Mikael Phillips tired of PNP infighting
Former VP urges Comrades to wise up as chairmanship race looms
Like other Comrades weary of the political enmity dogging their political movement, former Vice-President Mikael Phillips is longing for an end to the long winter of internal discontent that has beleaguered the 83-year-old People’s National Party (PNP) in recent years, especially in the post-P.J. Patterson era.
Phillips, who returned to the island on Friday after a sojourn overseas, is expected to participate in next Sunday’s vote for a new chairman following the July resignation of Phillip Paulwell, who had joined then Vice-Presidents Phillips, Damion Crawford, and Dr Wykeham McNeill in stepping down from the top-tier leadership of the party.
Last weekend, the party’s 83rd annual conference ratified the position of four new vice-presidents.
“I have always turned up for duty for the PNP. And I am willing to run my leg of any relay in the party. I report for duty for my country and party, but I have to tell you that this disunity is wearing me down, and it is wearing several others down as well. At some point, you realise that you are tired of it,” said Phillips, the Manchester North Western member of parliament who had responsibility for the PNP’s Region Five constituencies in Manchester and Clarendon.
“It’s almost as if people are trying to find something to be upset about or something to upset others about. True, it’s not everything you will agree with, but after you discuss it in the party, the party takes a decision, you can still disagree, but you don’t continue to bring the party into disrepute,” argued Phillips, who co-chairs the PNP’s internal Local Government Committee with Dr Angela Brown Burke.
“It does nothing more than extend the political polarisation, and the good comradeship vibes we once shared just dissipates,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
“I am tired of it, man,” he added, echoing the sadness expressed at the conference by three former party presidents – his father, Dr Peter Phillips, Patterson, and Portia Simpson Miller.
The 75-year-old Simpson Miller, who became the island’s first female prime minister, is said to be suffering from a debilitating illness commonplace with advancing age, and her remarks were delivered via video clips from previous speeches.
But Dr Phillips, 71, and Patterson, 86, delivered special remarks in pre-recorded videos for the occasion.
Since he demitted office in February 2006, Patterson has warned Comrades to cease the internal bickering, which has seen the party in and out of power twice since 2007. This is unknown political territory for Patterson, who never tasted political defeat during his 14-year stint at the helm of the party after taking over the reins from Michael Manley in March 1992.
In the acrimonious contest to replace Patterson, Simpson Miller triumphed over Dr Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, and Dr Karl Blythe. Since then, the poison weed of political discontent has grown exponentially, with the party becoming fractious as Dr Phillips’ supporters never accepted Simpson Miller’s leadership.
Dr Phillips was acclaimed leader in 2017 after Simpson Miller retired from the post, but he was later challenged by Peter Bunting in a contest that was blamed for landing a body blow to the party as a massive fracture ushered in an equally colossal defeat in the 2020 general election.
The PNP picked up just 14 seats to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s 49 in the 63-seat House of Representatives.
Weeks after that defeat, another bitter internal contest saw Mark Golding emerging victorious over Lisa Hanna.
Golding will celebrate his first anniversary next month.
With each contest causing fresh wounds, the ageing Patterson was forced to appeal to Comrades yet again last week.
In his virtual address, the retired statesman bluntly told Comrades that the party would be condemned to the political wilderness and self-destruct if members continued their “vulgar abuse” of each other.
“Comrades who do this are enemies of progress and mean the party no good. Some of the atrocious postings should be deplored and cease even if they were to be uttered against the Jamaica Labour Party. Remember, we are rivals for power, not perpetual enemies at war,” he charged.
Noting that he was confronting the matter with a “heavy heart”, Patterson said that he could no longer bear the pain that came from a party in internal conflict.
“Do we want to remain a house divided against itself which cannot stand? Or do we regain our sanity to unite as one?” he asked, pointing to his stewardship of a united party.
“I am willing to hold school about it if it will help us to know how it was done, quietly and constantly,” he added.
The younger Phillips admitted that he wants the party to become as vibrant as it once was.
“We don’t need to break the party’s heart over simple issues. We don’t need to break each other’s heart over simple issues. We are the PNP, and we are still the party of ideas. We need to wise up and look at the bigger picture,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
A month ago, Kern Spencer, a former junior minister in the Ministry of Mining and Energy, became chairman of the region for which Phillips previously had responsibility. Former Chairman Hopeton McCatty threw in the towel after what he called a “series of internal attacks” against him from “individuals close to the leader”.
As a result, party officials are “keeping their fingers crossed” that next Sunday’s chairmanship race will not open any new wounds.
The election is in keeping with the party’s constitution that it is done at the first National Executive Council meeting after annual conference.
Deputy Chairman Horace Dalley has been acting in the post since the resignation of Paulwell, who was simultaneously serving as a vice-president and chairman as the party’s constitution is silent on the dual roles.
He is standing down this time around.
“I’m not interested in serving as an officer until we go through a real reconciliation effort to bring about lasting unity,” he said last week.
Dr Angela Brown Burke, a former vice-president who narrowly lost to Paulwell despite getting Golding’s backing in the chairmanship race last November, is again eyeing history to become the first woman to chair the party.
Dalley has built up support and has confirmed that he is contesting for the office.
“Dalley is just what the party needs and not someone who is always in quarrels with other Comrades and is disliked by so many persons,” said a retired former minister.