I have no doubt that Andrew Holness is a popular prime minister. I have no doubt that he has surprised many people with the way he has led the country since assuming his position as PM just over a year ago. I have no doubt that part of his popularity is not based wholly on a positive assessment of what he has been doing, but a combination of that and a negative assessment of what his predecessor did–or more, accurately, did not do. I tested my opinion in a totally unscientific poll on Twitter, the results of which are shown below. As such things go, the number who voted (145) is more than decent. But, I would not like to take on Don Anderson if he said that many reasons exist why I should not trust the results. But, this is the world of social media, so I will thank Don, but march on regardless 🙂 My poll shows clearly that PM Holness is favoured by more than 2 to 1 over his predecessor.
Some would say, with reasonable truth, that the result of the poll was already known. After all, Mr. Holness led his party to a memorable national election victory a year ago, and also to a resounding victory in local government elections a few months ago. True, other than the fact that our elections are not for a national leader, but I accept that many people vote for the ‘top of the ticket’ when voting for local representatives.
I think the reasons for Mr. Holness’ popularity are several, and I am going to touch on a few.
He communicates, openly. Whether you like it or not, the world of social media is the window through which many now see the world. So, a politician who embraces that as a means of getting across his message is going to look good. Add to that a tendency to encourage others under him to do the same and you get an impression of more and more open communication. I would be lying if I told you that I did not think that his predecessor and many of her team were a communications disaster: unable or incapable of giving clear messages, or worse still living with the deadly sound of silence from on high, when a word or two from that place would have done much to cement the idea that someone was in charge, and the mice were not running the kitchen.
One of the things that happened under the Simpson-Miller administration, and which is hard to understand, is how Portia became an enigma, and almost a betrayal of herself. I have heard her speak with passion about certain topics, namely issues of equity and equality, especially for women and children. But, in her latter days, she hardly went to that well of good words and much commendable action, but floundered in the world of bigger policy ideas, especially on matters economic and financial. If I were a management guru, I would wonder how and why the management of voices was not better, at least in putting in front of the people the clear message that ‘the leader has a team of excellent ministers, whose words and ideas the people can trust’, rather than fumbling and bumbling on topics which had not been mastered. I say ‘mastered’ because it’s rare for a leader to really know all the portfolios, but good briefing and sticking to key messages can make a puppy seem intelligent. Worse still, PSM was turned into a badly functioning mouthpiece that went badly off-message when caught unawares, and was kept out of the public eye as a spokesperson so much that one had to wonder what was really going on. The puppeteers were pulling strings well, but the puppet often looked as if the strings were mostly cut.
The tendency to be unbelievable is something that the PNP administration seemed to embrace and sadly that was led by the leader.
It came with remarks such as how PSM felt the pain of ordinary people, when it came to inflation, and claiming to suffer this in her regular shopping. One need not even go to the perks that are the regular part of being a national leader to start guffawing. Rather than touch a supermarket, PSM could have at least seemed sympathetic had she been seen uttering those words at a regular ‘bend down’ market over a hand of ripe bananas.
It came with remarks, often repeated, about how much PSM loved the poor. So much so, the cynic said quickly that she led the march to create more of them. But, the PSM-led administration did so little to protect the poor or most citizens that the claim was as hollow as the middle of a doughnut. It was bolstered by the regular appearance of scandals that had much to do with cronyism, smelled of corruption, and had the indelible mark of wasting public money that the country does not have.
But, enough of the poor side of the poor-loving.
I think that the new PM has become a master of PR. I am not surprised by that, and am not totally critical of it. Messaging is important, and if it’s not well-managed then it can lead to unnecessary problems. One piece of PR that I have seen, and it’s a bit subtle is how the PM seems willing to step in front of problematic positions. It’s early, so one has to watch carefully how that plays out, but his recent remarks about how to deal with the monumental matter of violent crime and also the lesser matter of ‘music from prison’ suggests that he’s not just going to bend to populist positions.
I am not yet convinced about how boldly he will go on matters of corruption, governance and accountability, and am not happy to see that he let imoportant initiatives like ‘job descriptions’ for his Cabinet were not issued, but can understand his giving ministers another six-months to prove that they can deliver on their portfolios. We will have to wait to see how the poor performers are dealt with.
I’m also intrigued how certain holes that were dug with enthusiasm only for the dirt to start falling on top of his head get deatl with. If I say ‘Caricel’ will you say ‘not well’? (Note today’s story that a sale may be in the works.)
Just in case you think it, don’t! I am not a JLP supporter. My political position is independent. I do, however, try to see a spade for what it is.