Michael Abrahams | Comrades, where is the renewal?
To say that the People’s National Party (PNP) ran an ineffective campaign leading up to the last general election would be a gross understatement. Shambolic and arrogant would be a more appropriate description of the circus that transpired.
The writing was on the wall from the time then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller claimed that she was waiting on her “Master’s touch” before announcing the election date. The party appeared to have had the upper hand going into the election, but instead of focusing on achievements such as a reduction of food imports, a booming tourism industry, and a thriving stock market, the campaign organisers chose to obsess over Andrew Holness’ House and refuse to participate in debates.
The ill-advised strategy resulted in a serious ass-whipping by the Jamaica Labour Party. As the PNP licked its wounds, announcements were made that the election campaign strategy would be reviewed to determine what went so horribly wrong, even though the reasons would be obvious to anyone residing in this country and paying attention to the news.
Soon ‘#renewal’ appeared, accompanied by vows to revamp and reorganise the party. The election was held in February, but today, eight months later, the only thing that I see renewed is Portia Simpson Miller’s determination to hold on to the reins of power. But the reins have now apparently been transformed into a noose, fitting snugly around the neck of the party.
There was a fleeting glimmer of hope when Peter Bunting expressed an interest in seeking leadership of the PNP. However, realising that with Simpson Miller’s popularity with the base and the delegates, success would be unlikely, he retreated.
Then, out of the blue, Karl Blythe offered himself for leadership. Yes. Karl Blythe. A blast from the past. A man missing from the political platform for years.
Naturally, Blythe got a hiding from Sister P (198 votes to her 2,471), who later commended him for his “bravery”. Lisa Hanna got shut out during the vice-presidential race, being defeated by Fenton Ferguson, Wykeham McNeill, Noel Arscott and Angela Brown Burke.
Interestingly, Ferguson garnered 2,479 votes, the most of any vice-presidential candidate, with the tally also making it the first time that a VP received more votes than a president in a contested PNP internal election. Yes. Ferguson. The same gentleman who displayed baleful ineptitude during his truncated tenure as minister of health.
Julian Robinson’s appointment as general secretary-designate is just about the only positive change I have seen in the administration. Robinson’s name is frequently posited as a possible choice for leader of the party, but the remark is often heard among Comrades that he is “not ready yet” or that “his time has not come”. This is an invalid argument.
Andrew Holness took over leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party at age 39, and is now our prime minister; Hugh Shearer became prime minister and leader of the JLP at age 44; Edward Seaga led the party at 44 as well, and Michael Manley also led the PNP at 44 years of age, after his appointment to the Senate just seven years earlier.
Robinson is now 44 years old, and is mature, intelligent, level-headed, well respected on both sides of the aisle, and has been a member of the party for 20 years. He is no neophyte.
Last week, I had the misfortune of hearing cringeworthy audio from a meeting at which Simpson Miller was speaking in North East St Ann. Among those in the crowd were persons who opposed her endorsement of some candidates nominated to represent the party in the upcoming local government election, and dared to voice their disapproval.
During a scathing tirade, the former prime minister loudly and aggressively laid into her detractors, flexing her authoritarian muscles while warning that “no bwoy, no gyal cyaan talk to me” and appeared to issue a threat, shouting, “I will come back here for another meeting, and I know who I will bring.”
All this while finding time to misquote Shakespeare (saying “something is wrong in the town of Denmark” as opposed to “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”) in the process.
When American president-elect Donald Trump, a wealthy white man, makes statements that smack of ignorance and arrogance, and acts in a manner that is considered to be not “presidential”, many of Simpson Miller’s supporters would be okay with the criticisms directed at him.
When she does the same, however, and is taken to task, her sycophants and enablers defend her, saying that she is targeted because of her gender, skin colour, and humble beginnings. But rejection of behaviour such as that displayed in St Ann has nothing to do with any of those factors.
A leader is supposed and behave in an exemplary manner that the populace, especially our youth, should emulate. The harsh reality is that if the PNP wishes to be taken seriously, the party needs a shake-up of its hierarchy. It desperately needs new leadership.