Wed | May 31, 2023

Storied history of political mudslinging

Unease that general elections campaign trail will get ugly with no oversight to rein in politicians

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2023 | 1:30 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.
The late Edward Seaga.
The late Edward Seaga.
PNP leader Mark Golding.
PNP leader Mark Golding.

From ‘dutty labourites’ of the 1960s to ‘chi chi man’ of the 1990s, and ‘damn fools’ and ‘fool fool’ in between, Jamaica’s politics has a storied history of ugly name calling. And an even uglier characterisation of opponents by individuals of the two main political parties – the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People’s National Party (PNP).

Much of that name calling, however, has been displayed on the campaign trail, with a few occurrences in George William Gordon House, such as last week’s “Massa Mark” characterisation of Mark Golding by Nigel Clarke, which sparked an uproar and walkout by the Opposition.

Yet, that was mild, some pundits believe, compared to the utterances over the years. And the anticipation is that it will escalate as the general elections campaign trail heats up, with no political ombudsman around to rein in the politicians.

“As a newcomer to representational politics, I have to steel myself for what I expect to come. I have no intention of going down that road, but given our political history, I think we need some form of oversight to keep politicians in check, otherwise I fear we will see a new level of mudslinging unleashed,” said a first-time political opponent.


One politician who was victimised by his roots, but who was adept with political insinuations, was the late Edward Seaga, the United States-born former leader of the JLP and former prime minister of Jamaica, whose nationality was often thrown in his face.

Those closest to him said he was never intimidated or offended by Neville Martin’s (in)famous ‘My Leader Born Ya’ song, which remains a rallying anthem of the PNP.

Prudence Kidd-Deans said she finds the back and forth name calling of recent vintage rather funny.

“I laugh when it happens because I remembered how the song ‘My Leader Born Ya’ was used against Mr Seaga, to suggest that because he wasn’t born here, somehow that made him less capable of representing Black Jamaicans. But while people around him were upset, he wasn’t. That was not the characterisation that upset him at all,” said Kidd-Deans, one of the closest allies and confidant of the late JLP leader.

She disclosed what hurt Seaga the most.

“He saw himself and (Michael) Manley as political matadors. A battle of wills and it was a fight to the end, as to who was stronger. But what hurt him the most was when former prime minister PJ Patterson, on a political platform, told a crowd of PNP supporters that if he came off the platform and came in the crowd, you could not tell the difference between him and them,” Kidd-Deans recalled last week.

“Seaga felt that it was unkind because of all of the things he had done for the Jamaican poor.”

Patterson had succeeded Manley as PNP leader and was being heralded as the Black Prince.

But Seaga was not known to mince words. In one of his campaign speeches, as the party geared up for the March 1993 general elections, he told supporters that, “Nobody never sing ‘Boom Bye Bye’ fi me yet” – a song with insinuations about homosexual lifestyle, an apparent jab at Patterson’s sexuality which was vulgarly questioned.

As prime minister, Patterson was forced to defend his sexuality on the then morning radio talk show ‘The Breakfast Club’ with hosts Beverley Manley and the Anthony Abrahams.

Seaga also referred to the PNP as ‘scandals’ using black scandal bags, interpreted as a direct reference to Patterson’s dark hue in a majority black country.


Commentators who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner last week said Seaga’s heritage was never attacked in Parliament, unlike how current PNP leader Mark Golding was last week, when he was called “Massa Mark” by Finance Minister Dr Clarke.

Clarke initially likened Golding, a White Jamaican, to “Massa” – a term used for mostly English and Scottish owners, abusers and oppressors of slaves. He later directly referred to him as “Massa Mark”.

Outside of the House, both Golding and Clarke have been on the giving and receiving end of the mudslinging.

In his early political career, Clarke was referenced as “some kind of Black royalty” by Peter Bunting, the current leader of Opposition Business in the Senate.

And Golding was cited by former Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown for calling JLP chairman Robert Montague a "likkle bwoy". Parchment Brown asked Golding to apologise, but he defended the comments, saying it was part of the cut and thrust of politics.

PNP general secretary Dr Dayton Campbell also referenced Montague as leading the “Black side of the party”.

Pundits The Sunday Gleaner spoke to last week said the National Democratic Movement (NDM) under Bruce Golding’s leadership did not engage in name calling. However, when Golding returned to the JLP, he said it appeared that termites were eating out the brains of the PNP leadership. Supporters felt it was a personal attack on Portia Simpson Miller, whose educational background was pounced on by detractors in both the JLP and PNP at the time.

With general elections constitutionally due in 2025, a ‘referee’ for the expected uptick in political ugly has not yet been named, nor the country told where the responsibility to gauge political temperatures will rest, since the closure of the office of the Political Ombudsman.

Although there has been no official pronouncement by the Government, it was suggested that the functions be transferred to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown said that office has not been advised of any new role.