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Editorial: Principle? Chuck it.

Published:Monday | March 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Talking principle is cheap. Acting on it can be something else. Delroy Chuck should know. He's now knee-deep in that enterprise. On the talking side.

In the process, Mr Chuck, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) shadow legal affairs and justice minister, is accomplishing exactly what he accused his party leader, Andrew Holness, of doing: turning the JLP into a charade and undermining its electability among voters.

The issue here is Mr Chuck's open calls for Mr Holness' resignation over the pre-signed-letters scandal, even as he retains his position in the shadow cabinet.

It is to be recalled that within 48 hours of a Friday afternoon ruling last month by Jamaica's Constitutional Court that it was unconstitutional for Mr Holness to use pre-signed, but previously undated resignation letters to effect the removal of two senators, Mr Chuck sought a meeting of the JLP's parliamentary party for them to determine Mr Holness' future. The leader, he argued, had caused grave offence to the Constitution, which he was obligated to protect. A vote against Mr Holness by the majority of the 22 members would have meant him being chucked out of the constitutional position of leader of the opposition.

The day Mr Chuck was circulating his meeting request, the JLP leader, having earlier blustered over the meaning of the ruling, went to church and asked forgiveness for his action, which appeared to signal his acceptance of the court's ruling and the end to any legal manoeuvring.

Strangely, Mr Holness appealed the ruling, to the anger of Mr Chuck and the anti-Holness wing of the JLP. That anger was exacerbated by the fact that the JLP leader appears to have in his legal team former JLP member Abe Dabdoub, whose constitutional challenges during the last Parliament led to the costly unseating of four JLP members, who were ineligible for membership of the legislature because they were also citizens of other, non-Commonwealth countries.

Like many people, this newspaper found Mr Holness' post-apology decision to appear strangely disturbing. It not only weakened any attempt at finding a political settlement to JLP's crisis, but cast Mr Holness as a flip-flopper, or Machiavellian operator, whose declarations are to be dissected and parsed before acceptance.


Legal advice


Having said that, Mr Chuck's expectations are no less strange. He is peeved not only at the presence of Mr Dabdoub, but of the fact that Holness didn't see "the need to ask me for my advice". At a JLP West Portland constituency conference, and in other public comments, Mr Chuck has suggested that, like P.J. Patterson, who was forced out of his ministerial job in the 1990s but returned as president of the People's National Party and prime minister, Mr Holness should leave now and attempt to come back later.

Maybe Mr Chuck is right.

But in the context of his opposition to Mr Holness at the time of Audley Shaw's leadership challenge 14 months ago, as well as his attempt to rally the parliamentary party against the leader, we are surprised that Mr Chuck is surprised that he has not canvassed the appeal. If he feels that Mr Holness has lost the moral authority to lead, it is a farce that he remains in the leader's shadow cabinet. That's the dear part of principle.