#COVID19Chronicles-157: September 16, 2020–Parliamentary governance structures becoming clear

Parliamentary life continues to take shape, not without a few fanfares in the distance. The Opposition party in the House of Representatives will be led by Dr. Peter Phillips (PNP president) till a successor is named; he submitted the list of Opposition senators.

Phillips is, however, being assailed by the youth wing of the party, PNPYO, whose president, and failed candidate in the September 3 election, Krystal Tomlinson, issued him a 30-day ultimatum, and offered a slate of 8 senators—which Phillips rejected! The letter stresses ‘We must change or die’.

However, the letter has been surrounded by some farcical cinema: it was claimed to be a draft (but it was signed); it was allegedly issued in error (but was leaked to the media); the PNPYO president included herself amongst the proposed senators (seemingly lacking in humility?).

Nationwide90FM reported ‘In the meantime, PNPYO General Secretary, Dexroy Martin, is confirming that the leaked letter was written by the PNPYO to Dr. Peter Phillips. But, he says the letter was only a draft.’

The ‘corrected’ version will then be released to the public; he claimed the letter was not an ultimatum to DR. Phillips, and presumably the ‘correct’ version will have removed any such suggestions.

I must say this episode runs a close second to the ‘drama’ around the issuance of the PNP election manifesto, which was ridiculed for being changed so often as to leave the public bewildered which version was correct. I hope this is not a trend.

In other prosaic business, Mrs. Juliet Holness, the PM’s wife, was voted Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives:

In the Senate, Tom Tavares-Finson was reelected President, and Charles Sinclair, a former mayor of Montego Bay, elected deputy president.

The House has its first sitting:

Women are filling more seats in both houses:

The magisterial recount of the tied vote in Westmoreland Eastern (not an oxymoron?) went to Daniel Lawrence (JLP), to return the overall winning margin to 49:14:

The Gleaner reported: ‘In court Tuesday, Lawrence lost one vote that was marked with a tick, rather than a cross or an X, but managed to finish with 28 of the 107 previously rejected ballots by the Electoral Office of Jamaica. Buchanan tallied 17 and MiKa’el one. The others were ruled as properly disposed of by the court…Twenty-one spoilt ballots were accounted for in the four-day magisterial recount.’

Two other recounts concluded in time for the reopening of Parliament; one confirmed the preliminary results. Hugh Graham (PNP) won in St. Catherine NW.

He wasted no time is ‘hailing’ his victory in his ‘From NUTTEN to Member of Parliament’ orange Lamborghini; the video archives will treasure this for the ages:

It’s worth recalling the car had raised eyebrows last year, with questions about how it had been funded:

Rhoda May Crawford (JLP) won in Manchester Central, sensationally ousting PNP deputy president and leadership aspirant, Peter Bunting, after Rohan Chung (Independent; 49 votes) had called for a recount!

However, Chung is not done and plans to use his constitutional right to take the count to the Supreme Court; he already has a bill of some J$2.3 million to pay for the first recount (what I term ‘cha-Chung’), after which he actually lost 1 vote. That’s not how ‘vote buying’ is supposed to work!

Two other recounts are still underway in St. Ann SE and Clarendon NW.

“We’ve only just begun” the song goes…

#COVID19Chronicles-146: September 6, 2020-PNP blinded by their own brilliance?

A part of me would love to go ‘full jugular’ on some people who thought they knew so much more about a subject than those who’d been doing it with some success for years. I’ve focused on this for a few days after a lawyer of some note challenged by understanding of foreign exchange (FX) markets. Even if my theoretical understanding wasn’t enough, I’ve worked as the economist/analyst in an FX dealing room and I have traded my own FX account. I know nothing about the workings of judicial systems in details, though I’ve done jury service and I can deduce certain things from readying court judgements. I’d think it highly arrogant to challenge a Queen’s Counsel or senior attorney on that topic. Yet…

But, I’m now looking at critics of polls. I’m no pollster and I actually pay little attention to political polls; that’s easier because none of my activities really derive their success or failure from what polls may tell me. I could check if my writing is popular or not, but as I write to clear my own thoughts, it’s not going to change what I do. Hence, when my wife says “You should write…” a shield drops down, immediately, to block out the idea.

An election candidate last week suggested that pollsters needed to have qualifications (pollster Don Anderson “needs academic training”); I gently asked what that should be. Next thing (well, after a few hours), my little question was featuring in a national newspaper.

I don’t know what academic training Mr. Anderson has, and I’m not sure why it would be relevant. If such training were essential, then it could be bought and brought in.

This all becomes more interesting because one of the themes now coming out of the heavy defeat suffered by the PNP was how their ‘internal’ polling (and I don’t know if it was done by ‘academically trained’ pollsters) failed to pick up the clear losing trend noted by the established polls by Don Anderson and Bill Johnston, amongst others.

