has also put his mouth in it and has had to apologise. All 3 of the above are vice presidents of the PNP and showing the lack of diplomacy that is required for such lofty positions.
- Some of the utterances from Ian Hayles (Bunting supporter) has bordered on being melodramatic and comical.
In such an intense internal leadership contest the smarter tactic by senior party members would be to praise your preferred candidate to the hilt but add that both leadership contenders would make a better PM than the current incumbent.
Yes, Bunting is not a well-liked figure by some of his senior colleagues. Some have described him as disloyal and a backstabber. I am sure Holness still has his detractors who sit with him in his cabinet. Winning is all that matters.
At least Bunting stepped up where others were too scared (or playing a long selfish game) to come forward. For that Bunting must take most of the credit for this upsurge in activity amongst the PNP supporters. From his actions you can tell this move was well thought out and being executed with professionalism (mostly). Bunting has shown clarity in his answers on how he plans to modernise party if victorious.
PNP local councilor- Kari Douglas – recently described the current PNP leadership as tired and uninspiring. Hence her support for Bunting.
As I have stated before Bunting (or anyone else) would have been in their right to challenge Phillips for the leadership. I was looking for others to jump into the race given the polls early this year had the PNP a distant second to the JLP. Something significant had to happen to the party’s leadership to shake it out of its complacency mode.
But we are still to hear from Bunting or Phillips the radical plans they have to tackle corruption in their own party and the wider Jamaica. What examples are they willing to set to clean up corruption?
Corruption has thrived under the current JLP government and has caused them much embarrassment. But the previous PNP government had their own fair share of corruption scandals and very few were ever brought to book. e.g. Government contracts issued to PNP party supporters were slammed by the Contractor General.
What ever happened to the PC Bank scandal where $J665m went missing?
It is worth remembering that both Bunting and Phillips were in the previous government that tabled the Integrity Commission Act which today has caused confusion and anger about its ineffectiveness to bring public officials to book. Even Phillips is now dismayed.
In 2015 Bunting and then Justice Minister Mark Golding (Bunting supporter) were criticised for not taking on Sierra Leone’s definition of corruption as the benchmark for Jamaica. Sierra Leone defines corruption in more broader terms than even the United States.
Phillips in his 2+ years as leader has failed to connect with the public in a manner that is expected of any potential prime minister. He just lacks that emotional intelligence. Up to June this year Phillips had not captured the imagination of even some die-hard PNP supporters.
When Bunting initially announced his challenge many senior party supporters and media commentators quickly dismissed his chances of even coming close to defeating Phillips. Some even told Bunting to his face that he would not get much support from fellow MPs. But Bunting kept saying “one at a time”.
Today, of the 29 current PNP MPs, 12 have come out in support of Bunting and 9 for Phillips. Excluding those MPs who are part of the secretariat and likely to support Phillips.
Whatever the outcome of the race, the PNP’s secretariat/leadership must use this exercise to fine-tune their plans, strategies and operations ahead of the next general election. The party needs to take stock of the many lessons learnt from this leadership contest in terms of communications, personnel, preparations, technology and organisation.
The PNP needs to agree quickly which senior members are the most articulate and inspirational communicators to use during the general election campaign. Who needs more training in the art of effective decent communications?
The party has to take a hardline stance on those who brought both campaigns into disrepute with their rash comments and warn them that such behaviour will no longer be acceptable going forward; whatever their seniority.
If Phillips retains the leadership then I expect Mark Golding and Bunting will take their seats on the backbenches. But if Bunting is the victor then Jamaicans will see a summary of this major banker’s statutory declarations.
Now that would make for interesting reading.