The PNP, the cart and the horse
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.
BEST USE OF SKILLS
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.