The co-chairman of the PNP campaign, Philip Paulwell, ‘said that the party was misled by its internal polls as he reflected on how the PNP had brushed aside three national polls which indicated that the party was trailing badly the JLP:

“I did not believe in the polls because in our own estimation and the work that we were doing, we just never saw that. The polls that we did, for example North Trelawny, saw us winning by 18 points. We lost it tremendously last night!”

Personally, I think focusing on being misled by internal polls misses the point entirely that few in high places in that party had a good feel for what was going on in the minds, hearts, and souls of the population. Polls may give indications of that, but those on the ground should have felt in coming through their soles.

It’s interesting that the disaffection with PNP seems to have been so obvious to so many for so long, yet was not felt palpably by those who were running the party.

All the navel gazing that went on after the last election and the more intense searching for direction that should have gone on as local elections were lost, parliamentary by-elections were lost, and general elections approached didn’t pick up on this?

Whoever in the PNP believed that a manifesto that seemed to change by the hour, and included what most saw as an election gimmick or, worse, a ‘bag of tricks’ was a vote winner ought to be hunting for a private island for some long-term isolation and quarantine from their own minds.

Courtesy: Jamaica Observer

‘Group think’ is a common failing in organizations, and it can mark their death spiral. ‘Being too smart for your own good’ is also often fatal. Put them together, and watch water and calcium carbide combine. Also, when people think—especially with ‘academic training’ —that they are so much brighter than others that they don’t need to hear anything but what they themselves have to say, then ‘Hasta la vista, baby!

#COVID19Chronicles-144: Devastation—the votes have been counted

JLP predicted a big win and got it:

I don’t pay much attention to polls, but it seems the pollsters were picked up the right scent about where popular sentiment was leading. Those who questioned their qualifications ought to think hard about how they missed what the wind was blowing throughout the country.

The PM had said it would be about the thinking voter and I think he was right. Ample evidence comes in the result that substantial discernment is there in many voters’ minds.

The preliminary result was JLP 49 seats, PNP 14, on the back of a much lower turnout than in 2016, 37% against 48%:

https://twitter.com/televisionjam/status/1301730896979005441?s=21

Though it will be hard to measure, many will put the low turnout down to the ‘COVID effect’ that made many fearful for their health and did not venture to the polling stations.

The full recount to finalize the results takes place today.

42 seats would give a 2/3 majority and that is something that people will be focusing on as the new administration takes office, and how it will be used.

PNP were graceful in accepting defeat, but also are in shock at how fulsome it was:

https://twitter.com/televisionjam/status/1301727718648819712?s=21

The country is now mainly green, and it’s not because of ample rain during August:

https://twitter.com/televisionjam/status/1301724360433172480?s=21

The PM, Andrew Holness, held his seat by more votes, emphasising that lower turnout overall was carrying a huge wave of support for him and his party:

Big upsets were many for the PNP, and some on the back of strong showing by women opponents. The most stunning of these defeats was of Peter Bunting in Manchester Central, by Rhoda Crawford. I’m not sure where that leaves his campaign claim that his coil was thick like dumpling:

He was joined in the loser’s column by Wykeham McNeill in Westmoreland Western, Luther Buchanan in Westmoreland Eastern, and Fenton Ferguson in St Thomas Eastern.

Beyond the personal losses were the territorial losses in areas that had long been seen as PNP strongholds. Amongst the long list of PNP introspection will be how the west was lost:

https://twitter.com/televisionjam/status/1301722080099131392?s=21

Lisa Hanna squeaked in by 14 votes.

Dayton Campbell is now gone. Many disliked his bombastic style and he put his own head on a pike with his performance during the national debates.

After Peter Phillips threw confusion into the wind by announcing he would resign as leader and from politics if he lost, though he kept his seat, eyes are now on a successor, and with Bunting gone, are eyes now on Julian Robinson? He’s been admired by many, not just partisans, and tends to be a voice of reason and clarity within a sea of bombast and fringe lunacy.

PNP will have to reflect again on how it missed the point of popular connection so badly, and that using a platform that spoke to caring for people it started with a ‘bag of tricks’ that few couldn’t see through for hype over substance. In that reflection, it’ll need to understand how a party with some of the best thinkers in the current Jamaican political sphere, it allowed good ideas to be overtaken by things that were not far from nonsense. I, personally, see a common thread there, and it stems from a politician who’s labelled himself a trickster.

A Jamaican doctor friend, who hails from the west sent me a message this morning: “A decisive victory for the JLP, now the concentration should shift to abating the Coronavirus, the economic crisis and reducing crime and violence.” I think many would support that, along with the hope that the greatly increased mandate—which gives the new government a 2/3 majority that could effect Constitutional change—will use that power humbly, not with arrogance.

#COVID19Chronicles-143: Voting experience during #COVID19Life #JaDecides2020

I was not going to fool around with health protocols in order to vote; I thought things would be better early rather than late. I had my protective items ready: face shield, mask, sanitizer. I had my voter ID; I had my polling card.

