From my perch way Up So, I tend to believe that the main reason that Portia Simpson-Miller has managed to defeat Dr. Peter Phillips in the recently concluded PNP presidential elections is due to Phillips’ decision to spend so much time focusing on Portia with negative criticism and attacks. This position of his was necessary to justify his unprecedented challenge to a sitting PNP president for that office, but at the end he hadn’t spend a lot of time specifying exactly how he would help the party arise and renew. Instead he merely promised an undefined focus on political education. Phillip’s position was untenable for a number of reasons: the first being that it is commonly accepted the PNP couldn’t have held the JLP government to such a small majority if it was under another person’s stewardship (the someone else would be Phillips in this case;) the second is that Phillips openly brags about being a part of the party’s power structure for a long time including serving as Vice President , leading the PNP’s Manifesto Committee, and holding important ministries like Health, Transport, and National Security. Therefore if deficient leadership was the prime factor in the recent PNP general election losses, and if the public was dissatisfied with PNP government after 18 years, how can Phillips evade all responsibility? Didn’t he fail as well to lead the party to victory while a Vice President, and to impress the public with the sterling accomplishments emanating from his portfolio while a Minister. Did he give Portia a secret recipe for success that she failed to follow; or did he withhold the strokes of political genius that would have avoided a denial of a fifth consecutive term for the party?
Again, I think the argument that most commentators made in opposition to Portia’s continued tenure was that she failed to unify the party sufficiently, yet no-one critically examines the role of Phillips’ supporters like Maxine Henry-Wilson who have barely bothered to conceal their contempt for Portia. None of Portia’s failures are unilateral.
So does Portia’s victory vindicate her fully? And what are the pros and cons of Portia’s victory?
While Portia’s victory substantially vindicates her, I don’t think her victory fully vindicates her, she won as a result of her superior organization and smarter political tactics. But her opponents also made some strategic errors such as absolving Phillips entirely for any responsibility he bore for the PNP losses in general and local elections as a PNP VP, and an influential government minister. Portia won as she has endeared herself to the delegates much more than Phillips and these delegates refused to buy into the argument that she was as horrible and detrimental to the party as the Arise and Renew campaign and Jamaica’s media made her out to be. Further, she is demonstrably more popular than Phillips and the truth is the JLP government is only a food riot, bad hurricane, or court verdict away from having to call a new general election; if that happens her popularity will be more important to a potential PNP victory than all Phillips’ political education.
- Portia’s victory has substantial benefits to the Jamaican state and for the Jamaican people. For one thing it presents a challenge to any plan the governing JLP may have made for a prospective general election. Her continued popularity and the comparative failures of the JLP in office when compared to her tenure as Prime Minister make her a more formidable candidate, than Phillips and newspapers who were whining that delegates needed to vote in the best interests of the country failed to recognize that her personal popularity means her victory was the best interest of Jamaica; since as they profess ‘a formidable Opposition is a deterrent to maladroit governance.’
- Her re-confirmation gives much-needed stability to the Jamaican state and will force the JLP government to be more deliberative in the planning and execution of policies. Her charge that the governing JLP is “uncaring” was deftly and sincerely delivered, the JLP is vulnerable in perceptions of their concern.
- Portia is an example to working class and lower-income people that hard work can pay off, it is a glimmer of meritocracy. This is a value-neutral statement to the extent that I dislike the corruption and criminality endemic to acquiring political power in Jamaica; but since Portia was able to join the PNP and ‘out-corrupt’ and ‘out-criminal’ her competitors without benefiting from nepotism; then it bodes well for Jamaica’s capacity for meritocracy when we get rid of criminality and corruption endemic to acquiring power.
- Lastly, maintaining a woman Opposition Leader is symbolic, Portia had in fact shattered the gender and class glass ceiling before and like the excellent journalists in the Gleaner’s gossip column I found the reference in her victory speech strange. Increased political success for women and increased corporate opportunities nurture and sustain each other, so her re-election as president is a boon for the aspiring female CEO.
- Portia and her circle of supporters should not misinterpret her re-election as an endorsement of the present state of the party and the present modus operandi of its leadership. The delegates are unlikely to be endorsing the status quo which has resulted in two election losses; and instead the delegates seemed to endorse Portia’s ability to carry out the necessary adjustments to that status quo.
- Portia needs to make some hard decisions about how close she can remain to Phillip Paulwell , Colin Campbell, and others popularly believed to be corrupt while continuing to aspire to returning to Jamaica House.
- Portia remains personally vulnerable in the Trafigura probe, and something unexpected could break that would undermine her popularity significantly.
- Portia may misinterpret her victory, over-react in her ‘house-cleaning,’ and motivate estranged PNP MP’s who supported Phillips to cross the aisle to the JLP. If this happens it will essentially ensure a full term for the JLP and diminish the possibility of an early general election which could lead to her resumption of the PM office.