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Has the PNP lost its way: Party appears split on core principles and values

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Burke described the growth, escalation, and continued expansion of corruption in the party as a failure of leadership
Portia Simpson Miller speaks with party general secretary Peter Bunting.
Members of the People's National Party (PNP), including President Portia Simpson Miller (left), Anthony Hylton (second left, background), Dr Peter Phillips (third left), Bobby Pickersgill (second right), and Peter Bunting (right) at PNP's National Executive Committee meeting at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, last year.- file
Crawford contends that the PNP has lost its ideological compass.
Hay-Webster characterised the PNP under Simpson Miller as a personality cult instead of being principle-driven.

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

VETERAN politician, Robert Pickersgill, is not willing to languish in the apprehension gripping some of his colleagues in the People's National Party (PNP) that the principles of the party have been severely watered down in recent years.

Pickersgill, the PNP chairman of nearly two decades, has made it clear that he will have nothing to do with claims that the core values of the PNP have been abandoned. "What have we changed?" he asked in response to Sunday Gleaner queries.

Sharon Hay-Webster's complaint last week, that the PNP is focused on power rather than principle, has galled the membership, based on their immediate reaction.

Two other Comrades known for their outspokenness - Paul Burke and Damion Crawford - have also complained that the PNP has lost its way through wayward leadership. Both are past presidents of the People's National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO).

But others within the party point to its Progressive Agenda, as an initiative that is expected to link the old order with the new, and that work on it is now complete.

Anthony Hylton, the chairman of the Progressive Agenda Committee, told The Sunday Gleaner the document is to be launched later this month to facilitate debate on its content.

He argued that the PNP has not lost its way, but suggested that there was need to refocus on core issues. "It (the Progressive Agenda) is alive and well," he declared.

Echoing Pickersgill's sentiments, Hylton stressed: "We are operating in a period of rapid changes in the global atmosphere. We must be aware of the challenges."

Declaring that the Progressive Agenda is not an "exercise in seduction, but an exercise in rigour", Hylton said the document emphasised the refocusing on core party values.

"The truth is that it is not even a political document. It is about engendering growth leading to shared prosperity. It is a complete process."

However, Hay-Webster is not the only Comrade who has proffered the view that the PNP, under Simpson Miller, is not the same.

For the better part of the last decade, there has been much grumbling and mumbling among party faithful about the path being pursued by PNP President Portia Simpson Miller in the present dispensation as the party embraced an unprecedented level of acrimonious fractiousness.

A concession by A.J. Nicholson late last week that the PNP fell short in its efforts to employ legal means to thwart the effort of Prime Minister Bruce Golding to choose the panel of commissioners for the Manatt-Dudus commission has not gone down well with some members of the party.

Reference was made to Michael Manley's firm stance in refusing to contest the 1983 snap election on a point of principle.

Concerns have also been raised in and out of the PNP that in becoming an election-winning machine, the party has lost its "vision".

Some Comrades contend that the change started under P.J. Patterson, who copped three general election victories - an unprecedented feat - but at the expense of the core principles of the PNP.

But this is uttered in muted tones as the prospect of another general election surfaces. There are others, however, who could not be hushed.

burke's objection

First, there was Paul Burke, the vocal Region Three functionary who had raised objections about what he characterised as the untenable situation in the PNP.

Then another former president of the PNPYO, Damion Crawford, raised the concern about the path being undertaken by the PNP under the leadership of Portia Simpson Miller.

He charged that the PNP, in recent years, has failed to define clearly and enunciate its plans, programmes, and philosophy to Jamaicans.

Crawford contends that the PNP has lost its ideological compass.

"We are the party that has always done, and is most likely to do, things for the poor and working class of this country," he said.

"However, we have been caught, like many other parties that were left of centre, in the hypocrisy of the capitalist state and the capitalist media, and by extension, we have come too much to the centre," Crawford argued.

Hay-Webster followed up her resignation from the PNP last week with a strident attack on her former party's so-called loss of principles and core values.

A second-generation politician, Hay-Webster characterised the PNP under Simpson Miller as a personality cult instead of being principle-driven.

Unlike Crawford and Hay-Webster, whose criticisms came in the aftermath of resignations (Crawford as president of the People's National Party Youth Organisation), Burke's comment seemed to have been motivated by his support for Portia Simpson Miller in the lead-up to the 2006 PNP presidential election.

Known for his advocacy of strict adherence to the party's constitutional principles and objectives, Burke has charged that powerful forces have long wanted to control democracy within the PNP.

The firebrand political figure from the well-known Burke family has no hesitation in challenging party practices, and contends that Manley's vision for the PNP is under threat.

"(Manley) wanted a genuine people's party," Burke has said in the past. "Today, that desire of Norman Manley and our founding fathers is under threat and at risk because, for the past 10 years in particular, at a scale unrivalled in the history of the People's National Party, the bogus paper and non-functioning groups - paid for and controlled by some of our present-day leaders - are dominant over the real and functioning struggling groups."

Burke described the growth, escalation, and continued expansion of corruption in the party as a failure of leadership, and said many of the party's leaders behave like ostriches when they see danger.