Though polling was due to start at 7, I wanted to be early and was arrived before 6.30, in part to check on location and park in good time. As it was, I was met by a policeman and a few JLP outside workers, who wanted to check my polling credentials. In keeping with my previous experience, PNP seemed to have decided that they were going to be less of a presence. I chose to wear neutral colour-navy shirt and taupe shorts 🙂

Once I got to the entry of the polling station, I was 2nd in line, with another senior waiting on a seat. The station was by the loading bay of a supermarket, I was greeted and put into the line for my voting district. A young lady lathered my hands with sanitizer and I stood by area, marked by empty plastic containers. We waited and I watched the workers beavering around, with a very enthusiastic supervisor keeping things in order.

Joking, it was funny to see new COVID-related jobs: temperature checker class 1, sanitizing officer class 2, social distance controller…

I had no problems being located on the polling register—I’d changed districts and knew my new registration was valid, but always want there to be no issues. I was a bit concerned about the ID check, as I am now fully bearded and have hair on my head, while my picture has me fully shaved. But, no problem.

Voting was simple, though communication between presiding officer (PO) and voters will be a problem: the POs will have a hard job as they will try to maintain distance, handle ID cards, explain instructions, etc. They are focused on keeping the distances. If you like sanitation, you’ll get it in ladlefuls. Paper marked, folded, number recorded, and entered into polling box by the PO, and I was good for the ink dip, but one more sanitizer swish, first. Then, it needed to dry. Then, plunge. Done.

So far, I have no concerns: everyone was in masks, though the supervisor had a mask about two-sizes too large that kept slipping under her chin.

First impressions are that people are not voting with trepidation and I suspect that as word spreads that health controls are really being well executed, people will decide that it’s not such a big risk to go to vote. Having voted early, I have missed the crowds, and the numbers were building up fast at my station. As the heat rises, people will have to decide to brave lining up before or after noon. I got through in about 10 minutes, but anywhere over 10 minutes should be expected as voting proceeds, more people are processed, workers get tired, etc.

I’m not going to follow media coverage all day, however, I just tuned in toNationwideRadio, and am hearing that things are not as smooth in some polling areas: one lady arrived at a polling division to find no station! Reports are that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica website crashed; it had slowed because many at the last moment, it seems, decided to check on their eligibility, polling station etc. That might have happened because ID cards have not been reissued for a few years and some may now be concerned—unnecessarily—they have become disenfranchised. Reports are that social distancing is being a problem as crowds grow.

It’ll be interesting to hear and see how things go with the processes in contests for various seats, especially those that are marginal.

#COVID19Chronicles-142: Election Day, X ratings-Some pre-voting thoughts

As I woke early, as usual, I was excited to go to vote later. As a non-partisan, my first thought was simple: who needs my vote and who wants my vote? Then, who’ll get my vote? 🤔🇯🇲

Why did the orange party field a candidate in my constituency who did not even reach out to voters? They’re telling me to chuck my vote to the green team, it seems. If you know where I live, you’ll get my point.

Did I matter so little that not even a voter guide was left at my home? Not even one degeh-degeh pamphlet that’ll be only of historical interest, tomorrow? Tschooops! 😏

Please don’t run with ‘care for the people’ slogans near me! 😡

As a potential swing voter, what would sway me? Showing you don’t care will certainly not get my interest 🤬

Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by the orange manifesto: too much pie in the sky and little idea about how they’d be paid for. Not the stuff to tempt an economist. Also, not the stuff I’d expect from a party whose leader was the finance minister who could claim, unreservedly, to have set Jamaica on a clear path of macroeconomic stability.

The greens wanted me to focus on their achievements, and it’s easy to do do. But, I’m less impressed by cyaapet that crumbles in the first set of heavy rain. It wasn’t just during the past weeks that the shoddiness of the roadworks was apparent.

I never bought ‘5 in 4’ on grounds of simple unbelievable logic: I said it openly from the get-go. That it was downgraded to “aspirational” told me that my notions were right.

I saw ‘1.5’ as a potentially winning ploy in 2016 and it worked. I also didn’t believe that it could be f dat one with “no new taxes”—$30 billion of extra tax revenue later, my eyes hadn’t lost sight of the ball.

I’m a decent bridge player. Some hands of cards are easy to play. But, the party that had a solid hand but forgot what ‘contract’ they were in must find themselves looking at opportunities lost. You call ‘house’ for a win in bingo; different game. Calling ‘house’ like you call ‘fire’ in an election in a country where everyone is being urged to own a home will get you badly burned. So, PNP were in 2016. But, for 4 more years they wandered around like a child with ADHD; no focus.

Hindsight only matters if you heed its lessons. If you don’t, you’re just being nostalgic. Looking back, constantly, is a sign of uncertainty.

The world has changed; image management matters more. JLP won the image and PR game early and rarely looked threatened. Not everyone seems the little things, I do. When I saw this PNP tweet this morning, it said one thing: ‘out dated’. Really, a white, flaired pants outfit? Pure 1970s—therein, subliminally, is a problem.

Elections aren’t about what’s best, but simply what’s better; it’s always about small margins not big gaps.

