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George Davis | Portia was out of her depth

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

So Sister P is leaving the building, saying goodbye to her titular role as People's National Party (PNP) president and leader of the Opposition. I say titular because she really has not had the presence of a leader since she took the oath of office for a second time in five years on January 5, 2012.

Hers is a story of victory and triumph, told in the strongest political vernacular, tinged with the realisation of ambition, the shattering of stereotypes, and the creation of history.

In the same breath, hers is a story of disappointment, mediocrity and loss, marked in blotches by the ink of intellectual dwarfism. The prospects of Sister P as leader and motivator had Jamaicans hopeful.

But the experience of living under her stewardship has left us angry and frustrated. It's not that people expected Sister P's rule to be all about milk and honey. No. It's just that we didn't expect to come to the dining table and see her serve us a bowl of hot tar, making not even the faintest attempt to pass it off as soup.

I have revised my opinion of Sister P, the person, over the years. Back when she existed at a distance from me, I always wondered what the hype was about, especially when she was lauded to the heavens for abstaining in that infamous parliamentary vote on an Opposition JLP resolution on April 6, 2004, criticising the underfunding of the fire services. It was, and still is, fascinating how much goodwill accrued to her, not because she voted against her party, but owing to the fact she abstained.

So I've always felt there was much fluff in the narrative about her qualities as a leader and actor in the country's governance process. Those views were reinforced when, in 2002, she was moved from the tourism ministry to her old stomping ground of local government and sport. Now, with due respect to all ministries, that move was a serious demotion. Yet it's as if some people saw it as a promotion of sorts.

Being in a newsroom and working the stories around her time as first, an aspirant for the PNP's top job, and then as prime minister and opposition leader, my views have lost their edge.

Whereas I was embarrassed that of all the outstanding women in this country, it was someone with such intellectual limitations who was the prime minister, being in her presence changed all of that. Sister P taught me that leadership and commanding the respect of those with greater intellectual agility owed more to the whole person than simply being academically gifted.

Anyone who has been in her presence can attest to that invisible thing, that charm, that warmth and genuine care for people that is uncommon. The privilege of journalism meant I got to know the magnetism of Portia and sample the reason for so many people loving her, despite her glaring limitations as a leader. I felt and saw why people loved her.

 

LIMITED IN GOVERNANCE?

 

Sadly, while personality and charisma are important in any leader, they are not foremost on the list of requisite qualities. And Portia failed hard at making this country better. She was hopeless in providing the intellectual leadership that every prime minister in the 21st century must be able to deliver. Skilled as she was in politics, she was extremely limited in governance. And in her full term as prime minister, it became clear that she, too, was aware of her limitations, to the extent she insulated herself from the people, knowing she could not manage a conversation with them about the things her government was doing to make us all better.

In the end, Portia realised that the country had moved on without her on February 26 this year. She realised, too, that all, except her acolytes inside the PNP, had also taken the show on the road, leaving her standing in the shadows.

Her time as a politician has been great for Portia. But it has been a disaster for the country. And it's not her fault entirely. For while she always had the compassion for it, at no point did she ever posture as if she had the head for the job of prime minister of Jamaica.

Selah.

• George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.