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PNP hurt but not bleeding, says Pickersgill - Long-serving chairman confident that party will move past current challenges

Published:Friday | September 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
PNP chairman Robert Pickersgill (centre), flanked by senior members of the party (from left), outgoing general secretary Paul Burke, recently re-elected vice-presidents Noel Arscott, Angela Brown Burke and former vice-president Derrick Kellier.
Pickersgill is adamant that the PNP is wounded but not bleeding.

The People's National Party's (PNP) National Executive Council (NEC) meets for the first time today in a new political year with continuing uncertainty about the party's future, but its chairman, Robert Pickersgill, has dismissed suggestions that it is too wounded and disjointed to be the first choice for young voters.

Members of the NEC are scheduled to elect several officers and executive members when they meet in May Pen, Clarendon, today, but up to late yesterday, the disorganisation in the party was evident as there was uncertainty about which elections will be held.

The post of some officers, including the chairman, deputy chairman, and 11 members of the NEC to serve on the executive, are all to be voted on today, but the Comrades could also be asked to elect a general secretary and two or up to four deputy general secretaries.


Burke set to resign


Sitting General Secretary Paul Burke has indicated that he will be walking away from that post shortly, but if he tenders his resignation today the NEC will have to decide if an election is to be held immediately or if he will serve a 30-day notice period before Comrades are asked to elect a new general secretary.

Despite that uncertainty, one of Burke's deputies, the long-serving Julian Robinson, has already reached out to NEC members urging them to vote for him if elections are held.

Robinson, who has impressed in the party's secretariat and as a member of parliament, was once seen as Burke's heir apparent, but recent whispers have indicated that PNP President Portia Simpson Miller, armed with her overwhelming victory in the presidential non-contest last Saturday, could move to have one of her key allies elected to the general secretary job.

Any decision to bypass Robinson could widen the rifts in the party, but Pickersgill, who last week told The Sunday Gleaner he will be offering himself for another term as chairman, is adamant that the PNP is still in good health.

According to the man dubbed 'Chairman for Life', the PNP may be described as fractious at this time but it is not bleeding.

Pickersgill argued that the PNP is still the "party of ideas whose policies best represent the interest of the majority of Jamaicans", and any internal wounds now are not serious enough to cause blood to spill.

Initially, Pickersgill told our news team that he could not leave the chairman post when that party was bleeding, but later said he was withdrawing the use of the word as he did not believe the PNP was bleeding.

"If I use the word 'bleeding' I am going to take that back because I am coming from a different angle. I know because I have been there. That the party is bleeding I totally disagree. That the party is having some internal problems, I agree. They are far from insurmountable," declared Pickersgill.

"This happens every time the party loses an election. And what gets going immediately is the blame game. I have not taken any part in this blame game. I have done my own appraisal and I am not going to say how it differs from the other appraisal report," added Pickersgill.


The way forward


He argued that he has to remain as chairman because he must be in a position, at all times, to advise on the way forward. "I will do nothing to jeopardise that."

The PNP chairman said the turnout of Comrades for the party's annual conference last week should dispel all talk of political bloodletting.

"The delegates I saw on the weekend were not bleeding. They were in a jovial and happy mood and they participated well. And that is what I used to judge my party, how the delegates are feeling.

"And let me tell you, I am not afraid to tell you, we did not spend one dollar in mobilisation. They came there on their own. It made me feel 10 feet tall," said Pickersgill.

He charged that many of the problems of the PNP were worsened by media disclosures.

"It is impossible to run an organisation where everything that is discussed become public. No party can run like that. This is a party which said all ideas must contend. And we should remind people about what happened to the four 'H' who were expelled. That is not to say we are planning to expel people," said Pickersgill.