Like many recent elections, this one will be down to small margins. Pollsters put JLP way ahead, but I foresee a closer contest. 32:31 was the margin in 2016. I see no reason why it can’t be that close again. Only 48% of the electorate voted in 2016; it could easily be no more than 40% today; COVID19 anxiety is strong. But, I’m not into forecasting elections.

I’ll go to vote early and get my job done.

#COVID19Chronicles-141: September 2, 2020: How silly can it be?

The real contest will be tomorrow, September 3, and I will plan to do a few different things to get some material to post, including a feeling for what voting in a pandemic really is like amidst the clear fears of infections many voters have.

But, on this penultimate day, I’m going to try to look at some of the sillier things that have gone on during the season. Now, I will do this with no partisan intent and in keeping with my mantra that I am an equal opportunity critic.

Gold medal-Just weird:

The award must go to Rohan Chung (Independent; Manchester Central) for his silent TV ads:

I didn’t hear any of his radio interviews, but that might have been because he didn’t say anything.

I’ve seen some reports about what the candidate represents, and I have heard him say he’s no idea against whom he’s running. It’’s hard to take this bid seriously, and I see nothing in his future but a few days of fame (trending on social media means a lot to many).

Much speculation surrounds his backing. Reports are he’s usually found wandering Mandeville shoeless (not a sin, really), but deep pockets are needed for TV ads. Could the money have been better spent on needy people?

Silver Medal: There but for the grace of Gods:

I was personally sad that the reliously-inspired Jamaica Progressive Party (JPP) dropped out of the election race so soon after announcing their intention to contest all 63 seats. I have no intention of being easy on them because they were ready to challenge all the tenets of sound economics and a lot of reason, and I really wanted them to defend that in serious way.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and in its short life JPP has found itself impersonated. This is its Facebook page; its Twitter handle is @jppjamaica:

However, someone has created a face account (@TheJPPJamaica) and tried to make it appear to be real—really confusing:

I’m convinced that @TheJPPJamaica is fake by one simple test:

Smaller parties don’t usually spend their valuable time focusing on their bigger opponents.

With cleared up, however, I am still bridling about losing my chance for a bit of nobility in the to-be-formed Kingdom of Jamaica. Maybe, they’ll join with the Maroons and we can get that Bitcoinish currency idea—the Lumi (not loony) currency, distributed by the Accompong Central Solar Reserve Bank (CSRB), back on track. What a meeting of minds that would be.

Notice how these fringe ideas seem to flow freely from Jamaicans who’ve lived abroad and just ready to save us? I’m not a pot calling any kettle black, now 🙂

Bronze medal: Pick a number, any number:

The clear leader is Damion Crawford and the ‘WEALTHY’ plan, whose funding seems to be playing whackamole, and up to yesterday seemed as slippery as an eel. I don’t know if it’s finance or fun ants.

Sadly, each attempted clarification leaves more confusion:

Best case scenario is that PNP lose and no one has to worry about finding the funding; worst case scenario is PNP win and someone will be taking the emperor to the tailor to find clothes that fit.

I have no sympathy for PNP, whose executive made Mr. Crawford manifestor-in-chief. You really can’t keep ignoring what experience tells you, or as Einstein said keep doing the same thing and expect different results unless you’re insane. This is the man who played a ‘trick’ on his former constituents by saying he didn’t want to represent them any more. Then, changed his mind, but lost the chance. He was parachuted into a by-election, lost it, vowed to stay, then claimed he’d need to step away from representational politics because it was hitting his business bottom line:

These are all self-inflicted wounds that make it hard to sell credibility and clarity of planning and financial acumen to the people.

1st alternate-Soap opera:

Honestly, the contest in Portland West was worthy of daytime streaming. In a nutshell, the two opposing candidates (Daryl Vaz, JLP; Valerie Neita-Robinson, PNP), seem to hate each other’s guts. The vitriol flying between them has often been in need of rating by the Broadcasting Commission. A day in court may be coming, and as one candidate is a Queen’s Counsel and the other is a real firebrand, saying sparks will fly is an understatement.

Mr. Vaz is the incumbent, a Cabinet minister who rarely skirts controversy, and normally a major mobilizer of voters. This year, however, reports are that the vitriol may have meaning as the contest is tight and he has been seen doing door-to-door canvassing for the first time since 2007.

So, not the silliest of seasons, but quite a lot of distraction fitting for a period of high anxiety over health issues. I mean, what did you do during the last pandemic?

#COVID19Chronicles-138: August 30, 2020-The leaders debate

Last night’s third national debate had much more bite and cut and thrust. This was a heavyweight bout and fireworks were flying. This wasn’t the hurling of brickbats we see in Parliament, but it also wasn’t the genteel fireside chat of the previous debate on economy and finance. Each man had his prey in sight and went for the kill shot early and often. That’s how we got to meet “Mas’ Tom” to help him with stories to lambast Dr. Phillips, whom he quickly dubbed “Pappa Tax”. Some may not like that, but it’s at least gives a sense that blood runs through their veins.

