Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Battle for the west

Published:Sunday | November 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM
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Water and Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang (left) and Minister of Agriculture Dr Christopher Tufton in discussion about government matters after Chang commissioned the Parottee Water Supply System into service at Hopewell, St Elizabeth, earlier this year. - Photo by Noel Thompson
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Shalman Scott, Contributor

THE PITCHED battle between two of the region's better politicians - Dr Horace Chang and Dr Chris Tufton - for the position of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) deputy leader for the west is on in earnest. Both men are pull-ing out all the stops as they criss-cross communities within the five parishes - Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland, and St Elizabeth - in a bid to convince the approximately 1,300 delegates as to who the better man is to be the JLP standard-bearer in these parts.

Dr Chang appeared on television in a canoe in the district of Chigwell, Hanover, while Dr Tufton turned up in Westmoreland handing out European Union cheques to sugar workers who had been made redundant. A few days later, the goodly doctor appeared in front of the cameras in a fowl coop belonging to poultry farmer Derrick Scott in St Elizabeth.

All this is just a small sampling of the heightened press appearances by both government ministers which political watchers have not divorced from the campaign for the top leadership of the JLP here in western Jamaica. The crucial vote is set for November 14 at the Green Island High School in Hanover.

Poor stewardship

One of the questions which needs to be canvassed relates to the motivation behind Dr Tufton's challenge for the post of JLP deputy leader for western Jamaica, currently held by Dr Horace Chang. And there are various reasons being proferred for the otherwise quiet and non-combative Tufton to so resolutely stake his claim to lead and inspire the JLP machinery in this section of the island.

Among the reasons are the virtual collapse of the JLP western organi-sational machinery occasioned by mounting discontent, despondency, and disaffection of many Labourites who feel abandoned by the party; and the embarrassing pressure of the Coke, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips saga on an already disappointed and angry bunch of Labourites, adding toxicity and greater disconnect between the JLP in government and the supporters on the ground in the respective communities.

In such a scenario, Dr Chang, the present deputy leader, has had plenty of criticism directed at him, and many are of the view that while he has performed creditably both as minister of government and member of Parliament (MP), his stewardship of the political machinery in terms of organisation and mobilisation has been very poor.

Disgruntled labourites

Readers may find interesting the fact that one of the persons who persuaded Tufton to offer himself for the post of JLP deputy leader was none other than Dr Chang, who at that time, was eyeing the position of party chairman. When the anticipation of Dr Ken Baugh's (current JLP chairman) departure did not materialise, Chang made an about-turn and tried to consolidate himself into the deputy leader post in which he had conveyed no further interest. But Tufton, who had commenced his campaign partly on the insistence of Chang, said not so fast!

Before all this development, there was a fairly steady stream of delegates and party supporters approaching Dr Tufton and asking him to take charge of party business in the west. Many of the Labourites are upset with Dr Chang for comments he allegedly made on numerous occasions at JLP area council meetings where it is claimed that Chang expressed the view that in politics, there was no place for persons who came second, suggesting that there was no place for losers.

These comments have been seen as both arrogant and dismissive of the worth of some supporters and caretakers. Further, the allegation has served to sour relations between Chang and party supporters, especially since eight of the 15 seats in the county of Cornwall were lost by the JLP.

It must be noted, however, that many party supporters are of a different view and are backing Chang vociferiously and intensely. Chief among them are Chang's North West St James delegates whose enjoyment of the status and clout of their MP will allow absolutely nothing to forfeit the privileges that they now enjoy. And there are reports that the political gravy train locomotion can be heard far and wide, with passengers from both camps having an indulgent ride.

Bigger political game

But this contest in the west, according to the opinion of some political pundits and commentators, is not simply about a race for a regional political prize of deputy leader. It is at once the manifestation of a bigger game which is slowly unfolding on the national stage with respect to the Jamaica Labour Party. Some persons are of the view that the JLP has squandered the expectation and trust reposed previously in that party by many Jamaicans, and its political stock has been trending south.

Insiders believe that the party now suffers from political fatigue not only in terms of its bungling and confusion, but also in terms of its public relations. It is hoped that the western Jamaica contest between Dr Tufton and Dr Chang, according to the "Revivalists", is a wake-up call and will produce an outcome that either way will help to rekindle the fire of the JLP. Let's wait and see.

Shalman Scott is former mayor of Montego Bay. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.