Jamaica LANDS
Left Alliance for National Democracy and Socialism

Opinion Pieces

These are opinion pieces, written by members of the party. They may or may not reflect the official position of the party.

Future of the PNP

 

The future of the PNP is a hot topic in Jamaica. Some vocal persons have been calling for Portia Simpson-Miller to step down as president of the PNP. They have gotten their wish; now what?

Among the more sound takes are by persons like Floyd Morris, former President of the Senate who wrote an article in July 2016. He noted that renewal and term limits were not really issues in the PNP before the general election in February, but came to dominate the party as soon as it lost.

Focus on Individuals

Without denying the value of having a charismatic leader, or a leader who appeals to the masses, we are wary of investing in personalities and egos. When you invest in a personality as the main feature of a party, it leads to the problems we see in the PNP right now, and it skews the discussion to be more about personalities than other meaningful things. The result is that it becomes difficult to criticise the leader without damaging the image of the party itself.

Investing in personalities is irresponsible, and it benefits neither the person nor the parties. In Jamaica, we have a tendency to call for someone to resign whenever something goes wrong, thinking that it will magically fix the problem. Instead of looking at the brain behind ideas, and the hands doing the work, persons tend to focus on faces. The problems with this are that the face gets credit for anything good that happens, and blame for anything bad that happens. One could argue that this is naturally how societies function, but we need to accept some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult changes if we're going to try to fix whatever problems we have as a society. Symbolism has its place, but it is overrated.

The call, for the PNP president to resign, partly comes from opportunists who want to replace her. They claim that she is unpopular, and that the party can never win another election if she remains President of the party. If we pay attention to the actual numbers, the PNP has won at least 49% of the votes in all 3 general elections with her as leader. With her as leader, the party won by a landslide in 2011, while losing only marginally in 2007 and 2016. Just as the JLP was able to come back from its landslide defeat in 2011, and failing to win even a single parish council in 2012, without changing its leader, it shouldn't be impossible for the PNP to do the same. This is not saying that there shouldn't be a change of leadership, but the current arguments for having a change of leadership do not hold merit.

The PNP's terrible performance in the 2016 general election is exaggerated as a "major political defeat" and blame for the party's poor performance in the Local Government elections - including the failure to launch a successful campaign - can be pinned on more persons than just the party President. There is no use in changing the captain of a ship with tattered sails. The party's victories and losses should be attributed to all its members, not just its leader.

If there was a rush to get rid of the government led by Portia Simpson-Miller, voter turnout would have been higher, and the JLP would have won by a larger margin. However, the JLP's margin of victory in the election was very slim, getting 49.5% of the votes compared to 49.2% from the PNP. The JLP won only 32 seats, the absolute minimum required to have a majority in the 63-seat parliamnet, with the PNP only having 1 seat less by winning the remaining 31. The party should focus on being an effective opposition, and representing the people who cared enough to support them.

General elections are about representation of the people, and shouldn't just focus on who wins versus who loses. It should not be just a competition. Regardless of which MPs are in government or opposition, their duty is to represent the people. The idea that a leader should resign after an electoral defeat is ridiculous, because leading is not just about winning elections; there is value in having an Opposition Leader, a role that can be well served when the government has a slim majority. Andrew Holness did not resign when the JLP lost the general election by a landslide in 2011, or when it failed to win even 1 parish council in 2012; the party was still able to win the general election in 2016. A challenge was mounted to his leadership after the party's defeat in 2011, and the delegates chose to keep him. Likewise, delegates chose to keep Portia Simpson-Miller in 2016.

It is honourable that she is deciding not to continue leading after 2017, as it can save the party from being further damaged by infighting, but the upcoming leadership election - if it has 2 or more candidates - should avoid being as messy and ego-focused as the leadership challenges in 2006 and 2008. The party needs to rebuild itself as a party, and not as a clique of image-focused politicians.

Entitlement

There are senses of entitlement both inside and outside of the party leadership.

The call for "renewal" seems to come from a clique of younger politicians who feel entitled to the leadership. Instead of seeing leadership as a duty or responsibility, it is as if they see it as an accomplishment to satisfy their personal ambitions. This is why they make leadership about the leader, and not the ship.

