A closer look at the Christie factor
Perry Christie’s decision to remain as leader of the Progressive Liberal Party, his failure to demonstrate that he could effectively manage or be ‘forceful and decisive’ on matters of allegations and instances of misconduct by his Cabinet members led to a feeding frenzy and deepened the attack on him as ‘a weak leader’ and as being ‘not a man of his word’ – ultimately contributing to the PLP’s unprecedented election defeat last May.
That was the finding of a comprehensive assessment of the PLP’s election loss – titled ‘The ground has shifted. Finding new ground’.
The report was completed by Maureen Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner.
Speaking further of the Christie factor in the election loss, the report says: “Compounded by the conversation about his age, as a person who had stayed too long, he became increasingly unattractive to the public.
“This played out significantly in the campaign at the constituency level.
“Campaigners faced this feedback from voters as they canvassed: ‘I like your candidate, but a vote for your candidate is a vote for Perry and I can’t do that’.
“… At the constituency consultations, participants indicated that the party leader negatively impacted their campaigning.
“Some were strategic and focused on the potential of their candidate and what she/he had achieved. However, for most the negative impact could not be reversed.
“One constituency summed up the sentiment of most: ‘We were a casualty of war; persons wanted to get to the leader.’”
The assessment continues: “At the leadership level and among senior PLP supporters, respondents were hesitant to state that the party leader had a negative impact on the campaign, although they emphasized that he should indeed have honored his promise to step down at the mid-point.
“One senior supporter stated that it gave credence to the chant that ‘you can’t trust Perry’.
“Some in the leadership team suggested that having ‘lost’ the referendum, if he [Perry] had stepped down following the referendum the PLP could have been able to construct a victory in 2017.
“Another senior supporter captured what the majority implied: ‘Something about power, the joy of the authority to influence persons’ lives. You can tell persons what they can and cannot have, where they can or cannot go. This level is intoxicating to political leaders; all that I can see is under my control. You must come to me if you want this…’”
“He added, ‘Very few persons enter politics with an exit strategy.’”
The report says: “The PLP attempted to focus on the weaknesses and seeming ineptitude of the FNM leader; however, the political die was already cast.
“Voters had been prepared through both the actions of the PLP and the sustained media campaign to go to the booth with a clear position which was referred to as the ABC factor, ‘anybody but Christie’.”
The report also points out that there could be a tendency to focus only on the leader of the organization; however, during constituency consultations, participants were also clear that the overall leadership of the party had a negative impact on the party and their campaign.
“Cabinet ministers, who were for the most part senior ranking MPs, were dismissive of the party base, waiting long hours for two minutes of conversation; giving contact numbers that went unanswered. Party workers made clear that ‘the leadership of the party failed to listen to the ground workers’.
“While there was some consensus that the party leader perhaps should have stepped down, party workers stated that several of the candidates who were selected by the party should have been replaced with an injection of ‘new blood’.
“They compared the age of the PLP candidates to that of the FNM, indicating that the PLP held on to persons who should not have run. A senior supporter indicated that for far too many there was ‘no exit strategy’ so persons just stayed.”
The report also states that: “In the lead up to the May 2017 general elections, the Progressive Liberal Party was organizationally weakened.
“The internal systems which would have been guided by the party constitution were for the most part non-functional.
“While the focus is on the failure of not holding the required annual national convention for nine years there were operational breaches at all levels of the party.
“Branches which should carry out the day-to-day political work of the party existed and were effective for 20 percent of the constituencies interviewed; the National General Council, the highest governing body outside of the annual convention met infrequently, and rarely had the attendance of critical persons to ensure meaningful conversation and action on critical elements.
“The youth arm of the party was increasingly marginalized (their words) and or expected to provide favors (their words) to be considered for inclusion.
“There is no evidence of political work which sought to actively engage the large bloc of undecided and persuadable voters; recommendations such as the holding of town hall meetings were never actioned.”
The report says, “At the core of the party defeat is the intense build out of a negative image of the party leader.”
It notes that while Christie was not branded as corrupt, he hurt the party through his acceptance of unethical practices by senior members of the party.
“…His opting to continuously extend his time despite his initial promise to be a bridge to the future left voters ‘Christie fatigued’,” the report adds.
“The party’s defeat was sharpened by what party workers made clear was the PLP government’s failure to address the needs of the poor, the party’s core of supporters.”