Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Arnold Bertram | PNP renewal - a hard row to hoe

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Arnold Bertram
PNP President Portia Simpson Miller stands beside her predecessor, P.J. Patterson, at last weekend's 78th annual conference.
An indoor agent supporting Portia Simpson Miller is emphatic in backing her boss at last weekend's internal election.
This man is a sign of unswerving devotion to Portia Simpson Miller.
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The recent PNP internal elections produced no surprises. Karl Blythe, who challenged Portia Simpson Miller for the presidency, received 198 votes, just six shy of the 204 he received in 2006. Simpson Miller increased her votes from 1,755 to 2,471, but then neither Peter Phillips, who got 1,538 votes then, nor Omar Davies, who got 283, were in the contest this time around. Their absence explains Simpson Miller's increase of 716 votes. It is worth noting that only 2,669 of the registered 3,312 voted in the presidential elections.

Interestingly, a victory for Blythe would have had the path-breaking effect of separating the presidency of the PNP from the leadership of the party's parliamentary group since not being a member of parliament Blythe could not have become leader of the Opposition. The question is whether Simpson Miller will interpret her win over Blythe as a mandate to extend her tenure and further postpone the party's renewal process.

The results of the vice-presidential elections were equally predictable. For those close to political developments in St Ann, Lisa Hanna's fifth-place finish in her vice-presidential bid was no surprise. She was the only one of the five candidates who entered the contest without the full support of her constituency. Three of her four councillors, and 46 of the delegates from her constituency, did not vote for her.

For the politically ambitious, the climb to the top begins with a solid constituency base, and if Hanna wants to continue her political career, she could learn from newcomers Natalie Neita-Headley, Mikael Phillips, and Dayton Campbell. When one considers that she was given a seat, which the PNP has always won since 1942, the present levels of division and disaffection that currently obtain in South East St Ann certainly raise questions about her capacity to lead. Fortunately for her, in K.D. Knight and John Junor, she has two outstanding leaders of the party who are more than capable of providing oversight and tutelage in the building of a constituency organisation.

Among the newly elected vice-presidents, Wykeham McNeill, with his impressive performance in the Ministry of Tourism, together with the management of his constituency, has now emerged as one to be groomed for the future. We are still waiting on Julian Robinson to make his move. As a member of parliament, minister of government, and deputy general secretary of the party, he has laid a solid foundation on which to move up the leadership ladder.

 

The Meaning of Renewal

 

A good deal of confusion exists as to the meaning of 'renewal'. Some, it seems, take the mere repetition of the word as evidence of the capacity to lead the process; others, with equal folly, contend that chronological age is the decisive factor in determining who should lead.

Any meaningful process of renewal in the PNP must begin with a thorough review of the party's ideology, structure, and policies. The next stage is the collaborative process that produces the party's programmatic platform, and finally, the selection of the team to begin preparation for leadership of the State. Simultaneously, the reform process sets in train the ongoing processes of recruitment, education, and organisation.

A quick reflection of the PNP's tradition of leadership is instructive in deciding who should succeed Portia Simpson Miller as president. The first leader of the party, Norman Manley, was 62 years old when he became chief minister, and up to his 70th birthday when his term of office came to an end, he did not regard a 14-hour workday as excessive. His success was directly related to the breadth and depth of his apprenticeship.

Yet, as great as Norman Manley was, he was not able to preside over the renewal of the party from which he was retiring, and it was not until Michael Manley succeeded him in 1969 that the renewal process got under way. Before becoming president of the PNP, Michael Manley had already spent 17 years building the National Workers' Union (NWU) into the transformative trade union it became and had played a critical role in every election campaign since 1955.

P.J. Patterson had postponed his law studies after graduating from the UWI in 1958 to work as a party organiser. Eleven years later, he became the youngest vice-president of the PNP but had to continue serving his apprenticeship for another two decades before succeeding Michael Manley as president in 1992. By then, his experience in the Cabinet and the party had thoroughly prepared him for the position of prime minister.

Portia Simpson Miller, who succeeded P.J. Patterson just before her 62nd birthday, had already given some years of service. Before her election as party president and prime minister, she held the record as the longest-serving vice-president, as well as the party's longest-serving member of parliament. She was also a senior Cabinet minister, having held a range of portfolios, including labour, social security and tourism.

 

Hard Row to Hoe

 

Against the background of this tradition, one can better appreciate the consensus that has emerged around the choice of Peter Phillips as the successor to Simpson Miller when she retires as Party president and to lead the renewal process in the PNP. He has served as the general secretary and as vice-president; he is in his fifth term as the MP for East Central St Andrew. He has served with distinction as a Cabinet minister in critical ministries. However, it is as minister of finance that he has been most outstanding, presiding over the most far-reaching reform of the Jamaican economy in what is acknowledged as the most challenging period in the history of independent Jamaica.

His critical role in rescuing Jamaica from the brink of bankruptcy, returning the economy to growth, and enhancing the environment for investment, has earned him the confidence of a grateful nation and the respect of the international financial community.

Even with Phillips at the helm, the renewal of the PNP will be a 'hard row to hoe'. The tasks of recruiting, organising, and educating the membership to unite around a vision of the party as a major partner in national development will tax to the utmost the human and material resources available.

A major obstacle is the absence of a public policy forum in which the organs of the state and the failure of the publicly funded universities to make the sustained contribution expected of them to the formulation of an appropriate policy framework for development. The PNP will have to utilise its human resources more efficiently. Comrades like Raymond Price, with the ability to contribute to policy development, should not be wasted in the fight for representational politics.

Will Mark Golding's exceptional talents for public-sector management be underutilised with the demands of constituency representation, with its unrelenting demands for the welfare state at the constituency level?

The renewal process will also have to take into account the emerging global economic environment in which the concentration of wealth in the top one per cent, and the consequential indebtedness of the middle class and criminalisation of the poor, are becoming the main features.

Totalitarian and racist regimes seem to be on the horizon in Germany and the US. This is a daunting prospect for small developing states with a black population and no geopolitical importance, but with near total dependence on tourism and remittances for economic survival.

• Arnold Bertram is a historian and former Cabinet minister. His most recent book is Norman Manley and The Making of Modern Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and redev.atb@gmail.com.