Peter Phillips disturbed by personal attacks
Former PNP vice-president declares his intention to restore traditional values in party
The disappointment inside the People’s National Party (PNP) after losing the February 25, 2016 General Election by one seat to the Jamaica Labour Party is not surprising to experienced politicians like Dr Peter Phillips.
What, though, is causing him great concern is evidence of what he described as “an erosion of the traditional values that have defined the PNP”, manifested by the pursuit of political ambition and the growing virulent role of money in the political process.
“There is an ease, which I find disturbing, an ease with which people engage — whether openly or surreptitiously — in character assassination,” Dr Phillips told the Jamaica Observer last week.
“That pursuit of ambition has been carried to a point where others have complained, and I think with some validity, about the increasing role of money in the electoral process, whether internally or externally. All these things are corrosive, and one of the most dangerous features is that it alienates a lot of the young people who are crying out for inspiration, for an opportunity to belong to something larger than themselves,” said Dr Phillips, who has been a legislator for more than 20 years.
He explained that the values that defined the PNP, ever since it was founded in September 1938, include a shared commitment to service above self. “Norman Manley was the epitome of that,” Dr Phillips said of the PNP’s co-founder and first president.
According to Dr Phillips, that commitment was not only to national service and patriotic values, but also a respect for the interest of the organisation and a disposition to treat each member of the party with respect, sincerity, honesty, and concern.
“Which didn’t mean that there were not differences of views, but it meant that the dialogue was conducted within a certain framework that accepted common interest in service,” he explained.
That kind of thinking, he believes, has its foundation in the dominance of materialistic values in the world today which, he argued, is due in part to the way in which globalisation and market principles have underpinned a kind of individualism, driven by consumerism, that have left a lot people “feeling kind of empty”.
It has also “left communities disintegrating, atomised, no community spirit, just individuals in the same place pursuing their individual objectives and feeling hostile”.
Added Phillips: “It manifests, when it gets dysfunctional, in criminality, anti-social behaviour, and even more, in other locations in the globe, the pursuit of sectional interest, even armed violence against other groups and the disintegration of any notion of the collective.”
Getting the country to understand what is happening to it, in relation to developments across the world, is a task at which the PNP has failed in recent times, Phillips believes.
He said that when Michael Manley — who led the PNP from 1969 to 1992 — used to talk about the new international economic order and brought an awareness to the country of the way in which the world market operated to the disadvantage of small countries emerging from colonialism, “it fulfilled a function of helping to educate and inform the general mass of the population about the linkage between the global economic systems and their personal experiences and to make sense of those experiences”.
“We haven’t sufficiently continued that particular role of providing intellectual leadership for the country and mobilising public education programmes,” said Phillips, a former PNP vice-president.
“Similarly, we have failed… to look at the… question [of] how does a party with our historical commitments to building an egalitarian society function in a world where these market forces associated with globalisation have been unleashed, and in a sense have to be taken into account and adapted to,” Phillips said. “How are we going to ensure that the social agenda, which is at the heart of everything — increasing the opportunities of education, health care, for example, vibrant community life and cultural expression — how is all of that going to be achieved alongside the building of a competitive market-driven society.”
He admitted, though, that during the years when PJ Patterson led the party and the Government, an attempt at doing all that was made with the 21st Century Mission, a policy review that the PNP said spoke to its role in ensuring the demise of the last vestiges of an old order and to be the architect of a structure that was inclusive, responsive and accountable to Jamaicans.
“As the society has been subjected to those pressures, it would have required an even greater degree of activism by a party such as ours, both to understand what is happening and to explain and to secure the mission, also to completely transform the historical inheritances of privilege and inequality that have kept down the vast majority of our people; and we haven’t engaged enough in political education,” Phillips argued.
“Michael Manley once said that political parties left to themselves just become a means of seeking electoral power, but the PNP always had a different mission. It saw itself as part of a national movement centred on building a national effort with many institutional centres… to build a new nation or a nation that had transformed the scars and inheritances of colonial society with all its warped assumptions of race and class that had so much affected and oppressed our own people,” he added.
“So in a sense, keeping that mission and vision alive, I think we have faltered at it, and this has allowed other attitudes, behaviours to intrude into our party life and, as I have said, my own effort now is in trying to restore those traditional values,” Phillips told the Sunday Observer.
Asked how he intended to go about that, Phillips, who has said he intends to offer himself for the presidency when the incumbent Portia Simpson Miller steps down, said the PNP has to once again have an internal discussion about its own purposes.
“[It] has to be led by people who have some understanding of the traditional values and virtues. I think we also have to re-energise contact with the critical centres of this national discourse — with our young people, the universities, the artistic community… there was a period when there was such a cultural energy flowing through the country like in the 70s and late 60s and 80s,” he said.
“We need also to revive our engagement with people within the region and wider afield who are grappling with the same problems. We need to definitely take this thinking and energy and focus on developing and discussing and engaging the public in new policy ideas that can solve the basic problems of the country,” Phillips said.
“It’s not right that so many of our young people think that their only hope is to get a green card or visa, that that is the escape. We have to revive the Jamaican dream, essentially, and most importantly, we have to, by our own conduct, restore trust between the Jamaican people and the political institutions, and specifically the PNP and its mission,“ he added.
“Because what we have been seeing over the years — and it’s more accentuated in some age groups, particularly the young people — is a deepening cynicism and lack of trust in all our institutions, and you can’t build a country on a foundation of cynical mistrust,” Phillips said.