My Political Journey | Entering the fray of politics
P.J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, was Jamaica's sixth and longest-serving prime minister from 1992 to 2006. His book, 'My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister', published by The University of the West Indies Press, will be launched this week. The Gleaner will be publishing excerpts every day until the launch. This is Part Seven.
The success achieved in the 1959 election in St Elizabeth, under my organising stewardship, was spectacular. We won three out of four seats, including North West St Elizabeth, where we defeated the well-loved Neville 'Cleve' Lewis. We lost South West St Elizabeth on a magisterial recount by 13 votes, owing largely to disappointing returns from boxes where our canvassing had shown stronger support.
After that tremendous showing, Michael Manley made a strong attempt to persuade me to become directly engaged in the labour movement rather than studying law. He tried hard to convince me to join the exciting National Workers Union team he was building, but my determination to enter the Bar never wavered.
When I returned in December 1963, I once again became active in the party, helping to repair the organisational structure. I was in great demand as a platform speaker all over the island and was fully engaged in the 1967 elections. As a member of the Bar, I provided representation in the courts on a range of cases from violations of labour legislation to election petitions.
Burnett 'B.B.' Coke indicated that he would not be running again, and I was gearing up to become the party candidate next time around in South East St Elizabeth. Coke became seriously ill with cancer and unfortunately died within a year of the 1967 election. That sudden vacancy had to be filled in by-election.
After the party's 1967 defeat, I was instrumental in persuading Vivian Blake that he should return to active politics, and his membership of the Senate provided a good start. When the parliamentary vacancy suddenly occurred in South East St Elizabeth, I immediately proposed that Vivian Blake should be the one to go forward and I would wait. He asked me to become his campaign manager, and I took charge of assembling his victorious team in a constituency which I knew intimately. We beat Glen Mitchell, a favourite son of St Elizabeth and my colleague at the Bar, by less than four hundred votes in a vigorous campaign.
I was greatly disappointed when I was omitted from the slate of eight opposition senators whom Norman Manley appointed in 1967, and so was much of the party rank and file. But I did not allow this to deter me.
With the successive losses in the 1961 referendum and the general elections of 1962 and 1967, Norman Manley regarded it as a compelling duty to review and rebuild the structure, organisation, outreach and financing of the party. He handpicked me to chair the newly formed Reappraisal Committee, which comprised party stalwarts, professionals and representatives from interest groups which had supported the PNP since its birth.
We recommended the separation of the post of party president from that of chairman so as to relieve the leader of chairing the weekly meetings of the executive, the monthly meetings of the National Executive Council, and the many sessions of annual conference. To obtain the best choices for serving the party, the new tiers of vice-presidents allowed the delegates to choose four of equal rank instead of separately electing the first, second, third and fourth vice-presidents, which did not always result in the best pick of the crop.
We recommended a youth organisation and women's movement as arms of the party, and the National Workers Union to formally become an affiliate.
The party organisation was decentralised and six regions created with specific functions and authority. The party secretariat was strengthened in order to support the general secretary with the appropriate skills to raise funds, research, communicate and recruit. For the first time, there was a post in the secretariat for a national organiser, and Courtney Fletcher was assigned to lead the fieldwork.
When I presented our report to the annual PNP conference in 1968, it was approved by acclamation. Norman Manley observed, "The future of our party is secure, and I can now depart with the confidence that our vessel is in good shape for the journey ahead."