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How well do we know you, Prime Minister?

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2015 | 10:00 AMMark Wignall, Contributor

It is more likelihood than possibility that after the next election, the people of this country will still get to call Portia our prime minister.

Much about the lady is wrapped up in a bundle of perception and clichÈ. That she has not made herself easily and willingly available to the country's press is where the clichÈ trips in. In numerous surveys and opinion polls, the love we had for her and the bit that has slipped away stand out but, much of that public admiration is based on what we perceive her to be.

In the years leading up to 2006 when her performance ratings and approval were hovering at 70 per cent I was always inclined to place the false cap of 'psychologist' on my head in trying to study some of the polls results.

In response to a question such as, 'who would you say is the best performing minister of Government?' she would always score very high. When the follow-up question was asked - 'why do you say so?' the vast majority of the answers were, 'I just feel so'.

Much of that was covered in the fog of love, that irrational emotion that says we love her because we were impelled to feel that way. The majority of us do not know her personally because she does not live in the room or the house next to us, but when we see her on our television sets or listen to her we form a view of her that is based on what we see of ourselves.

A few years ago when I had reason to write newspaper articles highly critical of the prime minister, a lady friend and I had a somewhat heated discussion over matters having to do with Portia. According to my lady friend, she likes and loves Portia because the prime minister reminds her of herself.

My view was that I did not want the prime minister to remind me of me. I wanted her as leader to be 10 times better than I was. But I understood my friend. To her, seeing Portia as prime minister drew her into a world where she saw the best of herself and her possibilities.

 

1970s and '80s Stone polls

By contrast, Stone polls done in the 1970s and 1980s would record specific performance criteria of the late Michael Manley and Eddie Seaga. With Seaga, the 'why do you say so' answers would go along the lines of his good financial management, ability to understand and fix the economy, ease in talking to foreign leaders, and "ability to get money from foreign".

With Michael it was his people-based policies and his "listening to the people" which were noted standouts. But the late prime minister also had much love going for him, a lot of it steeped in the mundane. One famous female journalist of the 1970s told me that she loved Manley because of how he walked. I should be so lucky.

I gather that when the prime minister showed up in her capacity as People's National Party (PNP) leader at a meeting of the PNP faithful in Petersfield last Sunday evening, the crowd of about 3,000 people went into a frenzy on her arrival.

One person who sat on the platform at that meeting told me, "I was not interested in her speech. All that mattered was that she showed up and the crowd saw her as their leader. That's all Portia has to do at a political gathering."

Our prime minister has never sat down with Ian Boyne as a special guest on 'Profile' or with Dionne Jackson-Miller on 'All Angles'. And, of course, since the election win of the PNP in late 2011, she has never had a one-on-one with any senior journalist, or sat in a press conference without the support of heavyweight cabinet ministers.

We know why she has opted for that approach because her strengths lie in other areas, specifically, just 'showing up'. Recent polls have indicated that she is paying the price for her long absence even though many in the PNP are of the firm view that as she shows up over the next month or so, her rarity value will reap rich rewards for the party at the next election.

We may be having an election next month or in December, and before that, hopefully, a public debate between Simpson Miller and Holness. After all, the 'thinking class' needs its bit of entertainment, too. And we may yet learn something about the prime minister that was never revealed to us in the over 40 years that we have known her.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.