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.

About Trevor Dawes

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