I've switched to supporting Lisa Hanna

I've switched to supporting Lisa Hanna

Canute Thompson

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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I have tremendous respect for Mark Golding. We are in the same age group (I'm just a bit older than he) and share many values and principles. He is intellectually sound and is a hard worker. He is a gracious, humble, and genuinely warm person and a brilliant legislator and lawyer. From as far back as 2018, after his first budget presentation, I shared with him my unsolicited opinion that I believed he would make a great leader of the People's National Party (PNP). When Peter Phillips stepped down, I reminded him of that unsolicited opinion and indicated to him that I supported his bid for the job. I also shared this position with a few close friends.

Lisa Hanna possesses a range of qualities to which I will speak later, but I make the assertion that both are strong candidates for the jobs of president of the PNP, leader of the Opposition, and prime minister.

The party's needs

The PNP has been through fractious leadership contests since 2006 and many have aspired to rise to the top. To the keen observer it was clear that the divisions which were deepened in 2008, when Peter Phillips challenged Portia Simpson Miller, were not quite healed, despite the period in office between 2012 and 2016, and soon after the election loss of 2016 the divisions emerged again and have not been healed since.

Many observers would also agree — and there are now polling data to support the position — that infighting and division were major contributors to the PNP's 2020 loss. One poll showed that it was the single largest contributor, according to 42 per cent of a sample of over 1,000 people of which only 50 per cent were declared supporters of the PNP. Against that background, what the PNP needs most is unity.

The second-largest contributor was the problem with leadership, at 23.6 per cent. The third reason was “disorganisation in the party”, 23 per cent. And fourth, “party not appealing”, 17.7 per cent.

Another poll, which was shared with me by a friend who supports the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), shows that the major consideration on the minds of persons who supported the JLP was the leader.

Against the background of the foregoing, one cannot escape concluding that the biggest challenges facing the PNP at this time are the need to heal divisions and making the leadership and, by extension, the party, more attractive. One benefit of healing divisions will be the opportunity to engage the skills and competencies of everyone in a cooperative and less combative atmosphere.

The way forward

In an article entitled 'The 2020 General Election and the future of the PNP', published in the Jamaica Observer on September 16, 2020, I argued that, given the divisions facing the PNP, its interest would be better served if it finds a candidate around whom the party could coalesce and avoid another potentially bruising contest. The country would later learn that former president and Prime Minister P J Patterson and former ambassador and General Secretary Burchell Whiteman had been asked to lead a process to identify a consensus candidate. They determined that such a candidate did not exist.

In the said September 16 article, and in radio interviews and conversations within the party, I had suggested that the PNP:

(a) establishes the profile of the person it wishes to occupy the office of president and Opposition leader and define the characteristics thereof by way of a job description;

(b) be strategic and creative in selecting the new leader of the party while mindful that a transitional period may be necessary. The party, in thinking beyond the transitional period, must abandon notions of people paying their dues in order to rise to the next level, as well as who has held leadership aspirations for some time and thus may presume they are entitled to lead;

(c) in pursuit of (b), conducts a rigorous analysis of who is the likely best leader for the future and, using scientific data to inform its analysis, seek to coalesce around that person. This will require guts and grace from those who would have aspired but who are not found to be the 'best' candidate. Such individuals will need to abandon their leadership ambitions for at least five years and throw all they have behind the selected candidate unless there are failures to meet the standards of the job description;

One of the polls referenced above accomplished (c). The data are well known that Lisa Hanna came out on top in response to many of the items (questions) in the survey. My position as reflected in item (c) indicates a belief that the party, and more specifically delegates, ought to be guided by the collective wisdom of a larger grouping than merely members of the party. This poll has provided that collective wisdom. No doubt other polls will be done, but at the end of the day my recommendation to delegates is that they be guided by data.

The options

While recognising the strengths of Mark Golding and Lisa Hanna, choosing involves binary options. Having initially supported Golding, I could not at the same time have supported Hanna. I have now reversed myself and am supporting Hanna. Both are strong candidates, but I am going with Hanna.

I have been publicly critical of her or made comments which could be interpreted as being critical of her. I have also offered critical feedback to her in private conversations. Despite my public criticisms and private critical feedback she has not ceased to engage me. This counts for something, but is not enough ground for supporting her. There are eight reasons I support her to be president, namely:

(1) She is seen by most people interviewed in a credible poll, including delegates, as the preferred person to lead the party at this time. No doubt these people take many factors into consideration. Based on my September 16 position, I reckon that the data reflect a collective wisdom and am guided by that collective wisdom.

(2) Hanna has shown a willingness to learn from her mistakes. My research into the problems in the St Ann South Eastern constituency show that the problems there preceded her, and the main players remained the same. Could her approach have been different in dealing with the conflicts? Partly, but the important thing is that she has been self-critical in her analysis as she has sought to learn from those experiences.

(3) Hanna has demonstrated that she is prepared to lean on others for guidance.

(4) She has the spirit and energy the PNP currently needs in order to position itself as a compelling and competitive alternative to the governing party. She presents as a more natural foil to the JLP's Andrew Holness.

(5) She is attuned to the paramount importance of unity as a fundamental requirement for the party's future success.

(6) She understands that the party is merely an instrument for the advancement of Jamaica and has shown an appreciable level of awareness of the realities facing our country.

(7) She has displayed that she is unafraid to speak truth to power.

(8) She naturally connects with a large segment of the most critical block of voters, the youth, and is skilled in using multiple forms of new media.

Leadership Jamaica needs

Beyond the leadership race is the issue of how the PNP will position itself as offering the kind of leadership Jamaica needs. Among the elements of the leadership being currently offered is that of Holness who has built his image around Clarks shoes, physical appearance, and the dancehall image taking on the name Brogad. I do not think the future of our politics is best served with that kind of manifest shallowness, and I would urge the PNP candidates to eschew such things.

Holness's reign has also been characterised by weak governance and corruption, despite lofty promises, in addition to colossal waste of public funds through poorly executed major infrastructure projects, which have and will cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Jamaica needs a leader who will promote good governance, end corruption, and protect the people's money.

In my opinion, Jamaica does not need a “Brogad”, and, therefore the PNP leader should not try to be another Brogad. Rather, the leader must seek to be a good listener, taking a keen interest in the concerns, needs, and aspirations of the people, as he/she seeks to uplift us through the articulation and relentless pursuit of a daring vision, responsible governance, and the restoration of the role of politics as a path to sustainable development.

If the PNP is to be different from the JLP, its leader must reach out not only to youth, but also the indifferent middle class. This middle class, in my view, yearns for a restoration of pride in our democracy and a brand of politics that is founded on substance, and not mere hype; a brand that appeals to their intellect as well as proposes real solutions to the struggles they face in achieving the quality of life to which they rightly believe they are entitled, given their hard work and educational achievements. If the PNP is to become attractive, once again, it must show how it will create the conditions for all citizens to have a shot at quality living and how the political process will dismantle the self-imposed dependence on handouts at election time.

Thus, if the PNP is to be deemed to represent a better avenue of development for the people of Jamaica, its leader must be able to state practically and compellingly how public policy will be used to secure the attainment of equality, equity, and justice, while restoring Jamaica's place as a global leader.

The 63 per cent of the electorate who did not vote on September 3, 2020 are looking for reasons to believe in the value of casting their vote, but they also want to be able to vote from the comfort of their homes in a modernised electoral system that is responsive to their tastes.

Nonetheless, I pledge my full support to whomever emerges as president, as I anticipate all supporters of the party will, consistent with a commitment to the highest good of Jamaica.

Dr Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as a senior lecturer in educational policy, planning, and leadership at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of six books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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