Thu | Oct 22, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | The paradox of leadership succession

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2020 | 12:14 AM

As a result of the electoral thrashing earlier this month, the People’s National Party (PNP) is going into the throes of a leadership contest. It is an opportunity for the party to recast and renew itself.

When that need was expressed, say in 2018 or 2019, there might have been some doubters and naysayers, who, like the poor, will always be with us.

But I read with a wry smile the opening paragraph of Ibrahim Konteh’s ‘Time come for PNP renewal’:

“The PNP had several Daniels reading and interpreting the writing on the wall, but, like Belshazzar, the party’s executive ignored them …”

Mi nuh know ‘bout nuh “several Daniels”. Anyhow … .

Thus far I have counted three, perhaps four, contenders who are likely to step forward and climb the slippery pole.

One major issue, naturally, is which of them is most equipped to tackle the Holness juggernaut when elections fall due again. But prior to that there’s a frightening laundry list of duties to perform: reunification efforts, recruitment efforts, revivifying groups, revamping policy formation, reforming the secretariat, and fundraising. And that’s just scratching the surface of the obvious.

Peter Bunting, up until his loss in Central Manchester, was the obvious successor. Now the debate is whether the loss of his seat should also mean he should retire his leadership ambitions. I am not of that view.

The presidency of either party need not be filled by a sitting member of parliament, and there’s precedent for that. In their time, Busta, Norman Manley, and Bruce Golding all held the leadership of their parties without being in Parliament. The current circumstances can, of course, be distinguished, but let’s not get too academic about this.

The point is that Bunting came within a hair’s breadth of seizing the leadership last year, all the time warning that an electoral tsunami was incoming for the PNP if they didn’t change the game. He was prophetic.

In the absence of a clear indication from Bunting about what his next step is, perhaps he will throw his considerable influence behind his sparring partner, Mark Golding? It is apparent and, frankly, impressive, that their friendship and coalition is supple enough to withstand that shifting of roles.

EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIP

These men have developed an effective partnership within which neither is subsumed or secondary to the other. Or, to put it another way, they managed to project a vigorous political partnership wherein both coexisted as equals.

Even so, unlike Bunting who one felt was always waiting in the wings, Golding maintained privately and publicly that he had no great desire to hunt after political stardom. Given his personality, demeanour, and obvious satisfaction with the life he had already built, it was very credible. That may be changing. So far the South St Andrew MP has put his admirers ‘on your Mark’, clearly indicating an intention to vie for the top spot.

Most politicians need politics more than politics needs them. That is one kernel of insight behind why Plato teaches that there is a paradox at the heart of who should hold power. Those who hunger for it and desire it above all else are by that very fact unfit for purpose and not likely to govern well. But the man most fit for high and responsible office is the man who doesn’t hunger for it.

If that is right, then circumstances have conspired to present the PNP with just such an oddity. But note, there is a big ‘if’ embedded in that reflection.

In a highly competitive electoral environment Golding will have to demonstrate that he can rise to the occasion and deliver the copious energy and tactical shrewdness required to lead a large movement. Such men, energetic but not choking on ambition (as was Norman Manley) are one in ten thousand, and usually very far away from the political process.

Judging by the flurry of news stories, poll results, and a teasing press release, South East St Ann MP Lisa Hanna will be throwing her fashionable hat into the ring as well.

Hanna has great strengths, one of which is marketing genius. Hence, we can rest assured that she and her team will, in short order, let the whole country know about those strengths in vivid and unforgettable blasts.

That said, because we are talking about politics, opponents will skilfully highlight any weakness, and even more skilfully turn any strength into disastrous irredeemable faults. I say that as prologue to the remarkable fact that I have heard commentators turning Lisa’s beauty into a dart for criticism. And it’s not clear to me that it’s something for which she will ever be completely forgiven.

Lisa’s unparalleled name and image recognition, and her established popularity among young people, will weigh heavily in her favour. It is a demographic for which any party is desirous.

Finally, I would be surprised if Mikael Phillips doesn’t enter the fray. He has settled firmly into his seat while distinguishing himself in parliamentary committee meetings and in party organisation. Moreover, he will have had close access to the party’s delegates over the last many campaigns for his father. Though his national image is not yet as pronounced as the others, this is at least partly because he has had the benefit, and burden, of operating in the shadow of his father. He is not to be discounted.

There are whispers of others considering, and some even brooding, about entering the race, but I think I’ve hit on the most obvious contenders.

Obviously, this is a subject that will absorb the public and the commentariat during what I expect to be a brief, and intense, run-off.

All told, if the PNP’s electoral thrashing performs the role that the Dudus stand-off did for the JLP, namely, force them to change and behave counter-intuitively, it might even be, in retrospect, one of those beatings that ended up causing more good that harm. But note, again, there is a big ‘if’ embedded in that reflection.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com