PNP Trapped by Old School Politics

Since the 2007 general election, there has been any number of articles, columns and editorials written about the results and about why the People’s National Party (PNP) lost (and how the Jamaica Labour Party won) and the state of the party (the PNP, that is). We have heard and read of the challenges to Portia Simpson Miller’s leadership of the party.

In the last week in The Jamaica Observer, two of its columnists, Chris Burns and Lloyd B. Smith, have written columns about the state of the PNP today and the role of Portia Simpson-Miller, its leader, in its present state. Burns’ column had more to do with the state of the PNP BP (before Portia as its leader) and, to some extent, since she became its leader. Smith’s column was more about the state of the PNP in relation to the JLP. Both gentlemen made some cogent points in their respective columns but the bottom line in both columns seems to be that the PNP has issues that must be seriously and objectively addressed so that it does not have too extended a stay in the political wilderness.

In most professional and successful organizations, whenever there is a change in leadership that new leader usually tends to bring along his/her own folks. They’ll usually look for folks who are going to help make the organization better and who will uphold those values/ideals/beliefs that will make the organization look good to not only those who work for it but to those it interacts with and are appealing to. This should not be taken to mean that a leader wants or should desire to be surrounded by sycophants. Such a leader will also make changes to the organisation’s structure to make it more responsive and adaptive to changes in the environment(s) in which it operates.

Today’s PNP is not doing that and if reports about creeping disillusionment in its ranks are to be believed then it had best set about doing something about that. Unfortunately, I’m not sold on Portia being able to clean house in the PNP as should happen, her beating back the leadership challenge of Peter Phillips notwithstanding. She’s from the old school where tribalism, garrisonisation, and pork-barrel politics are the order of the day (so is Bruce Golding, by the way).

A generational change is what it’s going to take to reverse the fortunes of the PNP and not just in the sense that it’s simply someone younger. What is needed is not just someone younger but someone who is untainted by what now passes for leadership in the PNP. That Someone who will come in, clean house and not just talk about being for certain values and subscribe to the vision of its founding fathers but is seen to implement them.

What is needed in the PNP is for someone to rid it of the deadwood within its ranks – that is, those old farts who cling to certain ideas and belief systems and who simply refuse to realize that things, times and technology have changed and that you risk becoming an afterthought if you don’t adapt.

Today in the US, you see a Republican Party that, even with a leader, is considered to have leadership issues and with the PNP we’re seeing something very similar. One can say that Portia took over a party with issues but that also means she should have already been cognizant of those issues and be prepared to do something about them upon becoming its leader.

It is no secret that P.J Patterson did not take any action to purge the PNP of the dimwits and cancers in its midst but that does not absolve Portia of any blame. She was no Johnny-come-lately to the PNP and I like to think she knows who they are and it’s not Peter Bunting or Peter Phillips. These two Peters at least have the insight, foresight or just plain old good eyesight to see what’s wrong with the PNP and to have either challenged for its leadership or indirectly hint at doing so. They may not be perfect in terms of their positions on all the issues but when measured against most of the other party officers, they are better in terms of intelligence and in addressing and articulating the issues.

To say or imply, as Chris Burns did in his Observer column of July 6, 2009, that P.J. Patterson, as PNP leader after the 1989 election, was a genius in exploiting the issues of the JLP to help the PNP win elections is something of a stretch. The problem with the JLP in the years from 1989 up to the 2007 election was that they had a communication problem (still a problem) and the party was a house divided with the infighting and internecine squabbling.

It did not take PJ to tell this to most voting Jamaicans as it was being openly played out and there for all to see. I don’t believe that most sensible Jamaicans were going to vote for a party that was having a most difficult time getting its affairs in order. After all, if a political party cannot handle its own internal affairs why would anyone be confident it could handle a nation’s affairs if it formed the government? When you have a PNP, scandals and all, presenting a united front come election time vs. a divided JLP, your choice is made a bit easier – you vote for the seeming lesser of two evils, in this case the PNP. We all know the end result of a house divided.

Since the PNP lost the 2007 election, they have commissioned a report by University of the West Indies political scientist Brian Meeks and there have been any number of editorials and op-ed pieces on what they should do to reverse their fortunes. What we have yet to see is what they plan on doing to reverse their fortunes. Jamaicans are becoming more sophisticated in that they are not as easily swayed by personality politics anymore. Yes, politics is still, to some extent, about the spoils and who gets most of it but how well did that serve the PNP in 2007?

