The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) decision to forgo next month's public session of its annual conference is a good thing, especially if it is the beginning of a conscious effort at rehabilitation and recovery by one of the gangs of Gordon House.
The two gangs, the JLP and the People's National Party (PNP), have alternated in power for three-quarters of a century and presided over independent Jamaica for the past 50 years. And they have largely made a hash of things - as the data show.
For the past four decades, the Jamaican economy has registered annual average growth of under one per cent. The national debt of J$1.68 trillion represents a Greek-style 140 per cent of GDP. Our homicide rate, even after a dramatic drop in recent years, remains at around 45 per 100,000, and keeps us among the world's top five in per-capita murders.
Nearly half our children end their primary education neither fully literate nor numerate, and only a fifth complete high school with the academic performance to matriculate to university. Those who go to university have so little faith in their prospects at home that 80 per cent emigrate.
Colossal political failure
The economic crisis and social dysfunction inherent in these statistics reflect, to a significant degree, a mix of poor and incoherent application of economic policy. But the larger failure has been in our politics.
Our two major political parties have operated largely like gangs, closed groups for which the acquisition of state power is akin to a national shakedown from which the take is reward to the members - formal or otherwise - who may operate on the periphery of, or even outside, the law. Public policy at times may be strained for the protection of the faithful, even at the risk of stressing relations with foreign partners.
There is no grander display of the gang-style culture of our political parties than at their annual conferences, especially at the public session, with their atmosphere of a social free-for-all.
The paraphernalia of the gangs and their cult are obtrusive - the party colours and symbols, the pungent odour of burnt substances encase the atmosphere, and personalities of notoriety mingle easily with leaders of the state. A person or two may even be shot and killed, or injured just behind the stage while a high official speaks at the podium.
Put starkly, these party conferences, and in particular the public sessions, seem more like a festival of bacchanalia than a forum of ideas, discussion, debate and the formulation and pronouncement of policy.
Conventional wisdom is that the JLP is forced to surrender this year's public session because it is short of money to host the event - to bus in the crowd and feed and pay the multitude. The party having lost last December's general election, its financiers have stepped back.
JLP officials disclaim this explanation for their decision. It is because, they say, there are deep and fundamental issues, such as the reform of the party's constitution, to be discussed.
It matters little what drove the action if indeed the delegates will be doing what they ought to be doing - grappling with ideas and formulating policy, rather than merely reciting odes to the gang.
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