The remarkable Mrs Portia Simpson Miller

Thursday, July 06, 2017

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Mrs Portia Simpson Miller has called a halt to her truly remarkable political career lasting forty-three years — remarkable because of the length of unbroken tenure as a Member of Parliament starting in 1989.

Even more remarkable is the fact that with her formal education limited to high school level, belatedly given the veneer of a university education, she rose through the ranks of a People's National Party (PNP) dominated by highly educated upper-middle class men.

She broke the proverbial “glass ceiling” for women to become the president of the PNP and the first female prime minster of Jamaica. She is the first person from the working class to have achieved this and to rule with an 'iron fist' over men, including some who supported her in hopes of manipulating her.

Her removal of Dr Omar Davies from the position of minister of finance showed “the strength of a woman”. She had what none of them had since Mr Michael Manley, namely charisma. Some happily supported her because she could keep them in government while they indulged in social derision. Her advantage was an innate political acumen that knew who was genuine. Her great asset was her abiding concern for the poor and working class.

Mrs Simpson Miller consistently did her best, and better than expected, but many questioned whether her best was good enough, arguing that long service is not necessarily to be confused with good service.

The limited improvement in the condition of her constituency, St Andrew South West, is a serious indictment because it remains one of the poorest urban ghettos in Jamaica. It is not enough to point to cases of transformation of individuals who benefited from her personal charity, which is commendable, but does not rise to the level of social and economic transformation.

She has had the courage to walk away from politics with a fair amount of urging from within and outside the PNP. Perhaps she took a bit too long in giving the baton to Dr Peter Philips.

Mrs Simpson Miller handled her departure with immaculate comportment, her inimitable style and self-assured dignity. Her exit shows the courage which should be a signal to older politicians in both the PNP and the Jamaica Labour Party to leave after they have run their leg and have little left to contribute at that level.

Her legacy is a mixed one because she has proven that social mobility does happen in Jamaica for exceptional people and there are no limits for Jamaican women. She loved the people and they recognised her for that humane quality.

But love of the people is not enough in a country with our kind of problems. Leadership has to be made of more technical stuff in today's complex world. Hugging and kissing is an endearing quality but this does not advance Jamaica's international agenda. Not being culpable in financial corruption is admirable, but she may have delegated too much to those well-educated middle-class gentlemen.

We salute Mrs Simpson Miller and thank her for her sterling service to the Jamaican people and wish her well in her future endeavours. We know that she will find other ways to be of service other than in the political arena.

We hope that as a Fellow of the university, she will document her remarkable life in a tell-all book.




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