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I’m fascinated by the cult of the individual within Jamaican politics. It’s something that is clearly there, though intelligent politicians try to dance on the head of a pin to convince us that things are otherwise. You cannot appear to go against he or she who is at the head without being accused of disloyalty. But, what that tends to do is to stop change occurring smoothly and so disrupt the natural process of decay and renewal.

How a good political machine should look

If I can extend the decay metaphor into gardening, one tends to see things putrefying because they stay there as unbalanced elements. As any gardener should know, just piling things onto a heap isn’t enough to make good compost; it needs a good mixture of carbon and oxygen–brown and green materials, for simplicity, or older and younger elements. What that does is change formerly living materials so that, as they die and decay, they transfer their energy into becoming agents of new growth. I like this metaphor because the PNP has shown what happens if you do not allow natural decay to occur and if you do not take care to mix materials properly: you end up with a rancid pile. 

Clearly, the PNP has let its leadership fester and so was doing little to generate the new growth that must be there for it to compete as a viable political party. Little green shoots that started to sprout were often quickly yanked out of the ground and thrown to the roadside. Older dying wood was left in place, riddled with termites and unlikely to be able to withstand any major storm. The house that was PNP look tired and bedraggled. It was not the house that Norman built, and it was certainly not the house that Michael rebuilt.

With the gardening theme set, it’s worth recalling this:

‘A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden.’ (Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

I’m not a cheer leader for any politician. Those who know me, know what I think of politicians and those who are in the heart of political machineries. I subscribe to the adage: ‘Politics is too important to be left to the politicians’ (variously attributed to Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I’ve watched with a little interest the pseudo fight for leadership of the PNP. It couldn’t be started, really, because (as is the Jamaican wont) observing protocols meant that those interested had to shuffle around kicking dirt and whistling, acting as if they were not doing anything. Those who were likely to have big interest in becoming leader were already known: Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting. How much support each has and can muster amongst delegates is for us to learn. Who else with try to join the fray, we will await to see, and if they are really working with a substantial base of support.

To say that PNP needs an image makeover is as big an understatement as has been made for a while. I’m not sure if it’s amenable to aggressive surgery, though.

The party seems to have done something that is counter to what it says it stands for, by clearly ignoring what people want. That ‘betrayal’ has been rewarded by election defeats made more hurtful by a clear alienation of the voter base.

It also seems to have been caught by a generational shift that is easy to see and easy to deal with, but somehow appears to have been resisted. Then again, the older wood maybe didn’t understand well enough what was growing in full sight.

Modern life, like it or not, has become wedded to fast (and, sometimes, loose) communication. Of the two major parties in Jamaica, the JLP seems to have understood how to capture the public imagination by running with the pack…onto the track of social media. Without wanting to draw parallels with the USA, it’s notable how a man who spends a lot of time and energy on Twitter surprised many by winning the elections for president. Donald Trump is many things, but he is not someone who misunderstands how people think, and how to rile emotions. He rants and raves on stage, but he also does it online: it’s part of his persona. As far as anything about the ‘real Donald Trump’ goes, that part of him seems real.

I looked on at the PNP President many times, ranting and raving on public platforms, and jabbing her finger in the air, and in the direction of whoever was annoying her, then I wondered why she would dissemble from this character, which seemed to be her real self. It was the perfect persona to take on line, instead of a series of insipid pieces of non-information that dribbled out. She was a firebrand, so why act like dying embers? She admired Fidel, and as his name means, he was always true to himself–long speeches, and all. You never doubted which Fidel you saw.

If one thing seemed to mark that leadership was doomed, it was the lack of sincerity and realism in the persona that was being put out to the public. Take a look at the Twitter account @PSimpsonMiller. Note that it says that her own remarks are ‘signed ~PSM’. Now, just do a check to see how many such tweets there were. There are precious few! So, what was/is the point of the account? To post bromides in the forms of pictures of flowers and teddy bears? You cannot be serious! Even, images of the leader doing political activities were not signed by her. Not, so odd, in a way, but it goes to the point that this was a front. I struggled to find any substantive remark about any major issue. Why?

Look, it’s nice to get the homilies each day, but many people can get that from many other non-political sources. This is a sign of the ‘unspiring’ of Mrs. Simpson-Miller, if I can coin a term. She was made duller by a group of people managing her. I say that without fear of contradiction: the Twitter account proves it. Once that duller politician was rolled out, the die was cast: she was no longer the leader she was. She was not allowed to be herself. By betraying what was the real Portia, it fed the lack of interest in her and her party. People didn’t know what they were getting any more.

I mention the lack of inspiration in the online presence for several other reasons. First, as a gauge of public interest. Andrew Holness, now PM, has about 29,000 followers on Twitter; Portia Simpson-Miller has about 7,000. Yet, people rattle on about how she is the most popular politician, in Jamaica. Something isnt adding up. Second, it treats the population with a degree of disrespect in not having substance at its core. If the leader is about disseminating trivia, then trivia becomes the MO. How can you go to the electorate on issues having laid this basis of prettiness? If you want to argue that social media is just one sphere, I heard you, but show me the written tracts or speeches that laid out the positions.

Personally, when the leader went off and screamed at the crowd in St. Ann, I would have loved to have seen a tweet or a post on Facebook embracing that rant: ‘Dis gyal jus tell dem de peeple a St Ann dat she nuh freyd a nubaddy’ Signed ~PSM. My respect would have shot up ten-fold. Instead, what we got was rumblings about how this ‘moment’ had been captured by a news media cameraman and disseminated. What’s the problem with being who and what you are?

As people crawl over the legacy of Portia Simpson-Miller, they must try to chart the point as which she crossed over from being her real self, to being a creature operated by others. 

I remember seeing her in person and hearing her speak passionately about issues related to women and child abuse, especially. I had no doubt that I was hearing what this lady truly felt. But, such feelings about utterances have been long gone. For that reason alone, the announced departure was too long in coming, but then again, when you’re on the strings of puppeteers, they call the tune.

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