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JLP's tradition of disunity

Published:Tuesday | November 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Gary Spaulding

The phrase 'as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end' rings profoundly true for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The JLP, in its 69th year, remains incapable of abiding by its constitutional requirements as senior members wrangle once again in the historically divisive party.

For it was in its beginning that matters constitutional appeared to have played second fiddle in the formation of the JLP in 1943. By the late 1960s, it was common practice for the leadership to trample on party rules.

The records show that the JLP has performed much better as government - evident in its performances in the 1962-72 and 1980-89 periods - than it has done as a political party.

Accordingly, the JLP's achievements are frequently undermined by the propensity of its members to wage war against each other better than it has done against its old political rival - the People's National Party (PNP).

This seemingly incurable malady is no fault of its current leader, Andrew Holness, who was elected to the position only a year ago, but must be borne by his predecessors who refused to change the unwholesome culture, ostensibly to suit their political desires.

However, it has not been lost on observers that the latest bout of discord started with an allegation about constitutional breaches started with none other than Mike Henry, who claimed a year ago that Holness was unconstitutionally elected JLP leader.

The verdict is still out, but the bigger issue is whether the leadership of the JLP lacks knowledge of the party's constitution.

Or is the JLP so entrenched in the culture of political gamesmanship that its members are unable to see that the bloodletting is doing nothing but hurting the organisation to which they swore allegiance?

Here comes the notorious Everald Warmington blasting away out at the eleventh hour before the start of the party's critical delegates' conference.

Warmington accused the leadership of casting aside the constitution of the party, a great irony to many, as that same member flouted the dual-citizenship stricture in the Constitution of Jamaica to get himself re-elected in 2007, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for a rerun.


Alexander Bustamante was installed leader for life of the so-called democratic Labour Party and remained officially in that position until 1974 when the bizarre party constitution had to be amended to facilitate the ascension of Edward Seaga to that position.

Donald Sangster, the in situ JLP leader from just after Independence in 1962, was never officially elected and was pretty much hand-picked by Bustamante to lead the country as prime minister.

Stories continue to be told of the myriad shenanigans played out at the expense of the JLP constitution when Robert Lightbourne, Clem Tavares and Hugh Shearer were vying to replace Sangster, who died shortly after the 1967 general election.

The inability of the JLP to conduct peaceful internal elections throughout the years serves as an eloquent testimony to its founding fathers' abhorrence to rules and regulations at the expense of its own desires.

The deputy leadership race of 1992 can hardly be erased from memory with the assaulting of some of its stalwarts, including Pearnel Charles, that brought physical harm to diehard supporters from St Thomas by thugs masquerading as security personnel.

Another deputy leadership election in 2003, involving James Robertson and Olivia Grange in Area Council Two, and Dr Horace Chang and Ed Bartlett in Area Council Four, were scarred by ugly allegations of tainted money.

Holness described as "a party in rebellion" the turmoil that raged in the JLP from 1990 to 2006.

Other leaders failed to crush this debilitating culture, which has continued to cripple the chances of the Labourites. It is now up to Andrew Holness, once and for all, to break the back of this tradition that engenders frightening disloyalty among its members.

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs senior reporter. Email feedback to and