Answering the PNP’s SOS
Manley man takes party back to school on core values, principles, political legacy
Heavily criticised for years for losing its way politically and divorced from core values on which it was founded, the People’s National Party (PNP) has tapped the expertise of Brown University Professor Anthony Bogues to chair its policy/vision commission – the powerful body which heavily influenced government policies of the 1970s.
Bogues, an academic and who served as secretary of the PNP’s political education commission in the 1980s, is the inaugural director of the centre for the Study of Slavery and Justice at the Rhode Island, United States-based university. He was a close associate of the late Michael Manley, who was hailed by many for his leadership of the PNP.
In an interview last week with The Sunday Gleaner, he made it clear that he was not hunted for the position but instead volunteered his services to PNP president Mark Golding.
Fundamental to his acceptance was the belief that the absence of internal democratic structures, robust debates and political education had turned the 82-year-old party into a machine to win elections, while losing its way in the process.
“The way I put it is that it is clear for anybody to see that the Jamaican political system is in crisis. This is not a PNP problem or a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) problem. This is a crisis of legitimacy and you can just look at the voting percentages in the September 2020 general election, and the elections before that. But go even further by looking at the attitudes that people have towards politics generally. It’s not about mobilisation or for country, it’s more about what can I get out of this. What is in this for me? So the political process just becomes a mechanism for resources and the State becomes a chequebook,” the professor said.
According to him, the PNP had ceased to be that which captured the imagination of the working and middle classes (upper classes have traditionally supported the JLP) and had lost its ability to mobilise and transform the masses to move Jamaica forward.
For its renewal, Professor Bogues said the PNP “needs to fashion a set of political ideas that it is able to use”, even as he admitted that it will take those serious about nation-building from all spheres of the society to do so.
“I call it a way in which the party goes back to its roots, goes back to its original mission, although things and times have changed,” he explained, cognisant that this was not a decade or two after the party was formed, but rather eight decades later.
“We try to see where we stand, and what we stand for in the 21st century on questions of equity, justice, the dignity of Black people in Jamaica; what rights people are supposed to have; what education should look like. In other words, how do we change the Jamaican society, which comes out of a legacy of plantation and racial oppression, into a society that is energetic, that has quality academics, and what kind of philosophy, political ideologies you have that can be transmitted to people for them to be mobilised. That’s what I signed on for,” he explained.
The professor added, “This is about renewal and rebuilding in the 21st century with a population, a significant percentage of which were not around in the 1970s and who grew up under the throes of neoliberalism and Washington consensus, where questions of volunteerism and community were not on the top of people’s mind.”
A DIFFICULT TASK
The task will not be easy, Bogues acknowledged.
“It is a difficult task because the party has, for whatever reason, not focused on that, but instead as an electoral machine, as many parties do. If you win the elections, cool; but the PNP was never established only to win elections. It was established to be a political instrument that would have transformed Jamaica. So we need to examine whether that transformation was around anti-colonialism to get us through independence; or was the 1970s a transformation of the social structures colonialism bequeathed to us; and now in the 21st century, how do we transform a society that is at war with itself and where the sense of community is foreign and the Jamaica brand absent,” he explained.
Professor Bogues said the lifeblood of a party was its internal democratic structures where an ordinary individual knew they had the right and freedom of speaking, agreeing and disagreeing.
Pointing to Jamaica’s decision to leave the International Monetary Fund in the late 1970s, Bogues recalled how a group of economists once told him that they had never met individuals so knowledgeable about economic policies than Jamaicans, from higglers to the educated. According to him, that obtained because the PNP adopted a position and stood by it, defended it and educated the people around it.
According to Bogues, as the PNP president seeks to bring back consensus democracy, the decision of the commission will be fed to the political education commission and is expected to impact positions of its shadow Cabinet.