Wed | Feb 8, 2023

Golding: I miss Portia

PNP president lauds former charismatic leader who invited him to become a senator

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2022 | 12:10 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

In this 2012 photo, Mark Golding, then Minister of Justice, dances with then Prime Minister and PNP leader, Portia Simpson Miller, at the PNP’s 74th Annual Conference at the National Arena in Kingston on Sunday, September 16. PNP supporters say they wil
In this 2012 photo, Mark Golding, then Minister of Justice, dances with then Prime Minister and PNP leader, Portia Simpson Miller, at the PNP’s 74th Annual Conference at the National Arena in Kingston on Sunday, September 16. PNP supporters say they will miss her energy and effervescent personality at the party’s 84th Annual Conference today at the National Arena.

Charismatic retired People’s National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller is sorely missed by the man she appointed a senator in 2007 and who now heads the 84-year-old political movement she then led. Simpson Miller, whose political capital...

Charismatic retired People’s National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller is sorely missed by the man she appointed a senator in 2007 and who now heads the 84-year-old political movement she then led.

Simpson Miller, whose political capital was lauded in a recent documentary titled ‘Girl from Woodhall’ on TVJ, was incomparable on the political hustings and had the capacity to rally Comrades at their darkest moments, dating back to the party’s 1980 general election wipeout.

In the documentary, her magnetism was on full display as she interacted with the people, and many of her adversaries, inside and outside the PNP, admitted that the 76-year-old was unmatched on the political stage.

Affirming that the PNP was in good standing in spite of her absence, Mark Golding said Simpson Miller and the aura she emanates are missed today.

“Of course, we missing Portia. Of course, we missing Portia. Portia was my political mentor,” Golding, 57, shared last week at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s North Street, Kingston offices.

“I came in the party through Dr Omar Davies because I knew him in the financial sector, where I was one of the leading corporate lawyers in Jamaica and very involved in financial engineering when he was minister of finance. But when I became a senator, it was Portia who appointed me and then she appointed me treasurer of the party, which is an officer position, and then she made me a spokesperson and so on,” he said.

The current leader of the Opposition, Golding recalled that while serving as minister of justice between 2012 and 2016, Simpson Miller had great confidence in him.

“I had great admiration and respect for her as a prime minister; she was an astute leader,” he told the forum.

“She understood delegation. She let people perform to the best of their abilities without trying to do everything herself. Her political capital was enormous. We could not have got through the period of austerity, refinancing and restructuring from a hugely indebted country; getting a 147 per cent GDP down to 115 per cent in just four years. And that is her generating large fiscal surpluses to pay down that debt. We did it without any social dislocation, no riots, protests, and that’s partly attributed to her,” the party president said of the 2012-2016 Simpson Miller administration.

“So do we miss Portia? Of course. Do I miss Portia? God, yes! ‘Cause if Portia was here, some of the things I have to go through, I wouldn’t have to go through. I know that ‘cause she love me like cook food, but it is what it is.”

‘A UNIQUE POLITICAL FIGURE’

Simpson Miller’s political career dates back to 1974 when she first became a councillor. She became the PNP’s first – and, to date, only – female president in 2006 and served until 2017.

She served as the country’s first female prime minister between March 2006 and September 2007, and then from January 2012 to March 2016.

In 2012, Simpson Miller was ranked by American news magazine, Time, as one of the 100 most influential people in the world after being named Person of the Year in 2011 by both The Gleaner and The Observer.

Since her retirement from public service in 2017, Simpson Miller has been out of the spotlight for medical reasons.

PNP supporters say they will miss her energy and effervescent personality at the party’s 84th Annual Conference today at the National Arena.

“There is no doubt that Portia Simpson Miller was a unique political figure. Her relationship with the people, especially with the masses of the people, I think was different to any other politician that we have had,” said Golding. “Michael Manley was also extremely well loved, but with Portia, it was a different type of relationship because Portia came from humble beginnings and made it as a woman to the highest political office of the land. Her iconic status is assured and there will never be another Portia.”

However, the electoral record of the party showed that the most successful at the polls for the PNP was P.J. Patterson, who had a very different profile. Patterson served as prime minister from 1992 to 2006, winning four consecutive general elections.

“PJ’s charisma was very different than Portia’s. His relationship with the masses was very different than Portia’s, but he was extremely successful. So I don’t think that if we are going to appeal to the electorate we need to have somebody who has that kind of connection. I can tell you that on the ground, I am well received by people, and they are always happy to see me,” stated Golding, who started his career in representational politics in 2017, when he was elected to represent St Andrew Southern after Davies’ retirement, and became PNP president in 2020.

UNITY EFFORTS

Over the last decade, a series of internal leadership challenges in the PNP has divided the party, often playing out in nasty public spats, but Golding said that under his leadership, Jamaica’s second main political party is on the mend.

“Since I became party leader in 2020, a lot of effort has been put into restoring unity in the party. We have established a unity committee, a mediation facility within the party. Yes, there have been some hiccups along the way, but we have a lot of opportunities for dialogue in settings that were conducive for learning,” he said.

The unity attempts have led to recent changes within the ranks of the party’s hierarchy, with Donna Scott-Mottley becoming a new vice-president and the return of Mikael Phillips, who, along with Phillip Paulwell, Dr Wykeham McNeill and Damion Crawford, resigned en bloc shortly after Golding became leader. The PNP staved off another internal challenge, with Richard Azan and Eugene Kelly making way for Scott-Mottley and Phillips.

Ian Hayles and Norman Scott complete the four vice-presidents.

Leading up to this year’s annual conference, Golding said during visits to many of the party’s events, he saw a lot of energy on the ground among Comrades, which is an encouraging sign.

“I feel that if our message is powerful and relevant, and you come with somebody who can communicate authentically and who the people believe has their interest at heart, and who will bat for them, and who is not here to scrape, enrich themselves from public resources, but is here to do a job for the country, then I think you will get the support,” Golding said, adding that he was in a far better position now than when he took over the presidency two years ago.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com