Peter Bunting has decided not to challenge Peter Phillips to succeed Portia Simpson-Miller as leader of Jamaica’s People’s National Party (PNP).
In his statement Bunting also felt Phillips is the right person to lead the current party of opposition. So far no contender has come forward to challenge Phillips.
Buntings decision is strange given he has been hinting all along his ambition to lead the PNP once Simpson-Miller steps down.
Are the other PNP MPs afraid to run against Phillips? One horse race is never good for any democratic organisation. Especially when choosing a new leader.
Phillips has been credited with steadying the economy when he was Finance Minister (2012-2016). But economic growth under his management was minimal and never reached 2%.
Being classed a steady finance minister is no guarantee route to being an effective political party leader and the next PM. Managing government finances and leading a country requires different attributes.
An effective finance minister has to act like a gloomy big bully to force govt ministers/departments to cut spending annually in the name of efficiency. While a party leader is required to inspire and promise the electorate a feel good environment.
PNP members who emphatically endorse Phillips seem to forget he was campaign director for the recent general elections that the PNP government lost in February 2016.
Phillips has been a seasoned Cabinet member and has held a number of senior positions including the daunting National Security.
The current PNP leadership ‘race’ reminds me of the then opposition U.K. Conservative Party leadership battle in 2005, when Ken Clarke was the clear favorite.
Similar to Phillips, Clarke was a seasoned Cabinet minister at government departments such as Education, Health, Home Office, Treasury etc.
All assumed Clarke (or even David Davis) would win the leadership easily until a little known 39 year old MP – David Cameron – showed up and won.
Gordon Brown – another former British Chancellor of the Exchequer – succeeded Tony Blair as Labour Party leader and Prime Minister in 2007.
Labour Party members and MPs felt Brown “deserved” his new appointments. Brown faced no serious challenge to be Labour leader. A move that has proved costly for Labour even today.
Brown just could not connect with the average voter. The abrasive style he ran the Treasury was never going to work as PM. Brown lost the 2010 general elections to David Cameron.
Edward Seaga was leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for over 30 years. Seaga is regarded by many as the finest Jamaican finance minister in its 54 year history. But as JLP leader Seaga won just one contested general election against the PNP and lost five.
5 years ago Andrew Holness was handed the JLP leadership (& PM role) without an internal election and in less than 3 months lost the general elections to the PNP.
In 2013, JLP’s finance spokesman Audley Shaw then challenged Holness for the leadership which the former loss. Even though that leadership race was a bruising affair (half the MPs wanted Andrew out), it forced Holness to toughen up as a leader. That tough race must have boosted Holness’ chances & confidence ahead of February’s general elections. Shaw is now Finance Minister again.
So Bunting’s early bail out of the leadership race is disappointing. He had a fighting chance. [Phillips had previously ran twice for the leadership of the PNP and lost on both occasions.]
Peter Phillips may indeed be the right person to lead the PNP. But coronation of new party political leaders without any genuine challengers is never healthy politics.
I hope there is a leadership battle for the PNP’s top job. Party members should know the key issues and priorities of the contenders before he/she is elected.
- What are their plans for violent crime, education, youth etc?
- What will be different about their leadership compared to the previous leaders?
2016 has shown that the normal rules on politics has changed right across the globe.