Thu | Oct 22, 2020

Meet Harry ‘Houdini’ - JLP strategist Morrell has magic hand in election wins across parishes

Published:Tuesday | September 8, 2020 | 12:25 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
JLP political strategist Harry Morrell is seen here with Ann-Marie Vaz (left) and Juliet Holness.
JLP political strategist Harry Morrell is seen here with Ann-Marie Vaz (left) and Juliet Holness.

Harry Morrell is not a magician, but no one would argue about a name change if he’s called the Houdini of Jamaican politics after the performance of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in last Thursday’s general election victory, in which they won 48 of 63 seats.

Morrell helped to destroy the People’s National Party’s (PNP) seeming invincibility in several prized constituencies, particularly in what was known as the ‘western orange curtain’ – that was all of Westmoreland, as well as strongholds in St Elizabeth, Trelawny, St James, and Hanover.

He had his hands in seven seats, five of which were won by JLP candidates, the majority of whom Morrell said he personally sought out to lead.

Morrell, the JLP’s election strategist and political coach and trainer, is the man responsible for the party winning over several constituencies that, in the past, proved a challenge, including Westmoreland Central. Westmoreland Eastern was lost by the single luck-of-the-draw vote of the returning officer but will undergo a magisterial recount.

His impact on the JLP machinery in Westmoreland Central propelled businessman George Wright from a loss to the PNP’s Dwayne Vaz in the 2016 general election to councillor for the Petersfield division in the local government polls later that year, in what was a PNP safe seat.

‘Taught us how to win’

Heather Gopaul, a cluster supervisor in the Petersfield division and one of Wright’s ardent workers, said it was Morrell’s tutoring that enforced the belief that victory for Labourites was achievable.

“For almost 40 years we have never seen a JLP MP in this constituency, and it was said it’s a PNP place. But that man is a magician because he taught us how to win, and win we did,” she said.

Gopaul said that based on the template they now have, she does not envision the PNP reclaiming Westmoreland Central and the Petersfield division any time soon.

Morrell’s fingerprints were also all over Hanover Western, Westmoreland Western, Westmoreland Eastern, St Elizabeth North East, St Andrew Western, and Kingston Central, another bastion of PNP support that went for the JLP.

Hanover native Tamika Davis, the JLP member of parliament-elect who trounced incumbent Ian Hayles of the PNP by a margin of 1,021 votes, told The Gleaner that Morrell’s strategy was simple.

“From the outset, he said to me, ‘I know how you can win this seat and will make sure you do,’ and true to form, he came into the constituency, went through all four divisions, and spent hours training the workers.

“He had formed the view that good workers who understand their roles were the secret to victory. He went back to basics, defining the roles. It was beautiful watching the process and seeing the numbers come in election night, thanks to Mr Morrell,” Davis said.

Morrell joined the JLP youth arm in 1990 shortly after the party was shown the door by electors in favour of the Michael Manley-led PNP in 1989. He rose to become the Young Jamaica general secretary for Area Four.

It was there that his influence and ability began to blossom and where he, along with Clive Reid, persuaded the young Andrew Holness to make himself available for the leadership of the JLP.

“We sat down with him and we encouraged him at the time that he should enter. But I assured him that from grass-roots level up, that I knew the delegates of St Elizabeth South West and Westmoreland had high regards for him,” Morrell said.

“I remember saying that if he (Andrew) entered the leadership race, nobody could have beaten him, even though at the time Dr Christopher Tufton was a huge personality, and we all love him, but the name Andrew Holness, as the then minister of education, was a dynamic figure, buzzing with the workers for some strange reason,” Morrell added.

Ultimately, Holness was selected by the JLP MPs to lead after Bruce Golding resigned as a consequence of the Christopher Coke extradition affair.

Brompton win

Morrell then shifted focus on winning a division in the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that had, for 35 years, been under the PNP’s thumb.

“The JLP had not won Brompton division in that space of time and the work that we put in there, getting Whitney Smith, a local, to run on the ticket was pivotal,” he said.

Also, Morrell was a crucial link in the victory of Juliet Holness in St Andrew East Rural, and came up trumps again for the Labourites when Ann-Marie Vaz whipped the PNP’s Damion Crawford by 329 votes in the 2019 Portland Eastern by-election.

“I don’t know how people see me, but I know, based on hard work and analysis, that Jamaica is not a PNP country.

“I also know that if people understand the numbers and how to apply them, victory in an election is guaranteed,” Morrell said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com