Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Ian Boyne | Blythe no blight on PNP

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Portia Simpson Miller and Karl Blythe in discussion at the PNP annual conference at the National Arena on January 22, 2005. Blythe, who will challenge for party leadership in September, has urged Simpson Miller to shoulder responsibility for electoral defeat five months ago and resign.
In this October 31, 2010 photograph, Dr Karl Blythe (left) makes a point to then general secretary Peter Bunting in Lucea, Hanover. Blythe has filled the breach after Bunting turned tail from challenging Portia Simpson Miller for party leadership.
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Karl Blythe will be soundly thrashed by Portia Simpson Miller at her party conference in September and sent back as a scapegoat into the political wilderness. But that will be completely beside the point.

Take his challenge as comic relief, as fodder for the Portia loyalists who will use his defeat as a lesson to all would-be dissidents and 'traitors' to the Comrade Leader. Karl Blythe will certainly get fewer votes than Portia Simpson Miller when the ballots are counted, but he cannot be counted as a loser. Blythe has absolutely nothing to lose - and everything to gain. Understand the dynamics.

Blythe, as a surrogate for those who want to see the back of Portia and who want to send a clear message to her, is ready for his stalking-horse role. But he is playing no ass in this role. First, Karl Bythe is not merely being used by anyone. Karl Blythe genuinely believes that Portia should have handed in her resignation after the defeat of her party in February. To his credit, he had the guts to tell her that to her face at the National Executive Council.

 

COURAGE

 

There were a number of others at that meeting who felt the same way but who would not have the effrontery to do so. Some quite wisely so, knowing the cult-like attitudes of some in the party. You have to admire such cojones, especially in a context where a leader elicits such love and undying loyalty - and hence fanatical devotion. But Karl Blythe is 70 and in political retirement. He can afford courage.

Those who have been making unfavourable comparisons with Peter Bunting or Peter Phillips don't understand realpolitik. Peter Bunting made the absolutely correct and unimpeachable decision not to contest a race for presidency with Portia. Karl Blythe has nothing to lose. Peter Bunting has everything to lose.

As I advised him in a recent column, better to keep his head down at this point when proverbial shots are being fired all over and the belligerents are most fierce. It would have been political suicide for Peter Bunting to have challenged Portia. It would have been framed as disrespectful, ungracious, power-grabbing, recklessly selfish and even sexist and classist. The propaganda war against him and the character assassination and vitriol that would have been poured on him would not have been worth it if he wanted to bring about renewal.

Plus, whatever certain party officers might feel about Portia Simpson Miller, whatever might be the ambitions of the renewalists, and irrespective of the sentiments of influential media voices that Portia must go, the majority of Comrades and delegate support Portia. Peter Bunting could not beat her, no matter how much he spent. He would get a political backsiding. And he knows it. Peter Philips has learnt his lesson, and while he would, no doubt, want to take over the presidency of the party as soon as possible, he knows that it would also be suicidal for him to give the hint that he is ready for Portia to go.

 

WAIT FOR THE ANOINTING

 

With all bigwig people and intellectuals in the party whom he rallied against Portia in 2006 and 2008, he could not succeed. What would make him succeed now? Not even Portia's loss of two elections would help him. Peter Phillips knows it makes better sense to wait for the anointing from Portia and to be seen as a good, loyal-to-Mama P Comrade, inheriting her political capital to be used against Bunting's finance capital in a run-off for presidency. The two Peters are playing their hands impeccably.

Those who are saying they have no testicular fortitude don't understand the dynamics of PNP politics. Bunting made the right announcement on Sunday night, noting quite rightly that "a tactical pause is not a retreat". Bunting gains everything: He is seen as cooperating with the officers of the party whom he said urged him not to contest; he earns points by Portia supporters for not causing any fracture to the party; and he does not squander goodwill among Portia loyalists (which are many), a goodwill he sorely needs for the future battle with Peter Phillips.

Bunting has been using the right words, noting, "the need to proceed respectfully and without damage to the party". These are code words for not pushing Portia out of her position or forcing her to set a timetable now, while holding off on a challenge that would certainly divide the party. Bunting also said he wanted to devote his time to the upcoming local government elections. Another fine tactical position, for he is now seen as supporting the leader's position that this should be the focus now, not challenging her. Thus Bunting is presenting himself as a team player, not bringing any blight on the party.

As he himself said, "We must understand in politics, timing is crucial." Absolutely right, Peter. You made the right move and you are playing your hand well. Can't give the other Peter any edge over you in a party where loyalty and devotion to leader counts for much and where disloyalty is punished.

Blythe's role is that of a John the Baptist to prepare the way for the new PNP messiah.

As he says, his plan, if he wins the presidency (hold your chuckle), is to serve for only one year while he gives the real aspirants the time to go around the island and organise. A noble and good gesture. I think he is sincere. And he made a very important point in an interview with Cliff Hughes Online last week: He wants to provide the choice for Comrades who want to exercise their right to vote rather than to see someone returned unopposed.

In other words, he wants to provide an opportunity for all of those who want to send a message to Portia. So all those people who would vote for Peter Bunting and Peter Phillips and who would not have that opportunity for they have wisely and pragmatically opted out can now register their support for renewal by voting Blythe. Plan is crystal clear. I can tell you, Blythe will get funding for his campaign. If you think the Portia loyalists will be taking his challenge as a joke, think again. They know he has no chance of winning but they are watching for what message his votes will carry. The two Peters won't give him any open support. In fact, if they are smart, they would stay far from him or his associates. But they have a vested interest in his doing well, for they know that the better he does, the quicker Portia will go.

It won't be business as usual in the PNP. Portia will announce a timeline for departure by conference. Her closest advisers know that there is a developing mood within the party and a groundswell in the media and civil society that Portia should go. That pressure on Portia cannot be ignored.

The PNP has an opportunity to demonstrate it not only has the formal mechanisms of democracy, but that it actually has a democratic ethos. The two are not the same.

The PNP must show its respect for dissent, for contrarian positions, for internal opposition. It is cult-like to malign people, to punish dissenters, to threaten and to practise exclusion and excommunication because people diverge from the party line. Tolerance is a virtue and diversity is a good thing. It is not punishable heresy to disagree with the leader. Organisational loyalty must not trump individual conscience. People must not sell their souls to a political party.

Political parties that loudly espouse democracy for country can't abhor democracy internally. You must 'practise a yard' first. There is a lot of dog whistling going on, with talk of "not allowing the party to be destroyed" and "brought into disrepute", when it seems blindly toeing the line is the real target of the criticism.

If Karl Blythe can provide an outlet for those Comrades who want to have their voices heard, deepening the democratic space, then he is serving a greater national purpose and should be applauded, not vilified by true lovers of democracy - in and outside the PNP.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.