Repeated appeals for unity featured prominently as the People’s National Party (PNP) closed its 84th annual conference on Sunday, highlighting its many policies and programmes that have benefited Jamaicans since the party’s founding, and declaring that it has laid the foundation to return to State power.
PJ Patterson, who during his tenure as Jamaica’s sixth prime minister from 1992 to 2006 was also president of the party, as well as Dr Peter Phillips, who led the PNP from March 2017 to November 2020, both charged cheering, flag-waving Comrades inside the National Arena in St Andrew to place their differences aside.
The unity appeals were heartily received as the Opposition party has, since 2008, been dogged by in-fighting which was partly blamed for its heavy loss to the Jamaica Labour Party in the 2020 General Election.
Patterson, who is now 87 and has the most electoral victories as a political leader in the country, delivered his message to the conference via Zoom.
He said it was time for the party’s leaders, officers and candidates to once again “travel through the length and breadth of Jamaica and their constituencies to engage farmers, higglers, lawyers, engineers, members of the business community, writers, barbers, entrepreneurs, musicians, housewives [and] students to join us in the noble cause of accelerating our pace of human development and uplifting the quality of life for us all”.
Patterson, who joined the PNP in 1958, urged the Comrades to revitalise the party’s groups, which for decades guaranteed its islandwide strength, “and get the gospel of political salvation to every nook and cranny of our island”.
Added Patterson, “In looking ahead, we must seek to build on the pillars of unity and inclusiveness, for what we seek to build is an edifice which offers room and space for those who believe in equity, justice, and economic inclusion that ensures equal access to opportunity.”
He also urged the party to make better use of social media, stating that “since it is now the most powerful tool of instant communication we must take charge and rule it, not to trace each other but to speak about our spectacular record of achievements and the practical measures we will pursue to confront existing national challenges”.
He urged Comrades to support current PNP President Mark Golding, saying “Let us speak with one voice and pledge to send one message to uplift our people and heal our nation.”
Additionally, Patterson told the party to give greater focus to the younger generation as they have their own ideas and aspirations.
“The country cannot afford their increasing disenchantment with our democratic process, so we have to engage them once again and brand them as the vanguard for change,” he said.
Dr Phillips shared a similar concern about the lack of participation of young Jamaicans in the country’s political process.
He told the conference that he remembered how he felt just over 50 years ago when, as a student, he participated in marches and protests after the Jamaican Government banned Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney from re-entering the island.
“I never believed then, that today we would have had more than 50 per cent of our people, including young people, that believe that the political structures of our country are corrupt,” Dr Phillips said.
“I wouldn’t have thought then, that we would be in a situation where more than 50 per cent of the population don’t believe that there’s any purpose to be derived from participating in politics or from voting” he added, a clear reference to the 37 per cent voter turnout in the 2020 General Election, a sharp decline from the 48.37 per cent in the 2016 General Election.
He said he was concerned about the country’s future and as such he believes that the PNP “is and must be an essential part of rebuilding that future and securing a better future for the Jamaican people”.
“It will require a mobilisation of the nation, such as that which the PNP undertook in the 1940s and 50s that led to Independence and ushered in modern Jamaica,” Dr Philips said, eliciting loud cheers.
“So if you love the PNP and you’re a Norman Manley PNP, I say come on board now. If you’re a Michael Manley PNP, come on board now. If you’re a PJ Patterson PNP, come on board now, time come. If you’re a Portia Simpson Miller PNP, I say come on board now, and for all the people dat seh dem a Peter Phillips PNP, come on board now. This party is too important to us, is too important to our history, is too important to our children and our grandchildren for us to mek any little personal issue or sideshow stop the mission of the People’s National Party. Time come now,” Phillips said.
The unity theme was enhanced by a video featuring Patterson, Phillips, and current PNP President Mark Golding having a discussion about the party’s achievements and vision at the monument mounted in honour of Michael Manley inside National Heroes’ Park in Kingston.