A chance for transformation
In 10 days, Bruce Golding advanced Jamaican politics 10 years. He resigned as prime minister on September 25, then threw his weight behind the youngsters in his party, which led to 39-year-old Andrew Holness being proclaimed prime minister-designate on October 3.
Had 63-year-old Mr Golding sided with his fellow Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) seniors, the Labourite old guard would likely have squashed the call for renewal, just as their People's National Party (PNP) counterparts did last year. (Gleaner, September 21, 2010. 'PNP stands by its seniors', http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100921/news/news1.html)
Only Bruce Golding's vision and boldness made this long-overdue generational change in Jamaican politics possible.
This is not to deny our older politicians' yeoman service to their nation. But Jamaicans clearly feel it's time for a new approach to politics, and a new generation of politicians. Whether now or later, the PNP will have to follow the JLP's lead. It should start by giving the very impressive Julian Robinson a shadow portfolio.
His recent appearance with Chris Tufton on Cliff Hughes' 'Impact' was one of the most refreshing Jamaican political discussions I've ever seen. Here were two rational and intelligent men having a reasonable, issues-based debate, with no grandstanding and finger-pointing. Both were willing to give credit to the other side where due, and to admit their party's faults, while, of course, claiming to represent the best option. It was certainly a higher level of political conversation than what's normally seen on even US television, and the kind of political future Jamaicans want. Keep raising the bar, gentlemen.
On the morning of September 25, Jamaica faced a depressing electoral choice. The governing party reeked of arrogance and its leader was no longer trusted by the people. Despite real accomplishments - murder reduced, debt burden stabilised, divestment of Air Jamaica and the sugar industry - it was considered by perhaps a majority of voters to be not acting in the interests of the masses, but largely following the dictates of a minority moneyed class.
The alternative was an Opposition that - while showing more empathy for the real economic suffering caused by the worst global recession since 1930 - focused almost completely on personal attacks and empty sloganeering. Its so-called Progressive Agenda and Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme contained not a single credible policy alternative. All voters saw were the same old faces with the same old ideas that led to 18 years of one per cent average growth, 20 per cent average inflation, and a 350 per cent murder increase from 1989.
Suddenly, a possible third way has emerged. Jamaica now has a young prime minister-in-waiting who has topped every 'best-performing minister' poll, and who the masses see as one of them, and, hence, as someone who will act in their interests. Perhaps for the first time since 1972, the public senses a chance for real national transformation.
Every Jamaican and his dog has advice for our next PM, and why should I be any different? So here is my three cents for Mr Holness.
1 Shift Daryl Vaz from non-portfolio minister responsible for information to, maybe, energy. The adjective most often used to describe Mr Holness is humble, but the adjective most used to describe this JLP government is arrogant. So the electorate expects kinder and gentler politics from his administration. Mr Vaz is a hard worker known for getting things done, but often comes across as aggressive and abrasive. So keep his strong work ethic in the Cabinet, but make a more diplomatic personality the minister of information - perhaps a Clive Mullings or Othneil Lawrence, or even a young G2K member like Warren Newby.
2Present yourself as a family man to the nation. My only quibble with Mr Holness' speech at the 'acclamation' press conference was that he didn't thank his wife and family. Well, behind every great man is a woman, and a strong wife to keep his feet on the ground is perhaps the best protection any politician has from the dreaded 'power-gone-to-him-head' disease. Plus, a youngish 'first family' would do much by example to strengthen Jamaica's too-often-weak family structures. Why shouldn't Andrew and Juliet be Jamaica's Barack and Michelle?
3Make the Partnership For Transformation (PFT) a first order of business.
People are expecting improved political governance from you, including PFT issues such as election campaign reform, local government reform and the introduction of legislation on the impeachment of elected officials. Educate the public about the PFT, and get it completed, and your stocks will soar even higher.
Out with the old?
The expectation of an end to 'ol'-time politics' is one reason the country is so excited about Mr Holness. But for all his youth, Mr Holness is a three-time MP steeped in the rough and tumble of politics as practised by his mentor Edward Seaga. His St Andrew West Central constituency is often said to possess garrison elements, and has more than once been in the news for election violence.
Hence the question many are already asking: Is Andrew Holness a real change agent, or merely business-as-usual politics in a newer suit?
Mr Holness has come out with guns blazing, rejecting donmanship and garrison politics, and claiming never to have embraced either. Strong words that the voting public should not allow him to forget.
He has also emphasised the importance of youth being able to speak proper English, holding up Miss Lou as a par excellence example of fluency in both English and Patois. Every sensible Jamaican must endorse these sentiments, as our greatest divide is not race, class, politics or religion, but language ‹ between those who can code-switch by speaking proper English when necessary, and those who cannot. Making every child fluent in English would eliminate this barrier, and compulsory elocution lessons from grade one up would be a good first step. Time will tell if Prime Minister Holness' deeds match his fine words, but his plain common sense so far is impressive.
Not since 1972, coincidentally the year Mr Holness was born, has a prime minister-designate enjoyed such widespread goodwill. Only 3,000 more Jamaicans voted for Bruce Golding in 2007 than voted against him.
When Portia Simpson Miller took over in 2006, even her own PNP colleagues like K.D. Knight publicly questioned her education and capacity to lead. P.J. Patterson became prime minister in 1992, only months after resigning in disgrace over the Shell waiver scandal.
Mr Seaga came to office in 1980 after the bloodiest election campaign in Jamaica's history.
As with Michael Manley in 1972, Mr Holness has no major negatives on his ledger, and actually comes with a much more impressive résumé.
People knew 'Joshua' as an eloquent son of the great Norman, with a knack for political theatre, such as lying down in the road in front of JBC, and brandishing the 'rod of correction'. But his administrative and legislative capabilities were totally unknown.
Mr Holness, on the other hand, is widely viewed, both in the polls and on the street, as the most effective minister in this administration and the most dynamic education minister in living memory.
All new leaders have trouble living up to expectations, and the convergence of history might make the hopes resting on Mr Holness' shoulders seem almost impossibly heavy. Chances are he will also be showered with almost unprecedented adulation by tens of thousands of young Jamaicans at the upcoming 'crowning of Prince Andrew' JLP conference. How will he hold up?
Well, Mr Holness is said to be a voracious reader, and so is likely familiar with Rudyard Kipling's famous lines:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too ... .