The PNP, the cart and the horse

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS -

NO ONE could cred­i­bly ques­tion the qual­ity of lead­er­ship of the task force that Por­tia Simp­son Miller has ap­pointed to mon­i­tor im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the group that ex­am­ined the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party’s (PNP) cam­paign for last Fe­bru­ary’s gen­eral elec­tion and why it lost.

Aloun As­samba is a sea­soned politi­cian who had a suc­cess­ful stint in the Cab­i­net as Ja­maica’s tourism min­is­ter, fol­lowed an agree­able post­ing as the is­land’s high com­mis­sioner in Bri­tain. Her gre­gar­i­ous per­son­al­ity makes her easy to get on with.

Ralph Thomas is a univer­sity aca­demic, who served as Ja­maica’s am­bas­sador to China and very briefly in Wash­ing­ton. He has a rep­u­ta­tion for get­ting things done.


Yet, we won­der whether, in the con­text of the times, this was the best use of their skills and, more broadly, of PNP re­sources. Or, to em­ploy the cliche, the op­po­si­tion party looks to be plac­ing the cart ahead of the horse.

The PNP did not re­lease the full re­port of the com­mit­tee, led by its deputy gen­eral sec­re­tary, Ju­lian Robin­son, but Mr Robin­son re­vealed a cen­tral con­clu­sion that com­mu­ni­ca­tion with vot­ers, as well as the in­ter­nal dy­namic, was in­co­her­ent and dys­func­tional. So, what­ever good story the PNP may have had to tell from the eco­nomic re­forms of its four years in govern­ment got lost in the dis­so­nance. A ma­jor rea­son for this out­come, based on the find­ings, was “a break­down of trust among el­e­ments of the lead­er­ship go­ing into the cam­paign”.

What Mr Robin­son’s team re­vealed, though, were strate­gic and tac­ti­cal cal­cu­la­tions by com­pet­ing per­son­al­i­ties and wings of the PNP that masked a deeper, and more fun­da­men­tal, prob­lem: the ero­sion and the loss of its core phi­los­o­phy. The PNP didn’t, and still doesn’t, know what it stands for. The up­shot is the on­go­ing Machi­avel­lian machi­na­tions of the com­pet­ing in­ter­ests who hope to as­sume own­er­ship of the party.

In other words, the PNP evolved into a suc­cess­ful elec­toral ma­chine, which – es­pe­cially in its last stint in govern­ment – did a good job in man­ag­ing fis­cal af­fairs and pulling the coun­try from the eco­nomic precipice. It es­tab­lished an en­vi­ron­ment for growth.

How­ever, it has not found the lan­guage with which to ar­tic­u­late a nec­es­sary, on­go­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion of its found­ing prin­ci­ple of left­ist so­cial democ­racy (demo­cratic so­cial­ism) to an as­cen­dant mar­ket in a glob­alised world. That re­quires se­ri­ous in­tel­lec­tual ef­fort, which the party last at­tempted nearly three decades ago un­der Michael Man­ley’s lead­er­ship.


Looked at an­other way, the As­samba-Thomp­son as­sign­ment is pri­mar­ily about hon­ing man­age­ment sys­tems that win elec­tions, al­though im­plicit in the find­ings of the Robin­son Com­mit­tee are deeper ques­tions about democ­racy and mis­sion and of the val­ues to be pos­sessed by those who as­pire to lead­er­ship.

When in­ter­preted from this perspective, the un­der­ly­ing call from Mr Robin­son’s team doesn’t seem so dif­fer­ent from the post-elec­tion clam­our for re­newal in the PNP, which is not merely about chang­ing lead­ers, al­though some of that may be nec­es­sary. It is fun­da­men­tally about syn­the­sis­ing ideas to ar­rive at com­mon prin­ci­ples to the value of peo­ple they wish to serve.

Think­ing, how­ever, is hard work, to which Mrs Simp­son Miller should set her party.

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