The current party leadership itself has a sense of entitlement to power as well, as obviously seen in the general election in 2016. There are parallels between the PNP's loss of the general election in Jamaica and the Democrats' loss of the elections in the USA. While relying on Socialist rhetoric and the nostalgia of the 1970s, the PNP embraced the IMF and economic liberalisation. While relying on progressive rhetoric, the Democrats have proven themselves to be allies of the corporate elite, and to be ineffective in tackling racism and other major social issues. On top of failing to be in touch with the people, both parties went into their elections with the expectation to win, as if nothing else was possible. Both parties expected victory so much that they felt no obligation to put effort into winning the elections.

Politics is not all about elections anyway, but both the PNP and the Democrats treat it this way. After only marginally losing the general election in February, the PNP is operating as if keeping Portia Simpson-Miller as president would be the end of the world. What they should do is to appreciate and maintain the support that they got, and reconnect with those who supported them in the past.

Ideology

Every movement or organisation must have a purpose, a goal, a cause. Without being united and driven by a set of principles and ideas, the party will simply degenerate into an association of random individuals who are fighting for power both among themselves, and against others.

The party's support does not come from Michael Manley's spineless behaviour in the late 1980s, or P.J. Patterson's embrace of Capitalism in the 1990s. Admittedly, PJ Patterson did maintain a focus on welfare while liberalising the economy, but the liberalisation of the economy led to increased wealth disparity; we also do not deny his electoral record, but the reason for that can be explained in another future analysis. Much of the party's support comes from Democratic Socialism, the ideas pushed by Michael Manley in the 1970s when he had a spine. If this was not the case, the party could maintain support among its loyalists without continuously playing Neville Martin's "My Leader Born Ya" song. The party still refers to "Democratic Socialism" but it remains unclear how different the party is from the JLP which it viciously opposed for decades.

The party needs to seriously reassess itself and determine whether it is Socialist. It is not clear whether some of the higher-ranking members of the party remember what Socialism even means; if they do, it is not clear whether they want the party to remain Socialist.

Some party members demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of Socialist philosophy or ideology. Since the 1990s, the party has become home to Capitalists like these who are unwilling to give up their own power to achieve Socialism. Instead of outright fighting for Socialism, they want to make compromises, playing games with working-class interests and only making moves that fellow Capitalists will accept. Socialism cannot be led by the investment brokers or the bankers; it must be led by people who are willing to dismantle Capitalism. Compromises, even if deemed necessary for short-term goals, should be seen as temporary survival techniques, not ideal end results.

Some party members, like Peter Bunting, openly show that they represent the party's complete shift away from Socialism. As a businessman and banker, Bunting believes that the party should change its dated Socialist message, and modernise itself. He wants to restructure the party to get rid of the grassroots-focused group meetings and embrace something which isn't yet clear. He sees the embrace of Capitalism as his entire purpose in the party, citing the fact that Manley invited him to help to guide the move "towards a market economy, liberalisation, deregulation, etc." - simply because he is not a Socialist, and Socialists are very iffy with those things. We are aware that Bunting wants a more modern Secretariat as well, but the party leadership cannot focus strictly on bureaucracy, while neglecting ideology. While improving the Secretariat is needed, it cannot be the only aspect or main focus of leadership.

Whatever the party collectively decides in the coming year, they must ensure that they have a clear and consistent message. They must have a visible ideology or framework which guides their policies, and make it clear what they are keeping or throwing away. There needs to be more party discipline, not only in terms of how members behave, but also in terms of the party ideology. It seems as if the only difference between the PNP and JLP, at this point, is the colour that each party uses. If the party is going to claim to have an ideology, only persons with that ideology or similar ideologies should be allowed to join and hold leadership positions. Others must undergo political education to join the ranks of the party. There should not be a Socialist party which welcomes Capitalists among its ranks; this has led to a continued middle class domination of what calls itself a working-class party. The PNP needs to start answering to the Jamaican masses, and not white persons from the IMF. Even P.J. Patterson warned about this; political parties must focus more on passing the people's test, not the IMF tests.

 
LocalChristophe Simpson