We saw a PM standing firmly on his government’s record of achievement. Getting things done was the mantra, whatever choice of words or actions described.

We saw an Opposition leader who had energy and clarity and qualities of a potential national government leader. His focus tended to be on betterment of people and opportunities for them to achieve that.

Questions were mostly well-pointed, especially those from Dionne Jackson-Miller, who was the real winner, for probing and persistence. But, that’s her norm.

George Davis punched well, too, but didn’t connect as well as DJM. She came with zinger upper cuts on matters to do with the PM’s apparent repeated disregard for the Constitution:

I, personally, put much store in the array of numbers trotted out in these kinds of debates, because I know that the ‘truth’ being delivered is whatever version of ‘facts’ the speaker wants. We may sometimes be asked to compare apples and pears, but without the option to clarify which. But, I notice where people stumble over numbers. So, the fuzzy maths about housing starts doesn’t really move me. But, I find odd that Dr. Phillips stumbled over the number of years of Jamaica’s independence “52…58”, not least because he has lived them all. 🤔 What did the PM mean when talking about “flattening the murder rate”? Too many COVID-19 updates, I fear. Who wants murders ‘flattening’ around 1000 a year?

I’m also not too bothered by what is really hype; image is part and parcel of the whole political game. So, we had the PM strutting onto the stage sporting his now iconic green Clarks shoes. If we didn’t see them during the walk-on, we got them at the end with the ‘elbow bump’ farewell (see below). But, not everyone likes the shoes.

I was bothered by the PM’s rambling answer to the question of how he’s dealt with corruption or misgovernance within his administration, for which I think he should get little credit for what has been at best ambivalence and at worst tolerance of corruption—and perception is key in that waving hands to show they are clean doesn’t cut it for most people when they see what ‘dirt’ has been blowing around. We have court cases pending, so the legal system may not come down definitively on the matter of crimes committed, but the stench that’s been lingering hasn’t been sweet.

The PM was duly criticized for the way he has accumulated power into his own hands (minister of 6 portfolios), and in the Office of the Prime Minister—“the Ministry of everything“. That allowed Dr. Phillips to contrast himself as being more about ’Team’. (In truth, that may be a way of making sure he doesn’t go down alone with the ship ‘Orange Manifesto’).

Again, time management reared its head, and both leaders struggled mightily to get their words out in the allotted time. In my opinion, the PM was guilty of this to an egregious extent bordering on rudeness in pushing through to the end of his desired words, despite calls to stop by the moderator. That’s disrespectful on several levels, but it’s also telling about how ‘power’ is seen by some.

The PM stressed leadership, strength, and stamina—a set of metaphors for youthfulness—and who can get things done.

Many people ‘scored’ the debate at worst a tie and a best a clear win for Dr. Phillips.

More elaborate polling is also underway:

Although, I thought the discussion panel for the economy/finance debate was weak in not committing themselves to identifying a winner, I wasn’t taken by the elaborate scoring method that was employed last night, which seemed like a means to force decisions.

On final optics, both remembered to urged voters to cast their ballots, appropriately. They were also each given a chance to send a message about voting safely in COVID-risky times.

The debate was a warning about polls. Dr. Phillips has been trailing badly in favourability ratings for months, by some 40 percentage points.

However, on his performance last night, whatever his ‘favourability’, he was at least a match for the PM. That may spur some to give PNP candidates a boost, feeling that the leader isn’t such a loser, after all. However, his performance may do little to change the other poll view that PNP has performed poorly and is disunited.

Image courtesy of 1SpotMedia

My takeaway from the debates, especially this last one, is what economics tells us is important: what shifts sentiments. Jamaica’s electorate is fickle and has shown it’s ready to dump an administration that has done many good things for the population, but can get overtaken by the lure of a juicy present (in 2016, ‘1.5’ [J$1.5 million tax threshold] did the trick). (People may now have views about how good was the cut in income tax being offset by increases in GCT and other indirect taxes.) This time around, I don’t thing the bag of goodies offered by PNP will do it, but a funny conundrum about what the current administration represents in all its pushing to archive may create its downfall. It’s often not really taken people along with it. Those with better memories will look at the road programs and how pretty the ‘cyaapet’ is but not forget the months of mayhem it inflicted on many of us, and how many loud concerns went unheeded. Last week’s heavy rains also showed that the quality of some of this work is shoddy. The management of the pandemic may be such an event, where the sense of calling elections when the spike is clear will strike some as another rung on the ladder of disregard for popular concerns. That’s separate from addressing what would have been a better time. So, I’m positioned to see a closer election than many predict. I have no money or reputation on the line, but want to see if those rumblings in my gut are meaningful.

#COVID19Chronicles-137-August 29, 2020-National Debate on the economy and finance

Jamaicans tuned in or logged on Thursday night (August 27) for the 2nd national debate leading into the general elections. It had been billed as a ‘heavyweight clash’ and we were told to expect ‘fireworks’ by one of the main newspapers as well as the host of the TVJ pre- and post-debate discussions (Emily Shields).

