By Al Edwards
People’s National Party presidential candidate Lisa Hanna’s bid to take charge of the 82-year-old political party is not simply a case of fortuity, but, rather, a case of good timing.
At 45, she is already both a seasoned and senior member of the party, serving as MP for St Ann South East since 2007. She has been a member of Government as Minister of Youth and Culture and recently occupied the position of shadow spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade.
After being routed in last month’s general election, the party’s number one priority is to regain favourability with Jamaicans and reimage itself as the primary force for national and individual progress. Hanna is capable of doing so but will need to call on a capable team – not those looking for positions in return for supporting her.
We live in the age of social media of which she is the undoubted darling of Jamaica. Once it was mandatory for political leaders to be persons of erudition, substance and, yes, leadership experience. That’s not the case today. That’s not to say Hanna doesn’t have gravitas – it’s more to say that her calling card is her popularity.
Women are now staking their claim and making more demands. Almost three decades ago the PNP’s longest serving leader, PJ Patterson, rode into power on the slogan, “It’s black man time now!” Hanna doesn’t have to say it but, it does appear to be “woman’s time now!”
Many of the women in the PNP’s parliamentary cohort have filed behind the Lisa Hanna banner and a lot of that has to do with gender solidarity.
Portia Simpson Miller remains to this day one of the most popular leaders produced by the party. She served as leader for 12 years, facing down two challenges from Dr Peter Phillips and serving as prime minister from March 2006 to September 2007 and again from January 2012 to March 2016.
While having a visceral and spiritual connection with the base, some dismissed her for not having refinement, adequate education and being out of her depth as it pertains to administrative prowess. But she won, because she had that most precious of political gifts – popularity. Her predecessor, who has distinguished himself with all the portfolios he has held and who is articulate and erudite, didn’t.
The rank and file of the PNP may well be considering that, having concluded that Hanna can be a Simpson Miller for the third decade of the 21st Century – improved, telegenic, articulate, media savvy. The saviour to usher in a new era of political victories.
After successive defeats at the hands of a resurgent JLP, PNP delegates and apparatchiks will be looking for a leader who can match Andrew Holness’ popularity and political star power.
Over the last 10 years, Holness continues to grow into a very good statesman and national leader. His party has rallied behind him largely because its fate is inextricably linked to his popularity and leadership abilities. Time after time he overwhelmingly bested Dr Phillips in popularity polls and the question was unreservedly answered in the general election of September 3rd.
Who can the PNP send against this champion? Who has the best chance of unseating him from his trusted steed? Hanna does but will need the fulsome support of the party.
In her quest for the holy grail there are headwinds that bode well.
PNP stalwarts like Phillip Paulwell and Wykeham McNeill have not thrown their hats in the ring. Then there are the “next gen” players – Damion Crawford, Julian Robinson and Mikael Phillips, all very capable but deciding not to suit up for this battle, content to watch from the side lines and bide their time.
This means that support for Hanna will not be diffused, she now has a clearer runway. She has to focus her energies on garnering support to fight off a formidable opponent in Mark Golding.
Peter Bunting was assumed to be the one to pick up the mantle after Phillips’ ignominious defeat- after all, he foretold this outcome during his leadership race a year ago. The former banker has for a number of years been one of the best parliamentary performers of the PNP and came within a whisker of ousting Dr Phillips from the leadership of the party. With Bunting unable to retain his Mandeville seat, he too has proven to be another impediment removed for Hanna.
There is clearly no love lost between Dr Phillips and Bunting. He may still be irked by the temerity of the younger man calling into question his leadership of the party.
With Buntings’ aspirations seemingly thwarted for now, his good friend and comrade in arms Golding will look to finish what was started.
Dr Phillips may find that prospect more galling than the election defeat and would rather see Hanna triumph. It could be a case of Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “From hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”
He is aware that to be seen overtly supporting Hanna could be detrimental and raises issues of fairness and transparency. Nevertheless, Dr Phillips will for some time remain an important voice in the PNP and his accomplishments cannot be discounted. To get his support in any form sends a clear message to the delegates who still hold him in high regard.
Hanna has been preparing for this moment for a long time, refining and polishing her image on all media platforms. Unlike Golding, she is a natural. Will it pay off? Jamaicans will approve if she is victorious but the daunting work of uniting the party and making it fit for purpose lies ahead. That is where she will have to show she has what it takes.
Golding is a serious man for serious times. He is reticent with the media and does not open up his private life for all to see. He has decorum, grace and is very empathetic. He clearly loves the people of Jamaica, dedicating himself to their service and employing his gifts to the betterment of the nation. He is a quiet force who the country is beginning to get to know.
Hanna has a huge head start here but, will the delegates choose popularity over ability? Will they be swayed by the nod of social media or will they put stock in gravitas and a higher learning?
Paraphrasing Natalie Neita, Lisa Hanna has a nice face, nice money and a nice mind. Is that what it takes to return the PNP to power?