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Editorial | After Dr Blythe’s whimper

Published:Tuesday | September 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Karl Blythe has had his whimper, but nothing is really settled in the People's National Party (PNP). It can't assume that its future is now assured.

Further, unlike what appears to be the belief of P.J. Patterson, its former leader and prime minister, renewal is not, in this context, only about a change of leadership, or mixing of young with old, in an ongoing relay. Fundamentally, it is about ideas - a set of values and a central philosophy around which adherents can coalesce. That is what has been missing in the debate within the PNP. It is where, with her victory, Portia Simpson Miller must now steer the discourse.

It may be tempting for Mrs Simpson Miller and her advisers to do otherwise, assuming that her crushing defeat of Dr Blythe ought to silence her critics and sustain her leadership until whenever she decides to go. That, without more, would be to misread events.

It is true that Mrs Simpson Miller, 70, and her key acolytes have borne the brunt of criticisms from those within and outside the PNP, who have argued the case for renewal since the party lost the government in February. The uncertainty exacerbated in recent weeks with the infighting over allegations by the party's treasurer of the mishandling of campaign contributions by some senior members, as well as the reported suggestion by its general secretary of political kickbacks from which the PNP should have benefited.

But the discussion has turned largely on personalities, much of it dog whistles about Mrs Simpson Miller's presumed intellectual deficiencies; the diminution of her persuasive powers over the mass of Jamaican people; and the PNP's failure to attract young people, in part because of an inability to communicate on new social-media platforms.

The inference is that the old guard isn't with the new age.

Whatever the substance of this analysis, it ignores two fundamental parts of the equation: what kind of party the PNP wants to be; and why it has become what it now is. Without resolving these factors, the party can only march, dysfunctionally, in a standing position.

 

ELECTION MACHINE

 

In terms of winning elections, the PNP is a very successful party - among the best in any democracy in this hemisphere. It has formed the government for 22 of the previous 26 years. Yet, there is this sense that it has lost its way; that, as a party that was founded on the principle of democratic socialism, it transformed into an election machine, shorn of ideology, philosophy or underlying values.

The PNP's retreat from its founding Fabian intellectual premise didn't begin with Mrs Simpson Miller, who has been its leader for a decade. That turn was obviously accelerated by the post-Cold War realities of globalisation and Jamaica's own economic failures that forced on the last PNP government the strictures of fiscal rectitude. That, however, doesn't extricate Mrs Simpson Miller from her failure to insist on deep introspection, to evaluate the core values of her party and how they ought to be expressed in the circumstances of the times, instead of being perceived, as Mr Patterson put it, as a "trough for people to dip in and feed and enrich themselves".

Given the realities on competitive, democratic politics, time is not on Mrs Simpson Miller's side to complete this job. But she can start it. She mustn't conflate Dr Blythe's whimper with a personal growl.