Af­ter Dr Blythe’s whim­per

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

KARL BLYTHE has had his whim­per, but noth­ing is re­ally set­tled in the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP). It can’t as­sume that its fu­ture is now as­sured.

Fur­ther, un­like what ap­pears to be the be­lief of P.J. Pat­ter­son, its for­mer leader and prime min­is­ter, re­newal is not, in this con­text, only about a change of lead­er­ship, or mix­ing of young with old, in an on­go­ing re­lay. Fun­da­men­tally, it is about ideas – a set of val­ues and a cen­tral phi­los­o­phy around which ad­her­ents can co­a­lesce. That is what has been miss­ing in the de­bate within the PNP. It is where, with her vic­tory, Por­tia Simp­son Miller must now steer the dis­course.

It may be tempt­ing for Mrs Simp­son Miller and her ad­vis­ers to do oth­er­wise, as­sum­ing that her crush­ing de­feat of Dr Blythe ought to si­lence her crit­ics and sus­tain her lead­er­ship un­til when­ever she de­cides to go. That, without more, would be to mis­read events.

It is true that Mrs Simp­son Miller, 70, and her key acolytes have borne the brunt of crit­i­cisms from those within and out­side the PNP, who have ar­gued the case for re­newal since the party lost the govern­ment in Fe­bru­ary. The un­cer­tainty ex­ac­er­bated in re­cent weeks with the in­fight­ing over al­le­ga­tions by the party’s trea­surer of the mis­han­dling of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions by some se­nior mem­bers, as well as the re­ported sug­ges­tion by its gen­eral sec­re­tary of po­lit­i­cal kick­backs from which the PNP should have ben­e­fited.

But the dis­cus­sion has turned largely on per­son­al­i­ties, much of it dog whis­tles about Mrs Simp­son Miller’s pre­sumed in­tel­lec­tual de­fi­cien­cies; the diminu­tion of her per­sua­sive pow­ers over the mass of Ja­maican peo­ple; and the PNP’s fail­ure to at­tract young peo­ple, in part be­cause of an in­abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate on new so­cial-me­dia plat­forms.

The in­fer­ence is that the old guard isn’t with the new age.

What­ever the sub­stance of this anal­y­sis, it ig­nores two fun­da­men­tal parts of the equa­tion: what kind of party the PNP wants to be; and why it has be­come what it now is. Without re­solv­ing th­ese fac­tors, the party can only march, dys­func­tion­ally, in a stand­ing po­si­tion.


In terms of win­ning elec­tions, the PNP is a very suc­cess­ful party – among the best in any democ­racy in this hemi­sphere. It has formed the govern­ment for 22 of the pre­vi­ous 26 years. Yet, there is this sense that it has lost its way; that, as a party that was founded on the prin­ci­ple of demo­cratic so­cial­ism, it trans­formed into an elec­tion ma­chine, shorn of ide­ol­ogy, phi­los­o­phy or un­der­ly­ing val­ues.

The PNP’s re­treat from its found­ing Fabian in­tel­lec­tual premise didn’t be­gin with Mrs Simp­son Miller, who has been its leader for a decade. That turn was ob­vi­ously ac­cel­er­ated by the post-Cold War re­al­i­ties of glob­al­i­sa­tion and Ja­maica’s own eco­nomic fail­ures that forced on the last PNP govern­ment the stric­tures of fis­cal rec­ti­tude. That, how­ever, doesn’t ex­tri­cate Mrs Simp­son Miller from her fail­ure to in­sist on deep in­tro­spec­tion, to eval­u­ate the core val­ues of her party and how they ought to be ex­pressed in the cir­cum­stances of the times, in­stead of be­ing per­ceived, as Mr Pat­ter­son put it, as a “trough for peo­ple to dip in and feed and en­rich them­selves”.

Given the re­al­i­ties on com­pet­i­tive, demo­cratic pol­i­tics, time is not on Mrs Simp­son Miller’s side to com­plete this job. But she can start it. She mustn’t con­flate Dr Blythe’s whim­per with a per­sonal growl.

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