It never lived up to that billing, in my opinion, and that of many others.

The general impression was that, while Nigel Clarke seemed to have been the clear winner, both he and Mark Golding put in performances well below their best. Clarke won in many views for style and confidence; Golding gained praise for content in many of his replies.

Both debaters are great gentlemen, and they have moved into representational politics after solid careers in business and finance (Clarke) and finance and law (Golding). Both are very articulate. I don’t think this made them great material for TV debates, not that their fields were not competitive or abrasive, just that their manners are not usually in that direction.

So, I’ve my general doubts about them in the cut and thrust of Jamaican representational politics; they were excellent senators. Golding was Justice Minister (2012-16) as a senator, not becoming an MP till 2017, after PNP lost the 2016 election. Clarke had been a senator (2013-15) before serving as Jamaica’s Ambassador-at-Large for Economic Affairs within the Office of the Prime Minister from 2016, until he was elected an MP in early-2018.

So, one thing going for them in the debates was expected to be their solid credentials on the subject matter.

It’s also a sad reality, though, that once you’ve had a certain kind and level of education, it’s hard to unlearn some lessons. So, Mark Golding (Campion College and Oxford University) and Nigel Clarke (Munro College and Oxford University) are more like peas in a pod rather than oil and water. They find it easier really to be in agreement that violently in disagreement. But, watch, if you will, some or all of the debate:

I didn’t find most of what they had to say that riveting, and became more interested in aspects of their performance.

Golding began nervously and tried to lay the ground that Jamaica has PNP/Peter Phillips–as ‘Mr Fix it’–to thank for setting the solid macroeconomic base on which JLP/Clarke has built. But, in that opening, he hit his own Achilles heel—an inability to manage time so that his points could be made fully. As things went along, I sensed that Clarke noted this and tried to get in crisper replies to avoid the same trouble. It didn’t work consistently and he too was hit by ‘the buzzer’ and being cut off by the moderator/main questioner.

In truth, the two parties want to promote similar things: mainly, jobs, education, housing, and infrastructural development. As a result, at times, the debate was more like a minor squabble in the playground as the two traded numbers for each objective, and the gunpowder was damp in the fireworks that they tried to light near each other’s home. Some of the fireworks never exploded after launch.

Some of the exchanges lacked real bite. You could feel the debaters searching for each other’s soft spot to attack but often just missing flesh or gnashing on bone with a phrase that grated. What’s with Golding telling Clarke that housewives call him “Mr. 150” [the J$:US$ exchange rate is hovering around 150:1.]? At times, I was reminded of Denis Healey saying “Being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep”.

They sniped more often at each leader. Clarke called Peter Phillips the “architect of destruction” of the economy-rather odd, given that he has happily built on the macroeconomic stability that Phillips achieved as finance minister and for which he won the accolade of Gleaner ‘man of the year’ in 2015. He also said PNP’s package represented a “big back of tricks”. Golding said the Office of the Prime Minister had become a “holding cell” for corrupt Cabinet ministers. Some of the other barbs are shown below:

They had a couple of simple jobs to do heading into the elections. Golding needed to defend the manifesto his party had put out, but revised hastily after that, which made it look slapdash, at least.

Now, it is a nifty document that allows the creation of a customized manifesto based on information you feed in. However, to get that, you have to register and log in and give some ‘personal’ details, which need not be true. Well, that opened up the charge on ‘privacy rights’. Whether or not it was a real issue, it was ‘out there’.

Then, came a flurry of revisions ahead of the debate, namely to amend the coverage of the utilities subsidies. That opened the PNP to a string of criticism during the day and during the debate about which plan was being referred to.

“Monday plan
Wednesday plan
The one Damion talked about on the radio…
2’oclock PM plan…
6’oclock PM plan…
I don’t even know which plan to respond to” Clarke quipped.

Golding struggled many times to defend the document—explaining the cost and funding of the plan was a problem. Clarke said it added up to J$100bn; Golding said it was J$70bn and would be covered by repriotizing spending. But, many want to know if it can it happen without new taxes.

Both debaters were often drowning in numbers on jobs, poverty, growth phases, etc. I wondered if many had the feeling they were not getting a picture of what really happened in the economy, ie real gains and real pain. Talking about these things as abstracts is quite different to say something like ‘2000 unemployed women now have jobs in…’ It felt sterile to me. But, honestly, it’s often that way at the highest policy levels.

Most polls I’ve seen show Clarke was viewed as a clear winner.

I was struck that neither tried to put Jamaica’s current situation and any outlook into a clear global economic context, albeit driven by a health crisis.

