Leadership is said to be a process, not a position, of which political leadership is but one facet. Even so, political leadership has undergone less rigorous analysis than, say, organisational leadership, which makes it even more difficult to begin to offer a treatise on the doctrine of leadership from a political perspective.
Political scientists, while concluding that not much study has been done on political leadership, needless to say, have articulated a number of issues for consideration. There is a need to recognise personality, while not ignoring the wider social context and the environment.
There, is of course, the need to pay attention to the behaviour of the leader within the context of his/her roles and the institutional structures that are embodied in those roles. Perhaps, moreso there is the need to examine the characteristics of our leaders while not losing sight of the problems that may very well arise from their aims and achievements.
Dr Peter Phillips’s replacement as leader of the People’s national Party (PNP), therefore, poses a challenge to not only the party, but to good governance in which we all have a stake. As there are particular traits of good leaders, so it is that there are objective characteristics of a leader; and in today’s political environment we must explore the party’s options in the making of a leader that helps to nurture a political polity in which we live together for the sake of noble actions.
In deciding on the next party leader we must explore how political interests are aggregated and articulated in a frenzied social media environment where political legitimacy is no longer subscribed by traditional boundaries. The personification of a leader-centric party president seems quite the obvious choice in the pursuit of political ends. That symbiotic relationship — as Archie Singham described more than 50 years ago — between the “hero” and the “crowd” may very well be fraught with potential dangers, but, nevertheless, proved to be a decisive factor in ushering the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to power on the coat-tail of a popular Andrew Holness.
We have certainly been able to escape — unlike our neighbours to the north — the irritating sequel of birthing political demagoguery over genuine charismatic leadership. With the exception of Sir Alexander Bustamante, Michael Manley and Portia Simpson Miller, no one in the PNP seems to bear that stamp of charisma. But the leader, who certainly will be the most visible and high-profile member of the party, must, in the final analysis, be the embodiment of the party in the minds of the electorate.
Dr. Phillips, arguably the most capable minister of government across administrations, struggled with his posh public image and failed to connect with the electorate. The new leader has to make his mark on the electorate and stamp his own personality rather than seeking to mimic others. PJ Patterson did just that, when he replaced the towering personality of Michael Manley as party leader.
But the opening caveat will be what the party stands for, and whether its declaration of Democratic Socialism will be fused into policies and a programmatic platform that spell out the conditions under which the vast majority of the Jamaican people will benefit from an improvement in the economic and social conditions of their lives.
By any measure or political colour, ‘prosperity’ is what the people want. In fact, back in the 1950s, the PNP campaign under Norman Manley was to emphasise ‘people’, ‘nationhood’ and ‘prosperity’; the last term defined as “successful, flourishing or thriving condition, especially in financial respects…”
The truth is the PNP struggled in the last election to define its purpose. By all accounts the polls indicated a reasonable level of satisfaction among the electorate regarding the stewardship of the Holness Administration. The relative accomplishments, COVID notwithstanding, were achieved on the platform laid by Dr. Phillips and the PNP during his tenure as minister of finance. It was not for the PNP to vehemently deny that nothing was achieved; it was for the party to argue — which it failed to do convincingly — that more could be achieved if they were the implementers of their own economic blueprint.
One of the lessons the PNP must learn is to embrace thinking different from its own. A way to ensure innovation and change is to appreciate how others think. The political doctrine, not the political ideology, of the past will hinder the growth of the party. Sometimes much of what we accept as ‘expert’ view, limit the success of possibility thinking.
George Lucas’ vision, for example, of a Star Wars and the special effects were not embraced by the experts. The new leader, in sync with the party’s philosophical covenant, must therefore set about prospecting for ideas and encourage creative thinking across all groups and classes in society.