Kenneth Bingham | PNP: Time for stocktaking
The People’s National Party (PNP) has entered a new phase in its development as an organisation that embraces the highest ideals of a democratic movement. It was so from its founding. Its first leader, the Rt Excellent Norman Manley, was not merely a student, he was a purveyor of the principles embodied in the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.
The PNP has been floundering. In recent years, succession within the party has not been as smooth and seamless. Ill will and rancour seemed to have marked the last three challenges for party leadership. The succession process seems muddled. The latest leadership contest between the popular Miss Lisa Hanna and the staid and stoic Mark Golding seemed like a cliff-hanger at first. The results proved otherwise, however. Something went wrong within the party even before, but worse yet, after a damning open letter surfaced, ostensibly from Miss Hanna’s constituency.
The implications were that she had not found favour with her own constituents. That should have been sufficiently troubling to her and a signal for her to step aside. Alternatively, the party elders might have stepped in and persuaded her to do so. It would have raised her stocks within and outside the party. She would have enhanced her future chances. Instead, she is now severely wounded. The failure on both sides has ramifications for the party, perhaps into the distant future.
As of now, the party has lost its treasurer. The divisions that emerged during the Phillips-Bunting contest were beginning to heal, as evidenced by the ‘truce’ during the general election. Those wounds have opened once again. Miss Hanna’s sudden departure from the post of treasurer is likewise troubling. She is a bright, young woman, but whose time has not yet come. Distancing herself from the party machinery at this time is perhaps ill-advised.
In the aftermath, the new party leader, Mark Golding, has a job cut out for him. No organisation, however ‘democratic’ in outlook, can expect to survive in an environment where “everyone [and hence anyone] has the right to seek leadership positions”. That is chaos. Membership is a different matter. Leadership requires a set of attributes that are nowhere common to all members of any organisation. So we must actively protect individuals against their instincts and in doing so, protect our organisations.
In the past, PNP leaders might never have openly stated their preferences to occupy key party positions. That is perhaps the ideal situation. With the urgent job at hand, the new leader might feel constrained to seek to influence the selection of a chairman and general secretary of the party. These, going forward, will more than likely be akin to his ‘bench and ba..y’. He requires individuals who are already in step with his own philosophy. The ‘accommodation curve’ after the party’s humiliating defeat cannot be steep, if the party hopes to regroup and be viable to face another general election within the next 36-42 or even 60 months. We can argue about the efficacy of Golding’s public pronouncement. We must also recognise that there is, and must be, a new day within the ranks of the PNP if it is to regain its place and relevance in our democracy. The new leader must exercise his best judgement – ‘under advisement’ - to make that determination.
The party is sufficiently mature to understand that an expression of preference by the party leader is an endorsement like any other, expressed by any other member of parliament. It might carry more weight, but it is merely an endorsement. He does not cast the votes. If members of the National Executive Council (NEC) are peeved, then have your discussion at the NEC. We, the public of Jamaica, cannot assist. We are merely bemused. Perhaps as a management consultant accustomed to providing advice, I might say to the NEC and the PNP as a whole, unless you cherish the position of being in Opposition, i.e., being opposite to the Government, then please close your door when discussing what are essentially party matters. We, the electorate, do not look favourably on any party which violates that rule.