Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Andrew Holness, has declared that the tempest precipitated by two national election defeats has calmed down and there now exists a healthy atmosphere for an annual general conference on Sunday.
Holness described as tumultuous his first full year in the party's top position. "Turbulent would be the best way to describe it but I think we are settling down now," he told The Gleaner.
"It was a year filled with uncertainties, a year when expectations were dashed," he added.
It was Holness who was handed the mandate to lead the party after Bruce Golding's sudden resignation as party leader and prime minister. He announced the general election for December 29, less than a month after he was installed as prime minister and four years after the JLP was elected to power.
The party was beaten 42 seats to 21 by the People's National Party (PNP) in those elections, handing it the indignity of being the first one-term government in Jamaica's modern political history.
Holness admitted that he and his party had expected to sweep the polls, but that was not to be. He was, however, quick to assert that the realists in the party were aware that all was not well in the lead-up to the elections.
"In the back of our minds, we all knew that there were issues to be resolved in the party," the JLP leader asserted.
"So although the loss had been hurtful for many persons, I think that Labourites all across the island would have by now come to terms with that and realise that there are issues in the party that we needed to take the time to finally put to rest."
As if defeat in December was not enough, the JLP was beaten 2-1 in local government elections in March. It also failed to gain control of a single parish council.
Holness said he will be using the time to address some of these issues when he addresses this Sunday's one-day delegates' conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, which replaces the traditional two-day confab.
"I think the JLP operates more like a movement and we have to get it to operate like a structured organisation. We are a political movement born out of the labour movement, whereas the People's National Party is the reverse - a political organisation built for politics," Holness asserted.
He classified the PNP as a party focused on redistribution of wealth and the JLP, on the poor, working class.
"The PNP is the party of the middle class and those persons who own capital."
Asked if the JLP's philosophy was resonating with the working class, Holness said there was a perception that there is a philosophical misalignment.
"My job is to return the party to its proper alignment - a party of equal rights, equal opportunity and social justice," he asserted.
Added Holness: "That's what we are focusing on, let us never forget that whatever standards by which we use - PIOJ or global standards - we have a million persons or close living below the poverty line and many of those persons are working, so you have working poor and absolute poor."
Holness said the mission of the JLP is to focus on lifting the mass of the population and that must be the message that is conveyed firstly to the delegates.
"This is significant, our policies are focused on that but how we translate our policies into politics, how do we communicate that to the people for them to support our agenda," he asserted.
"We have to improve our message, our messengers and our communication; it's the signals and the symbols that we use to show at what end of the spectrum we stand."