Editorial: If the JLP doesn’t turn the corner ...
If the pronouncements of Robert Montague, the chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), are to be taken at face value, the party is recapturing its relevance and has a coherent message to deliver to voters.
This newspaper hopes so. For a viable Opposition is important to Jamaica's democracy, and that, for too long, is not how many Jamaicans would characterise the JLP. Rather, they perceive a party caught in a funk and bereft of ideas.
With an election less than two years away, it is urgent that the JLP pull itself up, failing which its leader, Andrew Holness, will seriously question whether he is the man for the job.
Clearly, the JLP's crisis is not all Mr Holness' fault, as his critics, inside and outside the party, would claim. Its wheels began their rattle not long into its four-year term of government that began in 2007, starting with the Golding administration's resistance of America's effort to have the JLP-aligned gangster and West Kingston strongman, Christopher Coke, extradited.
That harmed relations between Kingston and Washington. The administration's inability to fulfil its economic reform commitments under a US$2-billion standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), resulting in its collapse, did not help the JLP's credibility. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Golding administration imploded and that the JLP, under its new leader, Mr Holness, was roundly defeated in early elections.
It has, however, been more than three years since the JLP has been in Opposition and more than two since Mr Holness defeated Audley Shaw's challenge for his job. But a sense of instability remains in the party. Rifts have not been healed by Mr Holness' attempt to use pre-signed, undated letters to remove two opposition senators, which the courts ruled to be unconstitutional.
Waffled on policy
In the meantime, the JLP has, at best, waffled on policy, in particular those relating to economic management. Or, more to the point, we have a sense of what it is against, but not what, practically, it would do in office.
For instance, Mr Shaw, the shadow finance minister, often snipes at the Government's agreement with the IMF, without offering clarity on whether the programme would be abandoned under his watch and what would be his alternative. Further, it has been almost a year since Mr Holness established a task force, headed by Aubyn Hill, to draft an economic strategy, but has yet to declare on the outcomes of that initiative and to indicate whether he and Mr Shaw are at one on the policies.
Generally, the JLP's shadow ministers, across sectors, have offered little serious critique of government policy and even less in credible alternatives.
Given Mr Montague's declaration of the party's readiness for "a conversation with the people", including a joint tour of the island by Messrs Holness and Shaw, to explain how they intend to lift Jamaica "from poverty to prosperity", things may be about to change. The planned establishment of committees on employment, the environment, gender matters and human rights, though late in the day, are moves in the right direction.
But the JLP must be clear that voters will demand more than the symbolism of Mr Holness and Mr Shaw standing together whipping up a storm, if what they offer are neither substantive nor sustainable policy alternatives. In the event, the party and Jamaica would deserve better.