Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Mark Wignall | Shuffle out the old, in with the new

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Politics can be terribly unkind to those who venture into its folds and aspire to be change agents of relevance. The new entrant immediately attracts significant hate and derision from those supporting 'the other side.'

Inside the party, the newcomer soon finds himself wooed and made comfortable by one or more factions and soon settles in. In time, the newcomer is disabused of his or her political virginity and accepts the pragmatism of the moment.

In 1995 when brave Heather Robinson, then PNP MP for a volatile St Catherine South Central constituency, declared that she was refusing to "hug up gunmen" like then dangerous killer Donovan 'Bulbie' Bennett, she didn't get many in the PNP as cheerleaders in her section of the gallery. So she left representative politics for good.

Where were the voices of then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and the powerful Portia Simpson Miller? Silent as a slug's slow crawl.

The typical PNP and JLP politician is perceived by the public as corrupt and solely in politics to milk the public purse and fatten his bank balance. The obvious problem that produces is that it narrows down the pool of those entering politics mostly to those having nefarious objectives, and, to make matters worse, the few decent ones who make their way into it become lumped into the bag where, according to the public, only thieves and scoundrels exist.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has figured that a little after the two-year mark of the JLP in power, the time is fitting to make a reshuffle of his Cabinet. This is good political strategy as it signals a certain amount of newness and will convince significant others in the public that stagnation is not desired.

The public will immediately pounce on those politicians who are advanced in age. After all, some will surmise, if nothing positively earth-shattering has taken place in our politics in the last decade, it must mean that those who have been there the longest are the ones keeping the engine running in neutral over that time.

The prime minister is young at 45, and while he may not want to admit it, he must be impatient of the energy level of many in his Cabinet. Ministerial work is not just mental. It is also highly physical, requiring long hours and significant travelling. When done effectively, it can be very taxing on the body and one's mental processes.

It is, of course, foolish to make a conclusion that all of the 'old guys' in the JLP Cabinet are all dinosaurs and ready to be gently led out to pasture and on towards the sunset.

 

Montague will remain at National Security

 

A public grown impatient with Jamaica's perennial crime wave will probably take a bet that Robert Montague is likely to be the first minister shuffled away from his place at the table.

I quite understand public sentiment, but I think it would be a mistake to move him. Granted, the first strike against him is that at the outset, he said he didn't want the post. He and I have had many conversations, most private and off the record and a few in the public domain and straight-shooting.

In two years, it appears to me that he is very definitely on top of the job, but I know that it would be a hard sell for me to make to those at street level who tell me, 'Him nuh know weh him a do' and those on social media who prefer to embrace tribal anger and hate instead of analysis.

It's still a long way to go, but almost each week there is a release from the national security ministry of added rolling-stock supplies to the police, or another police station being built or refurbished. Whenever I ask those at street-level who tell me the minister 'nuh know whey him a do,' they are unable to suggest even one single thing he could do differently apart from the usual, 'heng di criminal boy dem'.

The biggest bugbear that could crop up and present itself against retaining him is if it should be determined that the relationship between him and the new commissioner will be 'troubled'. Nothing that he has said to me indicates that likelihood.

 

Vitamins, minerals and aged politicians

 

In the 1990s, an ex-minister of government and I became good friends and drinking buddies. One day when I was in a jam and needed to borrow $3,000 instantly, he implored me to pay him back as soon as possible because his monthly pension was $15,000. I was floored as he told me the amount.

The present set of politicians do not seem to suffer that malady. While not any of them are not exactly rotund as was the well-loved late Roger Clarke, there are not many skinny ones around. They seem to be doing well in the pocket, and I know they can afford their monthly vitamins, minerals, and little blue pills.

When I was a child in the 1950s, a person in his late 40s was old. This was not youthful perception. The percentage of those who suffered disease in that age group has dipped significantly compared to the present times.

Sixties in 2018 is the 40s back in the 1950s. Who would dare tell 83-year-old Mike Henry that he should stand aside and give up his ministry to a younger person? The minister is always bubbling with new ideas and, of course, many are anxious (are they?) to see the revival of the rail network across the island. There are many who believe that the rebirth of the railway into anything other than a tourist attraction in limited areas is 'Mike's Folly'. But, we wait until the action catches up with what the mouth has constantly promised.

Is Ruddy Spencer either going to be out, or will he suffer another demotion? It must be remembered that he was a full minister in the 2007-2011 period. At the present time, he is a state minister, or, as they say, 'junior minister'.

The wisdom that age was supposed to have endowed 74-year-old Ruddy Spencer with did not work too well with him as the disconnect between his brain and his mouth made him say foolish things that sounded like a grand plan for political victimisation.

Now that he has been called out by the prime minister and spoken to behind closed doors, an apology may just be the prelude to another demotion. Nothing personal, Ruddy. I like you and will still share a glass of Merlot with you at The Pegasus.

The most significant of the problems affecting PM Andrew Holness is that reshuffling can be easily mixed up with, and equated to, musical chairs. What Holness really needs is a bigger pool of political representatives from which he can examine, pick, choose, and refuse.

Any reshuffling now will be just political smoke and mirrors. Granted, the newly minted NW St Andrew MP Dr Nigel Clarke will be an automatic entrant into the Cabinet. Either in foreign affairs or in finance and the public service.

The next order of business is for the JLP and its leadership to develop a slate of younger, brighter, and intellectually committed candidates to run in the 2020 elections. That is, of course, with a view to winning those elections. Remember, though, that nothing is guaranteed.

In heading towards that process, the prime minister will be faced with another big problem: getting the oldsters to relax their tight clutches on their constituencies and face the future with a graceful retirement.

Many politicians end up like heavyweight boxers past their prime. Sometimes they need a solid knockout in the first round to convince them that this is it and that it was quite foolish to believe that there was another last hurrah.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs and commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.