Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You Lost That Loving Feeling?

I'm probably not alone amongst those living in or from the Caribbean in knowing more about the political positions of those who fought for the candidature of the Democrats Party in the US, and the US presidential candidates than I do about the positions of the candidates who just duked it out for the presidency of Jamaica's People's National Party. World media coverage gives me a lot more information about the US and its activities than I can find about things going on in this region. Even if I cannot really figure out what the impact of US events will be on my life, I and others feel that they will have a bigger impact than many of the events going on in our tropical backyard. The package of cable channels that I am offered gives me a range of US TV channels with the click of several buttons but I cannot tune into Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Barbados. Forget about trying to tune into a Jamaican TV station. The economist in me says that we are happy to pay for this skewed choice and have shown with our dollars that we are not so pressed for information from within the region. That said, I am now pondering in my ignorance whether I have missed a momentous event in my own country, Jamaica.

This past weekend, the opposition People's National Party (PNP) had a contest for its presidency. The holder, Portia Simpson-Miller beat out convincingly Peter Phillips, a former vice-president of the party. Mr. Phillips had held portfolios for security, health and construction and works ministries under the leadership then PM P. J. Patterson. He was retained as security minister when Mrs. Simpson-Miller took over the presidency of the party, and role of PM in 2006. Mr. Phillips remained as security spokesman when the PNP lost office last September after 18 years in power and was also leader of opposition business in parliament. As many will know, Mrs. Simpson-Miller created history in 2006 when she won the PNP presidency over Phillips; Omar Davies (then finance minister); and Karl Blythe (former water minister) in a divisive contest following the resignation of Patterson. She became Jamaica's first woman prime minister, but carried the blame for the PNP's loss in last September's general election.

From what I had been able to discern about the PNP presidency contest it was on the face of it more about leadership ability than about political philosphies. Mr. Phillips probably sensed that his time for leadership was best now given a series of world economic events that were making life hard for the new government (rising oil and food prices), and a low standing in polls for the new PM, Bruce Golding, coming from perceived difficulties in dealing with these and political embarrassments including disputes still running about the general election results.

Ian Boyne wrote a very thoughtful piece in July (see Gleaner report), which highlighted some important issues. Did Mrs. Simpson-Miller have the capacity to lead? This had been raised in the presidential run-off in 2006, and is still a major issue: people's doubts would have been reinforced with Mrs. Simpson-Miller's actual performance in office. Mr. Phillips is an intellectual [
Doctorate in International Political Economy and Development Studies; Fulbright Scholar] and "has the solid middle-class credentials, the Drumblair [Manley dynasty] connection, the right inflection, the right school tie, university network, acceptability by the upper classes and even - yes, it's politically incorrect - the right skin colour", according to Mr. Boyne. Mrs. Simpson-Miller has charisma and charm--still important and unspent factors. She is a.woman of the people and has formidable grass-roots power. The P.J. Patterson view that she was (is) the only hope for the PNP has already been exploded twice in 2007 when she led the party into two electoral defeats. Therefore, her supposed invincibility has been shattered. She therefore seemed vulnerable. A notion also exists that 'big money' will not be backing the PNP while Mrs. Simpson-Miller is leading it; the PNP would be starved of funding and you can't win any political election without money.

Well, despite all those factors that might have favoured Mr. Phillips, a susbstantial majority of the party's delegates have given him the boot.He and many of his supporters have quickly resigned their positions as oppostion spokespersons in parliament, hence that look of emptiness around Mrs. Simpson-Miller. Mr. Phillips challenge to the incumbent was itself tumultous and his failure could have enormous political fallout in coming months, and we should be watching, especially if another general election is called soon. Mr. Phillips will now wander for a while in the political wilderness.

The contest helps me realise that those factors that are fascinating me and many others about the current state of US politics--that the
overlapping values of candidates' religion, race, gender, class, colour, speech, perceived intelligence and such personal characteristics--may play out in our little garden of politics at least as much as we think they do in the US. So, I regret deeply that I was not able to follow this contest as easily and intensely as I could the political horses in the US.

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