The recent battering of the People’s National Party (PNP) in the general election made me think of the English nursery rhyme, “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater.” It was just playful word association. But how did the contest between the two Peters – Bunting and Phillips – for leadership of the PNP impact the election? Did both Peters consume the pumpkin party with their divisive ambitions?
Nursery rhymes are, typically, nonsense verses, designed to entertain children. Meaning is far less important than sound. All the same, these rhymes convey subliminal messages. If the pumpkin eater couldn’t keep his wife, how did he manage to lock her in a pumpkin shell and keep her there very well? Any self-respecting woman would have busted out of the pumpkin shell and long gone about her business. But this is a nursery rhyme, so she stays. What lesson is the pumpkin eater teaching children about the roles of men and women, both in private and in the public sphere?
There’s a macabre interpretation of this nursery rhyme that tells a compressed tale about an insecure man’s domination of a free-spirited woman. Peter’s unnamed wife was promiscuous. He couldn’t ‘keep’ her. Unable to control his wife, Peter solved the problem by murdering her and burying her body in the symbolic pumpkin shell. The moral of this story is clearly not one for children. It’s a classic warning to women to know their place.
Mutabaruka, poet, talk show host and public intellectual, composed a clever poem, “Nursery Rhyme Lament,” which makes a mockery of these silly verses. In a performance at the Microphone Messenjah festival in the British Virgin Islands, Muta introduced his humorous lament in this way: “The strange thing about these nursery rhymes, you know, yu teacher never actually give yu a homework fi go study dem. But guess wha? We know dem by heart.” Muta acknowledges the rather efficient way in which children absorb seemingly innocent verses with dubious messages.
I’ve tried to make adult sense out of childish nonsense:
Peter Bunting pumpkin eater
Rose up to unseat the leader
Backward delegates told him “No!
It’s not time for Phillips to go.”
Peter Phillips pumpkin eater
Hogged the post of party leader
Doomed the PNP to defeat
So many Comrades lost their seat.
The contest between Phillips and Bunting was, fundamentally, about transformation versus tradition. Peter Phillips has, undoubtedly, been a stalwart of the PNP, giving four decades of dedicated service to both the party and his country. But, there comes a time when senior citizens must give way to younger leaders who can revitalise tired institutions.
Peter Phillips heng on, heng on until he was forced to resign in defeat. Why couldn’t he have left with dignity before this humiliating disaster? Pure ambition, it seems! Phillips, apparently, made up his mind that he must become prime minister and he was not giving up. He ignored all the polls and deluded himself into believing that the PNP would win this election, by 18 seats no less! He would become prime minister. At last!
I speculate that Peter Phillips’ best chance of winning the coveted prize would have been to respect Portia Simpson Miller and wait patiently for her to retire while the PNP was still in office. He might then have won the contest to succeed her. Instead, Phillips and his enablers treated Sister P with total contempt. They seemed to have arrogantly assumed that his BA in Economics, his Masters in Government and his PhD in Sociology far outweighed Sister P’s native intelligence, political astuteness and street smarts. They were wrong. Peter Phillips was defeated twice by Portia Simpson Miller in the contest for leadership of the PNP.
Then, I suspect that some of those Comrades who seemed to support Phillips in the race with Bunting had ulterior motives. They were against Bunting, not for Phillips. If Bunting won, this would certainly frustrate their own ambition to become leader of the party. So, it seems, they cynically encouraged delegates to vote for Phillips. I doubt that Phillips’ backers thought he could lead the PNP to victory in the national election. The party would lose, Phillips would be forced to resign and it would be open season to dust out all opponents in the fight for the top job.
HARD-EARS OLD GUARD
In 2013, the PNP celebrated its 75th anniversary. A commemorative book, edited by Delano Franklyn, was published to mark the milestone. It comprised nineteen chapters written by a wide range of contributors who focussed on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the party. In his “Foreword,” Professor Emeritus Edwin Jones issued a prophetic warning:
“. . . whilst there is much to celebrate, the party cannot and must not be complacent. It must accept that the changing times require different approaches to overall organization and the management of public affairs. . . . The modern PNP must, moreover, re-commit to ongoing processes of self-reform that build capacity for comparative lesson drawing and to effectively anticipate the future.”
What lessons will the leadership of the PNP learn from the party’s abysmal failure in the recent election? What new approaches will the party take? The PNP Youth Organisation, led by the fearless Krystal Tomlinson, has been militantly demanding that the hard-ears old guard step aside. In April 2019, the Gleaner reported on a contentious meeting of the PNP’s National Executive Council:
“The party’s youth arm said that those who the party officers listen to are ‘often conservative, antiquated, and myopic and where alternative views are given, they are shut down and disregarded’.” The “alternative views” of the youthful members of the party must be taken into full account at this time of crisis. As the PNP rebrands for the challenges ahead, it must engage in self-reformation. Not just for the revival of the party but also for the good of the entire nation!