Opinions seem divided on how Clarke handled the thorny topic of the objective to grow the economy by 5% in 4 years (5in4): Clarke went to the purpose of growth: employment, reduce poverty, increase tax revenues that allowed higher public investment, etc. He positioned growth as a means to these ends; and the government had “achieved the ends”. Of course, we want to growth faster, he added. “Brilliant answer,” said Emily Shields in the post-debate discussion. I thought it was a good repositioning by a finance minister who too office long after his predecessor and PM had committed to it, and avoided possibly throwing them under a large bus.

Clarke also ended cleverly by starting his closing statement is regal or priministerial style: “My fellow Jamaicans…” and reminded people to vote JLP 🙂

Golding closed by reminding people of the public health crisis and an economy reeling. He seemed relieved at the end 🙂 His self-assessment was honest, and he noted how timing had not been his friend. Clarke’s self assessment was calmly assured.

Discussion of the debate by a panel of ‘economists’ was interesting but nothing much came up that surprised until the end, when none of them wanted to ‘declare a winner’. Some intellectual arguments were put forward, but it seemed a bit cowardly, and perhaps a bit elitist that their personal views were too important to share. I’ve a suspicion that behind the reluctance is some sense that their views will be held against them, at some later stage. Watch and see:

https://www.1spotmedia.com/#!/tv-shows/5f3be75f8b104a10163d8604/5f3c08288b104a10163d86d5/5f4920588b104a10163e4269

The debates are really stand-alone and don’t really set each other up. So, the last, on Saturday night, between the two party leaders, should cover all possible grounds and could—we hope and pray—get a bit tasty.

#COVID19Chronicles-134: August 26, 2020-The Debates begin: kid gloves stuff, so far

The National General Election Debates began last night, hosted by the Jamaica Debates Commission, with teams of 3 representing the two main parties—I really missed the chance to hear from the now-crashed-on-takeoff Jamaica Progressive Party.

It wasn’t riveting to watch, and being a declared fogey, I found the 9pm start time too late for my tastes. I gave it 15 minutes, went to bed and enjoyed catching up with the rest this morning—it’s just over an hour. I don’t need to listen to analysts discussing things after.

I’m no fan of televised political debates, which are too often just platforms for party sound bites, a bit of back biting, and often short on real substance; more damage-inflicting on the opponents, if possible, and damage limitation for your own side. Because politicians are often fast and loose with their facts, many such debates now come with fact checking; I didn’t detect it last night.

My vote won’t change because of the debate, but my views on politicians may. However, all on show last night have given us hours of airplay over the past four years, so little new will surface for me. A few odd juxtapositions happened, for instance, when Raymond Pryce (brought in to replace a COVID-infected Peter Bunting) was dealing with a question on roads, I couldn’t help but see him protesting at the weekend by lying on the rain-sodden street in the constituency he is contesting. His explanation to the Gleaner is worth a read:

‘Pryce said he was told by the policewoman that he was in contravention of the Disaster Risk Management Act, insisting that unless he lived in the community or had a spouse there he had to leave. The politician said he demanded to know what section of the act he had breached, but the deputy superintendent could not say. “So, mi siddung, then mi cut me two hands behind mi neck and mi cross mi feet at the ankle,” he said. Pryce said the policewoman told him that he was “an embarrassment” and that his antics were unnecessary.’

The video is as good:

The debaters started off mainly nervous, but Lisa Hanna showed that she has been good at this stagecraft for a while. Pryce, too, was the consummate debater in terms of tone and demeanor, and how words and looks must meld to give the right aura. It was all genteel stuff, really, for the most part, and because it’s supposed to be about politesse as well as politics, it’s just a bit sad.

It was not until after about 50 minutes that things got a little spicy. First, Dr. Tufton went after Dr. Campbell (stating clearly “the member opposite”–Dr. Campbell is an MP, like him–except he apparently looked at Mr. Pryce, which caused him some offence) about a reference to a death ‘during’ the COVID-19 pandemic and linked it to the government “campaigning”—the by-election was in early-March (well before any national COVID issues) and the unfortunate death during childbirth was in mid-April. Not sure what Dr. Campbell was trying there, except a badly aimed cheap shot. Anyway, back came Mr. Pryce to correct the minister of health on yet another ‘piece of misinformation’–the apparent misdirected glance–and he went there!!!! He got in his quick jab about ‘marketing…’ and stopped short enough to for it to not cross the ‘Market Me’ line (a matter related to the company and its contract with the ministry of health and wellness, that some want to suggest comes from a personal relationship between the minister and one of the company’s principals). It was truly bizarre, not least because, all through the Tufton-Campbell exchange, the cameras panned only between the two of them, so we the viewers were in no doubt about the exchange. As for Mr. Pryce, perception is a funny thing.

But, we had to put up with some stolid stuff, instead, the rest of the time. With no audience, the atmosphere was also lacking. None of the piped crowd noise like in recent COVID-affected football matches, sadly: “C’mon, Tufton! C’mon, Tufton!” 🙂

I’m a sports buff, so I have no doubt that things like debates are fine for a country’s intellectuals or insomniacs, but I would like to see a change-up. Why not some arm-wrestling, or a simple display of strength test. In this era where almost everyone is working out and looking to get fitter, put some of them under a barbell and add the weights till they say ‘Stop!”. Burpees, crunches, push-ups, wind sprints. We want to know these people have the stamina. So, have them do a few wind sprints, or spin around a pole and then answer the questions, while catching their breath. At the least, it would be entertaining. I know some would welcome a no-holds-barred WWF slam down.

