Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Portia pathetic and painful

Published:Sunday | April 3, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Peter Bunting, if he decides to throw his hat into the ring, will have to take heed of Portia Simpson Miller’s warning last week that her rivals challenge her at great risk.

Given the choice between exercising patience with a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government that has been in office for a little over a month and an opposition leader whose story about her party's recent defeat seems conveniently made up, I am willing to give the JLP more time to get its act together.

Granted, I know that the JLP's $1.5-million non-tax package is of more import to those who would be affected. The finance ministry will have to be very creative in 'conjuring up' that package, as there will soon develop a correlation between the delays in implementing it and the JLP's electoral viability.

That said, when I listened to the former prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, speaking to ace journalist Emily Crooks, I was not the least bit surprised at Portia using the 'no one asked me' excuse for not once having a one-on-one interview with her country's press before The Sunday Gleaner's Erica Virtue shortly before the election.

I may not have got the specific excuse correct, but I expected an excuse of sorts. How else could one explain such politically bizarre behaviour where the leader of the country's government withdraws from direct political discourse and still expects her star power to be maintained.

One would have hoped for more artistry and drama in fashioning that poor excuse. Certainly, the former prime minister could have mounted a believable case among the religiously inclined that it was God who had told her to tell the people that she was 'working, working and working'.

Attached in the direct instruction from the man in the skies was that the people be told that she had no intention to 'talk herself out of power', as she actually said early in the administration in 2012. In any case, it would be the same God who had personally spoken to her and assured her that He would guarantee her every win.

Even with just my writing alone where I said that the then prime minister had dubiously created a world record in becoming the longest-serving leader elected in a democracy with no interviews to her credit, that should have moved her handlers to tug at her to arrange a one-on-one.

Knowing the PNP president and former prime minister, we can attempt to recreate what was likely closer to reality. When Riverton burned and poisoned the skies from St Thomas to Clarendon, I am certain that her communications people would have wanted her to speak to the nation and face her country's press. Then maybe one would have said it would be pointless to ask her to do so, as it was known that policy discussions were one of her weak areas.

On Emily Crooks' radio programme, it was again evident that Portia, on her own with a journalist, was touch-and-go. Portia sounded uncomfortable. Would having her address the Riverton City fire in a sit-down interview with two or three journalists create the fuel that could have made a bad situation worse?

The former prime minister was most unconvincing.

 

IF WE DISBELIEVE

 

 

PORTIA NOW ...

 

The extent to which the former prime minister has now decided to give a one-on-one interview and mount an argument that stretches the truth-o-metre has to be seen as indicative of the words she had used while she was prime minister.

I am positive that when the Julian Robinson-led committee presents its report listing key reasons why the PNP lost, failure to adequately and timely respond to scandals (thus worsening them) will occupy a top spot.

If we recall, it took the then prime minister about 10 days to respond to the Riverton City fire, and when she did, it was most embarrassing. She said that Jennifer Edwards, who was then National Solid Waste Management executive director, did not deserve firing, as she did not personally set the fire. Whew!

The PNP has already begun to salivate at the prospects of the JLP's no-tax package being derailed. If that party really wants genuine renewal, it has a duty to question the continued viability of the PNP president, especially as her recent opening up has revealed more leadership flaws than she cared to expose.

How can the Opposition PNP go forward and force the JLP into an early election if it is going to do so with the same leader who took the party to its first one-term loss and one that is so flawed in leadership qualities?

I was blown away when Portia gave the impression that she would have had no problems with debating Andrew Holness, but it was her handlers who made the decision for her to opt out of debating. Say what, Portia!

And what options could she not have seen as being available to her? How about a simple, "I make the decisions here. I will debate." Frankly, I chose to believe the very exact opposite occurred. Portia has never been a star debater and the extended period she spent seemingly hiding from the press and fearing the debate process only made worse her performance in those areas.

That she would have directly not wanted to debate would have exposed one major leadership flaw. That she believed she could opt out and that would increase her electoral her electoral viability is ludicrous in the extreme.

 

PORTIA SCARED

 

 

OF CHALLENGE

 

After deliberately shunning the country's press since her inauguration in 2012, the former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller released two whoppers in her interview with Emily Crooks.

Stating that she did no interviews because no one asked was the first, when it is on record that more than two media entities requested interviews with her. The second was when she stated that the decision to debate was not hers, but her handlers', when she is on record as setting quite puerile conditions for a debate.

The former prime minister bombed out on that interview and it was quite painful for me to listen. But, let us not quibble. Portia has always been extremely weak on discussing specific policy matters long after the time in the early 1990s when the late Professor Carl Stone implored her to read everything that she could get her hands on.

The lady has taken that incurious form of leadership to new heights, and it gives me additional pain to see her now pathetically trying to make a case for her viability as PNP president.

She knows that Peter Bunting may be considering that the time is perfect for him to make a move on her and dislodge her from the holy ground on which she still believes she stands. She still cannot see that it is a tenuous hold.

If Peter Bunting makes his move, the domino effect will follow. Phillip Paulwell, a Portia favourite, will not be standing by doing nothing more than 'bussing' a dance move on a stage. Peter Phillips would have to make his move, too.

As far as I am aware, there is no love lost between Bunting and Phillip Paulwell, and Bunting and Paul Burke. It is my understanding that Bunting and his ally, Lisa Hanna, would feel more comfortable with Paul Burke removed from the secretariat.

"Lisa should choose carefully how she gets involved in PNP business, and though there are issues with Burke, he has never abandoned the movement," said a Simpson Miller insider to me on Friday last.

Some of the Portia elements are very upset about what they see as a prospective Hanna-Bunting alliance. They point back to the abandonment of the party and the Government by Bunting when he left the party after he was not appointed by Patterson as a Cabinet minister.

And, many in the PNP are seething with anger that someone like former beauty queen Lisa Hanna, who two election cycles ago was in the JLP fold, might join a faction.

Portia Simpson Miller needs to step back. Her radio interview was proof that she can't be the PNP's face of renewal.

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