Ricardo Brooks: Lisa's chance to rise
The last time my pen visited the subject of Lisa Hanna was when Dr Dayton Campbell launched his broadside against her. On that occasion, I opined that the time would come when she would find herself with a path to the presidency of the People’s National Party (PNP).
I believe that moment has come. The Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) defeat of the PNP has set in motion a series of events that many of us thought were at least three years away: the transition in the leadership of the PNP. Not only did the loss herald the impending transition, it also displaced the heir apparent, Dr Peter Phillips.
In doing so, it allows the likes of Hanna, Phillip Paulwell and Peter Bunting to stake their claim to leadership. To be sure, this doesn’t promise to be an easy ride. They will have to contend with the reality that though the party may have left Portia Simpson Miller, she hasn’t left it. That is, she may prove difficult to displace. Delegates conceivably remain loyal to Mama P. But let us assume that this is a perfect world, and let us assume Simpson Miller accepts the inevitable. Who would replace her? Who would take on the awesome task of renewing the PNP? My bet is on Hanna.
I’ve noted many have said it is unlikely that the boys’ club in the PNP will allow another woman to assume the reins of power in the party. It’s true that Paulwell, Bunting, and perhaps even Mark Golding may harbour prime ministerial ambitions. Of the three, I believe only two have a real shot: Paulwell and Bunting. However, both candidates start with handicaps of varying severity. Paulwell clearly has the most to answer for. He’s been plagued by missteps at nearly every turn in his ministerial career — something the JLP would make much fodder of in a general election.
Beyond that, Paulwell’s close association with Simpson Miller, something previously seen as a strength, could become a liability. So, while he remains a serious contender, his path to the top is troubled. Bunting comes with the financial pedigree to be able to mount a campaign for the top job, but unless he has a serious shot of charisma and appeal, I’m afraid Bunting will go the way of Jeb Bush – awash with cash, but no momentum.
That leaves Hanna. I admit that it is tempting to overlook the beauty queen-turned-politician. After all, she didn’t command a major portfolio in Cabinet, and she hasn’t been at the wicket for as long as her would-be challengers. It’s tempting to overlook her, but I believe to do so would be a mistake.
Hanna has already shown herself possessed of uncanny political instincts. If you blinked, you might have missed it. She has already begun a silent campaign for the top job, right in front of our eyes. She has had the political balls to show her hand at a time when many in the PNP are watching and waiting. She is brave enough to show that she wants it. Courage is half the battle. Her last few Instagram posts contain veiled messages which convey steely resolve to achieve #RenewalNow.
She has made it known that she possesses the “courage to do things differently”. And in a masterstroke of political strategy, Hanna took to Facebook to give a detailed assessment of the impact of the JLP’s sweetheart tax plan. This was not an ordinary MP mouthing off on social media. No. This was a woman intent on showing her command of the heavy policy questions of the day. While I disagree with her assessment, it must be acknowledged that this is a woman who intends to be prime minister. But can she do it?
Hanna is now entering her third term in the House of Representatives. By Westminster parliamentary standards, she has sat in the House long enough to be prime minister. She has the experience of sitting in Cabinet, albeit not with a senior portfolio. As a purely political matter, she has proven her mettle beyond doubt. Recall, this is the same Lisa Hanna who faced open revolt from three of her councillors.
With purpose and dogged determination, she faced down the challenge, by all indications, standing alone. After all, the PNP’s embattled general secretary seemed slow to quell the discord that threatened to rip South East St Ann apart. That was left to Hanna alone. Could it be that there were forces in the secretariat hoping the challenge would succeed? Your guess is as good as mine.
Whatever the case, Hanna did what her predecessor, Aloun Assamba, could not do — she outmanoeuvred her political opponents. This must not be overlooked, particularly because the challenge came from within. It’s hard to face those on the other side, but even harder to face those in your own camp. Hanna remains chairman of the PNP’s Region 1, a region which recorded a strong showing in the 2011 general election. That must redound to her benefit. Of course, she will have to answer for the region’s failures in the just-concluded campaign, but I do not believe that disqualifies her, particularly in a campaign where there was a considerable national swing against the PNP. The now former cabinet minister has amassed significant goodwill among Jamaicans. Opinion polls constantly show her in good standing.
Can she translate this goodwill into a showing of political support? We must wait to see. Hanna must also be acutely aware that she has a perception problem to overcome – the handicap of the Miss World crown. She must deal with that decisively. I described the much sought-after crown as a handicap because, unfortunately, our people believe a beauty queen is bereft of brains, which could conceivably affect her prospects for Jamaica House. Hanna has started the process with that Facebook post on the economy.
She must also mind the tendency to be seen as profiling on social media – her detractors will continue to raise it. She should carefully use the parliamentary platform to her advantage; she must decidedly confront and repel the abhorrent stereotype once and for all.