Mark Golding’s brief honeymoon period as Jamaica’s new President of the People’s National Party (PNP) and Leader of the Opposition has hit some potholes.
It is just over a month since Golding was elevated to those lofty political positions but he can thank his predecessor, Peter Phillips, as well as his frenemies in the party for the senator mess the PNP has got itself into, especially over the Norman Horne saga.
But Golding too has to shoulder a tiny bit of the blame centered around the Horne issue and the broader recent senate PNP appointments debacle. More of that later.
Having lost so pathetically in the general election to the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in September, Phillips immediately announced his intentions to resign as leader of the PNP.
Yet Phillips went ahead and nominated 8 PNP senators to parliament’s Upper House. This was a weird step by the then leader and just added to a trove of poor leadership decisions by Phillips since he took the helm in 2017.
Given senators are appointed to serve for the duration of the parliament and cannot be fired by their respective party leaders (who ever agreed to that bright idea?), how could Phillips have made such a shortsighted decision?
[Phillip’s baffling decision could be comparable to say if NFL football Head Coach/General Manager. Bill Belichick had resigned from his positions at the New England Patriots, but before leaving he ensured that the backroom coaches were immediately given cast iron 5-year contracts. Thus given Belichick’s successor little chance of bringing in his own people.]
Phillips succession planning on the senate was either fool hardy or a cheeky attempt to ensure leadership candidate Golding (if victorious) would have no chance of nominating some of his own people for the senate and in particular Peter Bunting.
Bunting had lost a bitter close leadership battle against Phillips in 2019. Since then some in the Phillips wing have been on a political kamikaze mission to destroy anyone linked to Bunting. Even if it means bringing the PNP into public disrepute.
Bunting did lose his parliament seat to the JLP’s Rhoda Crawford. Ironically in August, Horne had to come out and “deny“ claims from the JLP that he had endorsed Crawford.
Phillips lost the general election on 3rd September and by the end of month had pushed forward his senate nominations, thus snubbing suggestions from Krystal Tomlinson, president of the PNP’s youth arm.
Golding rival for leadership, Lisa Hanna, showed a serious lack of conviviality after losing the leadership race and this meant the sour grapes from her camp just brewed and now has got out of control.
Yes, there may be bad blood on both wings of the PNP behind the scenes, but the Jamaican public could care less about these senseless battles of egos. The public expects the opposition to focus on their main job.
Where Golding went wrong is during the recent leadership campaign, he should never have endorsed the senate names put forward by Phillips. Golding should have spelled out clearly that he would expect all 8 senators to tender their resignation and leave it up to the new PNP leader to decide whether to accept them. If any of the Phillips nominated senators had refused to do resign, then fine.
As for the current PNP senators it is hard to give the current crop a ringing endorsement. Some are holdovers from the 2016-2020 parliament and with the exception of Lambert Brown have not impressed and made any impact with the public. The PNP did need new passionate and articulate voices in the senate. Let’s hope they step up.
Golding’s plan to put Peter Bunting into the senate was a good move as he was an effective parliamentarian in the Lower House. Doesn’t take a genius to know why Bunting lost his seat in the general election. But Golding’s move to nominate Bunting was bound to stir up anger from his many enemies within the PNP.
The PNP has to decide now whether to keep their infighting to a minimal level. As we know in politics there is no such thing as a unified political party. Just that such divisive members come together to fight the common enemy, which in the PNP case would be the JLP administration.
The senate debates are too friendly on the PNP side and lacked the adversarial combatable atmosphere it needs with the exception of Brown. Especially as the PNP has just 14 members in the Lower House compared to the JLP’s 49 there is little room invisible parliamentarians from the PNP.
Take Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns for example who has the shadow portfolio of environment. Environment has become a major talking point across the island thanks to the pressure and slick pr of civil society groups such as the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).
Yet we never hear any comment of substance from Frazer-Binns on any of the hot environment topics such as the Cockpit Country. TVJ and RJR cover environmental issues on their flagship shows on a regular basis but you rarely hear any significant contribution to the debates from senior representatives from the PNP.
In a stark way the current senate debacle and ego clashes within the PNP is a blessing for Golding. These skirmishes should give Golding the impetus to make serious changes to the PNP internal mechanism in order to move forward as viable government in waiting.
But Golding should have come out last week and spoken to the press. Phillips should have issued a statement to clarify the confusion cause by the Horne fiasco.
The PNP needs to go on the offensive in a pragmatic way against the government and not on itself. The party has to be slicker, have substance in its monitoring of government policies and be more active in its messaging to its membership, independents and those 60% of the electorate turned off by politics. The PNP has to be more forward thinking and stream lined in the delivery of its key objectives.
Meanwhile, the Holness administration sits back sipping their green tea and laughing at the PNP for turning all of their political arsenal inwards.
Congrats to Nationwide Radio and Radio Jamaica’s Emily Shields for some sterling work on this first major political conundrum of the Golding era.