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JAMAICA | Peter Phillips – On The Brink Of Power: Modernization Agenda | Part 3

Dr. Peter Phillips will replace the Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller as President of the Peoples National Party Dr. Peter Phillips will replace the Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller as President of the Peoples National Party
As outlined in part 2 of this three part series, the Modernization Agenda, must be properly worked out and articulated by the new leader for all to understand . In so doing, the party cannot be naïve and lend itself only to an introspective evaluation, but must also take time in understanding all external factors including a thorough analysis of the opposition.
Aldin Bellinfantie
Mr. Aldin Bellinfantie is a renowned educator, and High School principal.

This final part will put forward five factors mainly necessary for renewal and modernization. These are; (1) an understanding of the opposition, (2) leadership, (3) analysis, (4) strategy, and (5) time.

  1. Develop an Understanding of the Opposition.

A short political history shows the JLP can be remarkably resilient. They suffer defeats in 1955 and 1972. They were in the political wilderness for almost two decades (eighteen years) after four defeats between 1989 and 2007, but they survived and then they won again.

In 1952 just after one of the bewildering British Conservative recoveries and after the Labour Party had executed a raft of major social legislation that changed the British landscape, including the introduction of a welfare state and the National Health Service, a young and baffled Socialist, Peter Shore asked this question.

"How is it that so large a proportion of the electorate, many of whom are neither wealthy or privileged, have been recruited for a cause which is not their own?"

This is a question that could have been asked in 1980 after the near wipe out of the PNP, after being in power for a mere eight years and had also executed a raft of social legislation to the benefit of those who were neither wealthy or privileged. The question again came into prominence in 2007 and 2016 after the PNP defeat in those elections.

One simple answer lies in this ability of the JLP to re-invent themselves to suit new times. They come out of the shadow like a chameleon with a changed hue, enough to have the electorate believing that the change is substantive enough to make a difference in their lives. Succinctly put, they are like the Terminator, they appear to be wiped out. But then the silver mercury re-forms and bang – there they are again Powerful and in Power.

Quoting from, Michael Oakeshott, a British philosopher, political theorist and conservative sympathiser, who defined Conservatism as "not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition". A disposition towards power. Another Conservative Anthony Seldon said "the party is one of instincts, above all for power rather than ideology". This is also the disposition of the Jamaican Conservatives. The Jamaican Labour Party, a chameleon with no ideological roots, only an instinct for power.

There is a current distinct feeling, running through the Jamaican political atmosphere that there is no ideological difference between the two major parties. This gives cause and urgency for the task facing Phillips in this new era of the PNP, he must therefore, move quickly in redefining his party for the future but also redefining the general political agenda for the nation and in so doing, communicating to the electorate the JLP’s historical positions and likely posture for the future.

It is important that Phillips spend time in understanding the conduct and effectiveness of his political opponents, the Jamaica Labour Party. There is a saying that; “Oppositions do not win elections; Government’s lose them".


An essential element of recovery is leadership and the qualities of leadership which includes courage, foresight, consistency, and above all, endurance. It took the PNP seventeen (17) years before it tasted power after its formation. Most other parties, having not tasted victory at their first attempt, have dissolved and disappeared.

The PNP was formed with one main aim and that is to improve the lot of the Jamaican people. It has remained focused and true to that aim, its leadership has remained committed and courageous to that aim even whilst in opposition. They have continued to show foresight and consistency in the development of policy and strategy towards that aim. And so, even though the roads were dreary and the campaigns long, they have shown endurance.

The PNP’s leadership has always been subservient to the mission, vision and aims of the party. This has never been the case in a JLP, their leaders are always paramount and everything else subservient to that leader. To this end national goals for the development of the nation whether they are postulated from within the JLP or from another source, are always in conflict with the personal goals to maintain a paramount leadership position.

The elevation of mission, vision and aims over a personality culture gives longevity to an organisation. This is one of the main strengths of the PNP, even though this character trait has somewhat been eroded over recent times. It is, however, a position to which the new leader in Peter Phillips must recommit and in doing so, will make the JLP’s time in government a short pause while the PNP retool.


"How is it that so large a proportion of the electorate, many of whom are neither wealthy or privileged, have been recruited for a cause which is not their own?"


Real party renewal is based on analysis. During our periods of opposition, in the 1980s, the party had to (as we say in Jamaica) “wheel and come again”. The Party had to enter into a period of introspection and self-analysis, and from this analysis a document such as the ‘Compass’ was developed.

And even since the Party has been in power, documents such as the ‘21st. Century Mission Paper’ was developed. This provides evidence that the Party has always committed itself and put renewal for relevance and credibility on top of its agenda. It is worthwhile knowing that Phillips had a major input in developing both these documents.

In developing the Compass document, the Party had to think long and hard about some of our most long held policies. Not the values, which remained the same. But the means to those ends – the policies.

After the 2007 defeat, the party again published another document, “The progressive Agenda” which was not quite as impactful as was intended but demonstrated the party’s commitment to introspection, analysis and a renewal agenda.

In all of these documents, the Party had to (a) access its role whilst in government and whether it was responsive to the commitments put forward in its manifesto, adhered to the mission, vision and aims for which the electorate had voted. (b) look again at the shape, structure and mission of the party itself and coming to a clear, new analysis on the big issues of the party’s commitment to its mission, particularly its socialist mission and (c) a commitment a renewal process which makes the party relevant to the era in which it operates as both government and as a political entity.


Let’s say you have the right leadership and the right analysis. Then you need a strategy to implement change.