As the Labour Party did in the UK and the Democratic Party has done in the US, it is possible to reinvent yourself and once more gain control of the levers of power. The PNP has the capacity to do like these parties but it is going to have to make some changes in terms of message, messenger(s) and, quite possibly, leader.

     

6 comments on “PNP Trapped by Old School Politics
  1. The last PNP administration did undergo a radical, generational, change when it abandoned its democratic socialism experiment of the 1970s, of the government being the major engine of production, cooperatives following closely, and private enterprise taking the back seat, to take us into an era of free market socialism that fostered entrepreneurship, innovation, and calculated risk taking as Jamaica navigated the world oil crises – now we have a world economic recession.

    The new generation of PNP leaders, including Phillips and Davies, as opposed to the JLP’s neo-conservative next generation, applied modern monetary policy versus classical fiscal policy and moved Jamaica from Seaga’s managed float to a freely floating exchange rate system. However, it was the JA electorate who resisted change that “turned the ship around” as we got near the coast line.

    The PNP’s error was thinking our nation needed a mother figure even though it made great strides toward economic independence and adult self-determination. Error, when recognized, can be a driver towards change and progress. As long as the inner party conflict is constructive and not destructive, the PNP can come out stronger and successful when the next general election is called just as the JLP had to reinvent itself after the Gang of Five and NDM experiments.

    Phillips and Davies, at the right time and position, will assert their leadership role that helped to transform the PNP and change the economic course of our nation. However, the suggestion that a democratically elected member of parliament can be simply removed by the party leader as can be done in firing an employee of a private business, reeks of authoritarian/dictatorial/totalitarian thinking and a lack of a deep understanding of the democratic process and organizational change.

    A prime minister can change his/her cabinet but has no legitimate power to remove those duly elected to represent their communities. A prudent PM or lLeader of the opposition will build consensus and develop a team after studying the skills and abilities of his/her cabinet or shadow cabinet. It should be obvious that both Bruce and Portia know their power bases and can withstand challenges to their leadership at this time. However, it is the maturity of the JA electorate that we count on to choose the best representatives for our government.

  2. Richard, with the exception of a handful of MPs from either party, name me one MP currently representing a constituency that he/she originally represented when they started their political career? A good number of these MPs are representing constituencies because the party hierarchy believes that that particular representative stands a good chance of winning that seat come election time (unless it’s a garrison constituency).

    I don’t buy the argument that it was the Jamaican electorate that has resisted change. This makes it sound as if Jamaicans are stupid and they are not. What has happened over the years is that the political leadership has failed to seriously, objectively and thoughtfully address the issues affecting Jamaica. Instead, Jamaicans have been fed a steady diet of populism, propaganda and pablum and the end result is that Jamaica is worse off now than any of its other English-speaking Caribbean neighbors. Finally, if the PNP government from 1989 to 2007 had done such a good job economically how is it Jamaica could only average barely 1 percent economic growth annually in that time span? This when other English-speaking Caribbean islands were averaging anywhere from 3-5 percent annual economic growth in that time span.

  3. Richard, one additional observation, political parties can influence who they will have as their representative in a particular constituency. One way is to have the party hierarchy bring pressure to bear on a candidate to give up the constituency and usually some excuse such as resignation from politics for reasons such as ‘health’, etc. are often given to lessen the ignominy. Both the PNP and JLP have done it in the past and even if they can’t do it then they can surely pass them over for important positions within the party executive/gov’t ministry ranks. Sometimes when you want to send a message it’s not what is said/done but rather what is unsaid/not done.

  4. Who elects the MPs? Are they appointed to Parliament? If they did not serve their constituencies’ expectations would they have been voted for them? Were Jamaicans forced to consume the diet detailed? Could they have not eaten something else? Did I say the last PNP administration did a “good job”? Why compare apples to oranges? Does one have to be a PNP supporter to observe changes from Democratic Socialism to Free Market Socialism? I appreciate both parties’ contributions to JA’s advancement.

    If you had carefully studied Jamaica’s macro and micro economic history over the last four decades, you would have realized that had the last government not put in place the appropriate free market mechanism, the JA economy would have collapsed by 1990. Neither a fixed nor a US pegged rate could have saved JA (i.e., Keynesian thinking). However, I detect a “throw back” to the 1970’s in the article and comments that prevents acknowledging change from 1989 to 2007.

    Change always happens whether we acknowledge it or not.

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