PORTIA: FROM POLITICAL FIREBRAND TO JADED MANDARIN

Figurative fingernails having been pulled from the cliff’s edge of Party leadership to which they’d been clinging, Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller finally agreed to plunge into the unknown waters of retirement on April 2.

Like many of her crucial decisions as PNP Leader/Prime Minister/Opposition Leader, she’s late again.  Her late call of the 2007 elections foreshadowed a stunning loss for the PNP.  Similarly, her failure to announce her resignation as Party Leader on the night of February 25, 2016 has presaged an equally stunning loss of popularity for Portia.  Worse, while she desperately hung onto a position she had by every political and constitutional convention known to man, woman and child, forfeited, it became pellucid she and the PNP had been politically out-witted, out-flanked and out-generalled by a young, media savvy Andrew Holness.  It’s taken her one year to understand her time has passed and she should give her Party a chance at recovery by making way for Generation Next.

All my bags are packed.
I’m ready to go.
I’m standing here outside your door.
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

It’s been a poignant year as Jamaica watched the erosion of authority of a once proud PNP leader until she almost became invisible while the party imploded and factions leapt at each others’ throats destroying any semblance of unity. The real tragedy is this is the Portia Simpson-Miller Jamaica will most likely remember – the sad, pathetic loser restrained by selfish handlers from speaking to the press or to her people save from a political platform.

Long forgotten is the political firebrand; the young woman who marched for freedom beside Michael Manley; who created a new Overseas Recruitment Centre and the National Insurance Fund out of her unquestioned, unflagging love for the poor; who bravely stood against her own Party in support of the Fire Brigade.  Instead, over the last ten years or so and especially the last five, we’ve been left with a frail caricature of Portia, hamstrung by IMF demands; forced to defer to Peter Phillips on every important national decision despite soundly thrashing him twice at internal Party elections; and “handled” to death by a kitchen cabinet espousing the infamous Patterson Doctrine “Silence can’t be misquoted”. It’s time.

But the dawn is breakin’
It’s early mornin
The taxi’s waitin’
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could cry

Lest we forget, Portia Simpson-Miller posted significant achievements on her political Resumé. She’s only the second Jamaican to serve non-consecutive terms as Prime Minister.  Before that, most of her cabinet career saw her responsible for sports.  With her mentor, Michael Manley and through the establishment of Jamaica Lottery Company and Sports Development Foundation, she was integral in the development of a new scheme of funding for sports without it being a drain on the national budget. It was under her leadership that sports began to develop and grow in Jamaica. A proper hockey field was constructed in Mona; Basketball courts popped up all over Jamaica; the Reggae Boyz qualified for the World Cup Finals; and, in Track and Field, the likes of Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Michael Frater took Jamaica to the top of the world. But, it’s time.

So kiss me and smile for me.
Tell me that you’ll wait for me.
Hold me like you’ll never let me go.
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane.
I don’t know when I’ll be back again.
Oh, babe, I hate to go.

The Portia Simpson-Miller who stayed on too long like a punch-drunk boxer well past his prime has carried an air of disappointment, melancholy and confusion with her. She allowed herself to become a comic strip character breaking into full gallop at public speaking engagements to prove loss of her “age-paper”; a jaded Mandarin lifting her legs like a Dancehall entertainer on stage either alone or in a mock “legs” battle with another feeble figure, Mike Henry; and a petulant teenager acting churlishly on the occasion of both general election losses, refusing to concede defeat until days after when the will of the people had long become evident. In this regard, she lost the trust and confidence of many admirers. She never lost her love for them. But, it’s time.

There’s so many times I’ve let you down.
So many times I’ve played around.
I tell you now, they don’t mean a thing.

Every place I go, I’ll think of you.
Every song I sing, I’ll sing for you.
When I come back, I’ll wear your wedding ring

Portia has been more than 40 years in politics and held every post there is from KSAC Councilor; MP; Government Minister; PNP Vice President and President; Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.  Yet, somehow, we are left feeling she should have done more.  She never pretended to be an intellectual but the educated elite poured scorn on her sincere simplicity in a way Bustamante never suffered.  Constantly provoked by mischievous journalists hoping to squeeze a headline from an intemperate reply, she often obliged.  Being Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister was never enough. She was expected to perform beyond anything demanded of Joshua, Eddie, P.J. or Bruce.  Like Barack Obama, although her colleagues were plagued with questionable transactions, she personally enjoyed a scandal free political life, yet some have undeservedly rated her as Jamaica’s worst Prime Minister despite her never actively defending any Drug Don from extradition or sending troops into a Jamaican town to slaughter innocent and guilty Jamaicans alike. Nobody pumped 22 shots into Keith Clarke’s back in his own home while she was Minister of Defence.  But, it’s time

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
I don’t know if I’ll be back again..…

Exceptional folk singer/songwriter John Denver (born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., on December 31, 1943) was a prolific writer; successful singer of songs like Take Me Home Country Roads (covered, years later, reggae style, by Jamaica’s own Frederick “Toots” Hibbert) and Rocky Mountain High. But it was folk group Peter, Paul and Mary who ensured his first big break in 1967 by recording his Leaving on a Jet Plane.  An avid aviator, Denver died instantly on October 12, 1997, when the plane he was piloting went down over Monterey Bay, California.

The bad news is PNP has it all wrong yet again. Portia, aged 70, is leaving to be succeeded in all probability by Peter Phillips aged 68.  This can only ensure further decay of an already decrepit, out-of-date Party. Phillips, another whose time has passed having been twice rejected as Leader by the Delegates, seems sure to face those same delegates unopposed as spineless stalwarts like Peter Bunting shrivel up like shame lady and disappear when touched while the party’s youth is de-motivated and demoralized by malicious marginalization. Raymond is now a TV co-host; Damian a radio talk show co-host; Lisa, battling disciplinary charges for failing to genuflect at the feet of dissident Councilors so unlikely to be named to Phillips’ shadow cabinet; and Julian, seemingly wary of joining his youthful colleagues on the sidelines, content to straddle the fence and wait until he’s 70 for his turn.  I hoped at least one of them would belated grow a pair and, as a “Rescue Jamaica” effort, enter the fray but it looks like their plan for Jamaica is to continue to put personal safety first by holding their corner and praying for their time to come like manna from heaven.  If Young Andrew had done that, Audley “Are You” Shaw would be Prime Minister today.  Or maybe not. No doubt Portia would’ve won the election on a canter if “Are You” Shaw was JLP leader.

Leaders are selfless.  Leaders don’t fear failure.  Leaders lead.  I predict Peter Phillips, having already exceeded his career zenith, won’t have the political acumen to win a general election against the astute Andrew Holness and so has about as much chance of becoming Prime Minister as I do of flying backways on a broomstick to the moon. The JLP seems set for a long incumbency with little or no substantive opposition. Poor Jamaica!

Peace and Love

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