What is this strategy? What does it mean? It means: a long term programme of ordered change. Which is understood by the party leadership. Which is systematically fought for and won. And then implemented in such a way that the entire party is genuinely transformed.

Does it move the Comrades to a position where they have something serious to say about the serious questions facing the country? Instead of their dabbling in gossips, rumours and scandals which they have never been able to justify.


Finally, real party renewal takes time, there are no shortcuts, it is not quick or easy or pleasant or pain free. Many times during the period of leadership of our Founding Father Norman Manley, there were division within the Party on issues, but they were resolved. Painfully sometimes, but the Party principles and not personalities always dictate the outcome.

The truth is that, between 1989 and 2017, some twenty-eight years (28), the PNP held office for twenty-three (23) of those years. Therefore, having spent most of the last three decades in government, the PNP became complacent believing that government was their right. They developed a view that the country was PNP country and the electorate would always vote for them. They were mistaken and suffered shocks defeats in 2007 and 2016.

My own analysis has shown that those defeats were not due to the party’s management as a government, far from it, by all evaluation they did a good job managing the affairs of the country. Two things were decisively lacking. First of all was the party’s ability to identify areas that were a drag on the party and needed renewal, whilst it pursues its governmental assignment of transforming the country.

Three areas for renewal that comes immediately to mind are the party group structure, qualification of delegates, and its current cohort of party workers. Other than renewal, the second thing that was lacking was the party’s ability to communicate its achievements in government, which would align and move the party itself, along a progressive continuum carrying with it mission, vision and all its character traits. Another big question now facing the party is;

If for all those years, the policies, strategies, processes and product outcome from good governance were visible, how then did the party machinery get divorced and not adapt to the initiatives of its own government in office?

The answer is not difficult to see, the comrades have traditionally taken a position of not merely occupying the centre ground of Jamaican politics, but are always about shifting the centre ground. The complacency of the current comrades, is that they are not articulating and communicating that shift, hence a bewildered electorate is left behind to be gobbled up by Labourites who have quickly moved to fill the old centre ground vacuum that have been left behind by the comrades.

Hence, today the Labourites no longer underestimate the Comrades and merely speak about them ‘stealing’ elections and that the comrades win because they are better organised, through soundbites and spin-doctors, therefore all they need is to copy the PNP organisation methods as they first successfully experimented in North East St. Ann.

They finally took the time to conduct the painful task of proper analysis and introspection of themselves and depending on who you spoke to (2000-2007) in the JLP, you would hear of the need for a new leader, others would say they needed good organisational strategy or better marketing or a new spin-doctor.

It was on this analytical path that they stopped on the Damascus Road for Bruce Golding. There was also a concerted effort to extend the JLP’s political and cultural base involving the development of civil society, social justice and environmental political agendas in dialogue with NGOs, community groups and progressive businesses. It was articulated through strategically astute organisations such as Generation 2000 agenda. Symbolic moments included Bruce Golding Damascus experience, conversion and return as leader of the JLP.

The new JLP leaderships (Golding and then Holness) embraced social and civil liberalism, harnessing widespread hostility to New PNP’s centralist statecraft which isolated not only grassroots comrades, the traditional middle class professionals and repositioning the party on totemic issues such as its long standing socialist position. The JLP moved to occupy the centre ground of Jamaican politics.

We in the PNP are not about merely occupying the centre ground of Jamaican politics. We are about shifting the centre ground.

This social modernisation of the JLP was held in uneasy tension with an increasingly new electorate focused mainly on young voters. These were the first to start peeling off from the PNP, switching to the JLP rather than abstaining. By 2016, this shift was evident, even though it was not electorally decisive. In campaign speeches it was evident that the JLP was pushing a social agenda by pondering to protect civil servant voters from cuts, remove hospital fees, defend free education, reduce taxes and increase the tax threshold.

In a period when the PNP was administering an IMF prescription, the JLP continue to make promises to the electorate which even though they could not be executed without breeching the IMF’s agreement, were enticing to the new, young voters.

Phillips as the presumptive new leader of the PNP, must urgently and quickly find his feet and hit the ground running. For the first time in its history the PNP has found itself playing “catch-up” ideologically to the JLP. He must rapidly redefine the entire political agenda for the country. He must erase the perception that has been put forward by the JLP that the PNP party is only about presentation and not substance.

He must articulate to the electorate that, the JLP with its chameleon character trait, is unmistakeable superficial and without a substantive agenda for real substantial change that is in sync with our values in today’s world realities. He needs to ensure that the electorate understands that it is historically and still is a PNP’s government’s agenda which continues to transform the terms of the debate that moves the centre ground for life and impacting changes for the Jamaicans.

He needs to articulate that it is the Labourites who traditionally can’t even adjust to new realities… they believe in the magic wand that creates sparkles for a few hours and plunges back into drudgery – the 1980 promises of their leader for money to jingle in your pocket, never happened. Their current crop of leaders have promised “Prosperity”, a kind of evangelical fervour that promises to take you to heaven but not before they collect their buckets of taxes. It has no stability and cannot be sustained.

Phillips needs to demonstrate by his own experience that, in a world where there are shifting priorities it is the PNP that can properly develop and execute a framework for social, political and economic stability. And he needs to reemphasise to all that, the PNP is, therefore, not just about occupying the centre ground but about shifting it. The JLP on the other hand is visionless, they do not create the conditions for change but only moves only when forced to do so.

Last modified onTuesday, 14 March 2017 10:34
  • Countries: Jamaica

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