In passing through the corridors of social media earlier, I was intrigued by the range of opinions, praise and criticisms. I was also intrigued by various displays of what could be called ‘shade’. This one from Phase 3 Production’s head had me rolling. It’s innocent enough on the face of it, but, did it need to be noted? 🙂

Some interesting ;social distancing occurred

We have two more of these to deal with.

But, hey, spare a thought for our northern neighbours having to endure the Republic National Conference, with screech-fest performances such as that of Kimberly Guilfoyle:

Sometimes, you have to be grateful for life’s small mercies 🙂

#COVID19Chronicles-133: August 25, 2020-What do the main parties stand for?

Election Day is September 3, and the first of three debates will be tonight.

You can keep track on a scorecard provided by the Jamaica Debates Commission:

I’d hoped to read at least part of both manifestos by now, but the JLP hasn’t got theirs ready, yet—due out this morning. (I could make the obvious point about how daft it seems that the party that had the election timing in its control couldn’t have its manifesto out first.)

Instead, we have the LalaLand Manifesto of the Jamaica Progressive Party. I’m being uncharacteristically harsh on that, because it was the tail of a damp squib of an election appearance, because the party pulled out days after issuing the manifesto. It was manifestly a non-flyer. It would not get on the manifest of an plane except to see Barnum and Bailey. They will be the butt of jokes for days, and deservedly for the many dreams of untold riches that were snatched from our grasps.

PNP has come out with a nifty ‘personal’ manifesto. It’s cool in that you don’t have to provide a real profile, so you can see how you’d fare, for instance, if you were a rich, transvestite with a family of four, and a herd of pangolin living in St. Elizabeth. There’s hope for all, in that sort of offering.

But, as we’re really talking about the political heavyweights, I’d like to have both JLP and PNP story books at the same time. I’d also have preferred if a bit more technological flair had been shown and I could have had the documents in audio file form, so that during the likely many days of being locked in, I have lots of material to listen to and dream the days away. So, let me hold off.

The thought that’s going through my mind is just a simple one: What does each party stand for? Once upon a time in my life, I had a clearer idea of different philosophies driving the parties and their policies. That was clearer to me from I could really think about these things in the 1970s through 1990s, and I had the clear social democratic dreams of Michael Manley to look at and a more capitalistic and business-oriented and US-focused stance of Edward Seaga.

Now, it’s a bit harder to describe in a substantive way. I asked my wife and she said ‘Prosperity; focus on growth’ versus ‘Cater to the people’s needs’. I’ll not hold her feet to the fire on this, but it tells me that the ideas are a bit squishy. Maybe, that allows for more chewing away at the middle ground of people’s desire for better lives shaping it is slightly different images.

More assuredly, after the current administration, the JLP can put itself forward as a party that is set on ‘getting things done’ and appearing to get them done quickly. One of the problems with the PNP’s cries that much of this is building, literally, on their plans, is that people wonder why the plans were languishing. Ideas that don’t materialize aren’t worth much.

The real meaning of support for each party is maybe quite basic for lots of people and it’s not about grand images that show a Jamaica in totality, but the state of a community, say, that looks different then than it does now. Hence, politicians’ focus on basic services, like water and roads. It’s embarrassing to the nation that water supply is still such a thorny issue across the country. The state of roads is, sadly, going to be an unwanted thorn to the administration, after Tropical Storm Laura lashed us this weekend and many roads—including the crispy ‘cyaapet’ are now in a flooded or washed away shambles.

The damage to the rural roads cement (no pun) a tale that is as old as most people, of roads that are just not fit for purpose.

The damage to newly constructed stretches tells us that little has changed: US$20 million spent and what? Many will smell a familiar rat when learning that new roads were built without drainage systems. ‘Tom drunk, but Tom is no fool.’ 😦

The most that any party can do in coming days is make more promises about the provision and the maintenance, but memories will be fresh of what those realities are.

I don’t want to keep harping on about the things that can turn a near ‘slam dunk’ election win into a ‘squeaky bum’ nail biter, but you’re seeing some of them with the impact of nature on the national ability to move. That’s one of the problems with any idea of delaying elections, as far as the government is concerned: more stuff can go wrong.

In this narrow, optic, then, it’s not going to do the government too much harm that the pandemic has forced its hand to tighten restrictions again, with effect from tomorrow.

While, it’s easy to see a cynical take to that, it’s also what people have been clamouring for as the infection numbers rise sharply. But, as cards get handed out to play in coming days, it’s going to be a nervous time seeing whether some of them are hard to play with a positive air or if they are just to be turned over with hope of drawing a better one. Nature is not a controllable beast and, during hurricane season… 🙂