Martin Henry | Phillips speaks, but who’s listening?
An animated Dr Peter Phillips delivered some important messages to Comrades and country at his party's 80th anniversary conference last Sunday. But who's listening? Peter is no Michael for charisma and oratorical potency, but those of us old enough to remember will recall the standing joke about Manley's fiery speeches: "The man sound good, man. But weh 'im really say?"
Those of us immersed in the theory and practice of communication know that political communication has to be clear, simple, repeatable and repeated, animated and locked into the motivations of the audience, to be effective. Whether by conscious effort or by unconscious absorption, Damion Crawford has mastered the art and has stolen the spotlight and pulled the delegates' votes.
Lifting Crawford out of the political shadows with a senatorship may prove to be Peter Phillips' most significant move, as far as winning elections is concerned. Damion has a cultural link-up that is unmatched in the PNP right now. And, as everybody 'bout here knows, style matters most in pulling in the votes. Crawford could well be the country's first Rasta prime minister in a culture saturated with Rasta sentiments.
But his party president made some substantial 'commitments' in his conference address last Sunday. One wonders how many of the Comrades on the ground, wrapped in the incense of Cannabis sativa, as party conferences usually are in defiance of the law, and who are out for a day of entertainment and adventure, really took in what the leader was promising.
THE WAITING GAME
I myself have always preferred to go beyond platform rhetoric and wait, first of all, for the crafted election manifesto and then even more importantly for the Budget-backed policy, plans and programmes of an elected government. It is remarkable how things can change along that chain. If promises had not been platitudes, everything that Dr Peter Phillips promised last Sunday would have already been realised to a more advanced degree over the 80-year history of the party with 37 of them in government.
The party president stayed on message for promised land reform. Back in January, Dr Phillips told a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting that much of Jamaica's current problems are rooted in the negative socio-economic spin-offs from the inequitable distribution of land, a situation that started with the abolition of slavery. "There is no doubt in the collective view of the shadow Cabinet that this problem of the unequal distribution of land, which has existed from 1838 till now, 180 years, has been at the heart of much of the social and economic inequality in the country," he told NEC meeting at the Vere Technical High School in Clarendon.
On Sunday, he was again telling Comrades and country: "We are going to make certain that it is easier for people to get titles for the land because it will make them owners of wealth in this country ... . Time come now that we change this thing where a few own most of the country."
Would have been good to have numbers attached to promise taking promise credibly closer to 'commitment'. There are hundreds of thousands of parcels of untitled land across the country. A JLP-led Government in its Independence Five-year National Development Plan, 1963-1968, gave bold commitments for land reform as a response to the injustices of 1838, 1865 and 1938. A PNP-led Government established the National Housing Trust in 1976.
Every government has made land reform and housing promises. The problem is still with us to the extent that it requires yet another promise. As the parties continue to converge in philosophy, policy, plans and programmes, the current JLP Government has made essentially the same land-reform promise and has two and a half years to start delivering on it in visible, measurable ways. Or make way for a new PNP Government.
Dr Phillips has promised, yet again for the PNP, a multifaceted revolution in education to end the "apartheid system" of education (which the party in Government has helped to create) and as a key strategy to "change the structures of inequality by assaulting the structures and the institutions that keep poverty entrenched in this country". Language that would make Michael proud. Damion Crawford got bumped out of East Rural St Andrew partly for being an uncompromising education MP rather than a bun and cheese, bury the dead, and bushing MP.
The element of the education revolution that most fired up the public imagination, and which people immediately got wrong, was the first-in-the-family scholarship for tertiary education. One newspaper ran the headline the following day, 'Full scholarship for every first child'. The body of the story was closer to what had actually been said.
And the online commentators at the end of the news stories on the conference really had a field day running amok with the misunderstanding. Phillips was not promising scholarship support for university for firstborn children, but for the first child in a family to attend university. Big difference.
DYNAMIC FAMILY STRUCTURES
But if you think determining firstborn would be a big problem, think about deciding first in the family to attend university! First in what kind of family? We just buried a man, who and his wife collectively had nine children. They had five together. He had three before the marriage, and she had one. They had raised the man's nephew like a son and a girl they had taken in out of sympathy. All of them are family, one big Jamaican family. And this is far from being the most complicated family scenario.
A future PNP Government will have to call in a little army of sociologists and culturalists to guide the implementation of this noble proposition!
These university graduates who sometimes face unemployment challenges more than graduates with technical hard skills are going to be needed in some numbers on another Phillips scheme. The party president is promising a Ministry of Social Transformation and Community Development, which will depend heavily on social workers to reverse many of the negative behaviours permeating the society.
"We are going to be establishing a Ministry of Social Transformation and Community Development, and we are going to be drawing on teams of social workers across our communities to deal with the mothers and fathers and their responsibilities. We have to build a country based on self-respect and personal responsibility and love of our children and love of ourselves ... ," Phillips pledged.
Like the Ministry of National Mobilisation (D.K. Duncan, 1970s) and the Ministry of Development Planning and Production (P.J. Patterson, 1990s), this diffuse, cut-across, non-Whitehall Ministry of Social Transformation will not work - except to create work. And we remember that it was the Patterson administration of the 1990s that launched and abandoned an Attitudes and Values campaign. DÈj‡ vu.
Dr Phillips told conference that the party had identified the means to mobilise a major flow of credit of up to $100 billion to assist small business owners with their operations, so that they could build their businesses and stop operating on the fringes of the economy.
"The people that I want to get into the real economy are those people making furniture under mango trees and the people who fix cars on sidewalks ... . We want those people to come into the mainstream of the economy. We want them to become respectable business owners," he said.
But isn't it a 'crime' not to make this source of funding known to the Government now in 2018, rather than to wait to mobilise it whenever in the future that the PNP comes to Government? Short or long. One would have thought that this would be the patriotic thing to do. Our tribal politics is very much alive and well. The JLP behaves same way in Opposition. But then again, without particulars being provided, Dr Phillips may just be attempting to speak a wish into reality.
But if he and the PNP can really pull off a $100-billion credit line (more debt like the 1960s World Bank debt, which really fuelled the construction of the secondary-level apartheid system in education!), may I suggest that a portion of this be pulled off for the Students' Loan Bureau to capitalise a real revolving loan scheme. And those scholarships for first-in-the-family university students are going to need money! And new graduates with bankable entrepreneurial ideas but no collateral should be bankrolled by state financing as development risk capital.
On the strength of the Phillips promises, I could easily give one of my votes to the party that has excelled time past in the practice of 'one man, many votes' and in overvoting in its garrisons. But I have to save one for the other side, as the parties continue to converge in philosophy, policy, plans,and programmes - and performance.