Orville Taylor, Contributor
There is only one way to spell right, but many different ways to spell it and be wrong. A minor distraction from the real imperatives of a struggling nation came over the past week, when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) found itself in a pickle after the intractable member of parliament for South West St Catherine, Everald Warmington, stirred up an ants' nest.
Just two days before the party was to have its annual conference, which was already compromised because of a shortage of capital if not national visibility, he dragged his party, which he has loved and supported from before current leader Andrew Holness was born, before the courts.
Two Fridays ago, Warmington went to court because he was determined that the nominations for deputy leader of Dr Christopher Tufton, Desmond McKenzie and Audley Shaw were not lawful because they were done in a fashion inconsistent with the constitution of the party. When at the last minute he relented and withdrew his injunction from the courts, he told a television reporter that there was nothing personal between him and his party.
In an unambiguous tone and accent that betrayed nothing of his former allegiance to, and citizenship in, another nation, he showed that he now understands what are the limitations and dictates of constitutions when it has to do with the representation of people via elections.
It couldn't have come at a worse time, because Central Clarendon MP Mike Henry, a Labourite also from before Holness was a lustful thought in his father's mind, decided not to attend the conference because of unresolved issues with his constituency. Thus, the conference was in danger of being in squalor.
Then an incensed Holness, sounding less like 'Baby Bruce' and more like an older mentor from across the floor, ranted, "They must go, they must go ... ." It was sheer emotion, and one can be forgiven if one were expecting his next line to be, "Because I don't fraid a no man, no gyal, nowhere!"
Many seemed to think that Warmington had gone too far, and if Daryl Vaz, MP for West Portland, thinks so, he must have really crossed a serious watermark, higher than that set by Vaz himself. By Monday, it was rumoured that the Labourites had gone into conclave and their Standing Committee did damage control and had huddled with Warmington. In the end, he and the men who looked askance at his behaviour had reportedly kissed and made up.
But all was not cool in 'Greenland', and a still-irked Vaz declared that he would not attend any meeting with Warmington except Parliament. Thus, he was absent from the Central Executive meeting on Wednesday last. The green dust had not settled, and attorney Arthur Williams II, jumping the generation gap, used Facebook to comment that the atmosphere at the conference had been "so tense that you could cut through it with a knife".
It was subsequently revealed that Warmington had indeed been right, and the three musketeers had played false with the rules. And, as with the three by-elections precipitated by Vaz et al, but also in the tradition maintained by Warmington himself, none of them was indeed properly nominated. Warmington got it right the second time. The question is was his motivation driven by a reformed sense of morality to avoid repeating the sins he and the other Vaz-led three committed in the general election? Or was it simply self-interest? Whatever might be the motive, right is right, and one cannot use expedience to write a wrong into a rite.
Williams' other comments on his Facebook page are even more alarming, especially coming from a man of the courts. Treading on dangerous ground, this lawyer who at one point had sided with another lawyer from the other side of Parliament, although clear breaches of contract would have taken place regarding public-sector pensions, seemed unperturbed that the rules of his organisation had been violated.
"The meeting was proceeding in a direction which would see three deputy leaders not being elected. I referred to the breaches of the Constitution which the general secretary outlined, and proposed a resolution which would see the highest decision-making body of the JLP, while recognising the breaches, mandate that the election of the three deputy leaders proceed."
While it is understandable that mediation is always desirable when the consequences of disagreeing would be destructive to all, the law might be an ass, as Lord Denning opined. But contrary to another prominent lawyer who practised more politics than law, it indeed is a shackle.
Would Williams argue that the IAAF, in 2011, should have ignored Usain Bolt's false start?
It is extremely disturbing that a shadow government might think that simply because a legal rule is inconvenient, it should be ignored or mediated away. In any event, what would have been the consequence of these three deputy leaders not being elected?
DOROTHY & DUDUS
Although not a lawyer, I have major issues when lawyers use non-legal arguments to circumvent law. It is for that reason that I did not join the poppy-show in 2010 when Dorothy Lightbourne, then minister of justice, refused to sign the extradition warrant for Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. Her argument was based on a legal foundation and, most important, the experts in the Attorney General's Chambers advised her that based on the facts, she should not sign. Hypocritically, lawyers, including some who support the present Government, ignored the legal argument and joined the masquerade and chanted, "Take it to court."
Yet, to send it to court, she would have to already decide to sign the warrant. Understand the irony? Lawyers were telling her to go against her experts' advice. Not one of the pro-extradition advocates had sought to challenge the legal premise of her reluctance to 'export' Coke. Instead, the argument was, simply, a political one.
In the end, Lightbourne did sign, and by her own admission, it was due, in part, to public pressure. Dangerous words from a lawyer, indeed. Thus, in the end, after all the arguments and counter-exhortations, all went for naught. Few now are willing to recognise that the 'Dudus' Coke affair was about law and order, but unfortunately, the JLP itself had compromised it with politics.
This is the patent problem with this country; politics too often trumps law and rights. For all his travesties in the past, his multimillion-dollar act of dishonesty that led him wrongfully into Gordon House in the first place and trademark ungentlemanly conduct, he was absolutely right to object. If one cannot be trusted to uphold the rules of a family business with like minds, how can we be certain that when the time comes for them to take power from the PNP, if it ever does happen soon, they will do the right thing.
I have had my issues with Warmington in the past, and although I will absolutely not kiss and make up as his JLP colleagues did with him, this time he has my backing. Hands down!
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.