Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Editorial | Swallowing hard and accepting Blythe

Published:Thursday | July 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM

We wouldn't normally endorse any political action taken by Karl Blythe. He, we believe, has little to offer the process and much less by way of leadership of a major political party.

Indeed, our abiding memory of his is from the early 2000s when he had ministerial responsibility for water and housing and presided over a government shelter project called Operation PRIDE. The Angus report on that episode - despite the impeachment, at the invitation of the government, of some of its findings by the solicitor general - remains a worthy read.

Yet, we can't but appreciate Dr Blythe's challenge of Portia Simpson Miller for the leadership of the People's National Party (PNP) for the message it sends to her about the nature of democracy, and the need for its embrace by political leaders, as messy as the process often is.

Mrs Simpson Miller's party has formed Jamaica's government for 22 of the previous 26 years, including the four up to February of this year, when she served as prime minister and the government did good work, under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in restructuring the economy. As is usually the case when parties lose elections, many in the PNP have called for renewal, with part of the backdrop being the PNP's aged and ageing leadership. The matter has greater poignancy given the intellectual inertia in the PNP over the past decade, notwithstanding the technocratic efficiency it brought to economic management during its recent tenure.

Mrs Simpson Miller, 70, apparently sees the calls for renewal as personal attacks on herself and characterises the public discourse as airing dirty linen in public. She would like to see all debate, if not shut down, then conducted 'within the walls of the PNP'.

We, of course, do not agree. Political parties are not, in the strictest sense, private institutions answerable only to their members. They seek state power, which, if successful, gives them great authority over the lives of citizens and control over the country's resources. The public has a stake in their debates and their outcomes and ensuring that they maintain the tenets of democracy.

It is in the context of these precepts that we, with grudging admiration, understand the move by Karl Blythe in face of the decision of Peter Bunting, the shadow security minister, to put on hold his own ambition to occupy the PNP's top office. Quite sensibly, too, Dr Blythe seems to understand that offering himself as a stalking horse he has little to offer for the regeneration of the PNP. So, he is doing just that - being a stalking horse, ready, in the unlikely event that he beats Mrs Simpson Miller, to move in quickly, making way for others.

Or, as he explained it, a Blythe presidency, for perhaps a year, would "give others the time they need to take the mission of the party around the island to tell us what their plans are for the party". Indeed, from the current discourse, there is absence of intellectual depth around the catchphrase of renewal. In the circumstance, Mrs Simpson Miller is not being forced to engage the public about her vision for the future of the PNP and by extension, the creed its offers to Jamaica.

Unpalatable as a Blythe candidacy may be for many, he may just get the necessary discourse under way.