Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Portia a lame duck for PNP

Published:Friday | January 15, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Ricardo Brooks
Portia Simpson Miller has outlived her usefulness for the PNP, writes guest columnist Ricardo Brooks.
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That the People's National Party (PNP) has historically shown itself skilled at mobilising, organising and electioneering is beyond question. After all, this is the same political movement which condemned the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to the indignity of opposition, not once or twice, but on a record three consecutive occasions.

And yet over the last year and a half, a different image has emerged. We've witnessed old party wounds being ripped open, loyalties shifting, the private being made public, massive road blocks, and most important, an absolute collapse in the leadership and management of the governing party. In short, we've been witnessing the undoing of the People's National Party.

Not surprisingly, the party's problems start and end with Portia Simpson Miller. In the first instance, the problem finds root in her judgement, specifically her decision to throw support behind Paul Burke as the party's general secretary. As it turns out, Mr Burke has been the straw that broke the camel's back.

We've known for some time now that Mrs Simpson Miller is challenged in offering strong and studied leadership. By itself, that is not problematic. Weak men and women who have ascended to leadership often have powerful deputies who hold the fort, while their leaders smile and wave.

Burke was no doubt entrusted with this critical deputising role, Dr Phillips manning the Cabinet, and Burke piloting the party. Simpson Miller would be free to be the titular head of government. But then, Mr Burke let the team down.

 

FRAYING UNITY

 

As the fabric of the People's National Party became undone, Paul Burke showed a particular proclivity for obfuscation. His head-in-the-sand policy did little to address the myriad issues simmering from all across the island in a host of PNP constituency organisations. Instead of facing these issues head on, the embattled general secretary repeatedly tried to pull wool over our eyes, deflecting inquiries by the national media, and downplaying the severity of the threat to the governing party. Mr Burke opted for a position of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Quite literally, Burke was fiddling while the PNP burned.

For her part, Mrs Simpson Miller could only offer muted threats in private, the majority of which went unheeded. Damion Crawford's recent social media taunt against Paul Burke is evidence of that. The unravelling of what was once considered a controlled party begins, therefore, with the thread that is Paul Burke.

Powerful delegates and constituency leaders rose up to mount unprecedented challenges against a popular Cabinet minister, first-term superstars and even the sitting attorney general. Without the largesse of patronage, MPs sitting in the government benches began finding it difficult to commandeer their political surrogates.

 

'ARROGANCE'

 

Delegates suddenly began complaining in great numbers of the 'arrogance' of their young leaders, a complaint which I believe is firmly based in anger at the ever-decreasing spoils in the various constituencies. If one no longer wielded the means to maintain political power, a challenge was all but certain. The PNP is still being ripped apart by the shockwaves of these challenges. See North East St Elizabeth, and the resignation of Comrade Raymond Pryce from the party secretariat.

Another thread that has been unravelling is the unwillingness of the next generation of comrades to hold their tongues. As Mrs Simpson Miller's leadership grows ever more feeble, the likes of Damion Crawford, Raymond Pryce, Dayton Campbell, Venesha Phillips, Kari Douglas, et al. have refused to keep silent, frequently admonishing their party or their party colleagues on a whole host of issues, social media being their preferred medium. This second-tier dissent really came to a climax when party vice-president (VP), wife of General Secretary Burke and Mayor of Kingston Dr Angela Brown Burke, was drawn into a social media spat with Damion Crawford, a state minister.

That a VP and a state minister could display this juvenile conduct highlights the extent to which the dissenting voices have grown loud. Not even a decision by the party executive, led by the President Simpson Miller, could silence them.

Had there been guidance and direction, this may not have happened. But this is not the PNP of old; this is a party coming apart at the seams. It almost renders Mrs Simpson Miller a lame-duck leader. Without guidance for its emerging generation of leaders, how can the PNP not fall apart?

Finally, I believe the PNP is acutely aware that the reign of Mrs Simpson Miller will soon come to an end. She must begin a period of deep introspection and accept that she is no longer the right leader for the job. She must accept that 'time come'.

- Ricardo Brooks is a political blogger and social commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ricar.brooks@gmail.com.