Mon | Oct 14, 2019

End of an Era | A tale of two Portias

Published:Tuesday | June 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
The popularity of Portia Simpson Miller never waned. Here greets party supporters outside Gordon House before making her final Budget Debate presentation to Parliament in March.
In this file photo then Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller, gives Jereese Brown, a congratulary kiss for winning first place in the Seabed Preparation category at the opening day of the 2009 Denbigh Agricultural Show.
In this 2007 file photo, members of then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's security detail try to keep her from frantic PNP supporters shortly after she landed at the Holmwood Technical playfield in Christiana, Manchester.
Portia Simpson Miller is popular even among children.
Portia Simpson Miller on tour of the Waterford community in St Catherine in May 2008.

We continue to look back at some of the highlights capturing the political career of Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's first female prime minister. The clock signalling her final minutes in the nation's Parliament at Gordon House is ticking, ticking, ticking ... on its way to midnight.

Born in Marlie Hill, deep rural south Manchester, on November 11, 1972, Portia Ashman was named after Portia Simpson, the young People's National Party (PNP) firebrand Comrade who had begun making waves in the then opposition party.

Portia Ashman's late grandmother, Louise Morgan (Miss Lou), was a diehard Comrade who would travel to annual conference in Kingston as the representative of the PNP group that held meetings at her yard every Thursday night.

The significance of the Portias did not stop at the names, as while Portia Ashman was born in Marlie Hill district, Portia Simpson attended Marlie Hill Elementary School in what is now the constituency of St Catherine North Central.

Portia Ashman grew up in Marlie Hill and stayed there until adulthood, achieving primary and secondary education before moving away. As the young Portia Ashman grew, Portia Simpson also grew politically, and she would rise to the zenith of her party.

Miss Lou felt strongly that, "Jamaica is going to hear about that young Comrade name Portia Simpson, believe you me." And it sure did.

Fast-forward to the decade of the 1990s that saw Simpson as minister of labour, welfare and sports in the Cabinet of Michael Manley, portfolios she held from 1989 when the PNP swept into power.

During the previous decade, while many of those decimated by the 1972-1980 political mauling at the hands of the Jamaica Labour Party retreated into personal and business development, other than Manley, Portia Simpson was the voice of the grass-roots people of the party.

The portfolios she held put her in direct contact with the poor and suffering in the society, and her love and affinity for the poor blossomed and became her enduring feature.

Leadership attack

Portia Simpson Miller's lack of education certificates, going against a new breed of emerging academically sound and politically savvy People's National Party (PNP) middle-class recruits, would cause her to be mercilessly attacked in 1992 when she challenged P.J. Patterson for the leadership of the party after an ailing Manley decided to quit.

She lost badly and retreated to the political back doors publicly but remained at the forefront of popularity for all politicians across parties.

In that contest with Patterson, she survived one of the most brutal leadership attacks in the party's history.

PNP women were the main attack dogs challenging her intellectual capacity, which would later provide fodder for the JLP in the 2007 general election.

Simpson Miller herself appeared to provide fodder for her opponents, seeming uninformed on some matters and, other times, wild and colourful on the political platform, as in the "don't draw my tongue" outburst for which she has expressed regret. Still, she remained one of Jamaica's most famous politicians.

That popularity would lead her to becoming the first female president of the PNP and the first woman to lead a Jamaican political party to victory at the polls.

See The Gleaner on Thursday for that side of the Portia tale.