"I TOLD you so!" has rightly been called "the four most beautiful words in our common language". Well, the impending run-off between Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness has been a long time coming. Back in April 2012, I had noted that Audley should challenge Andrew, because it was already clear that the "seamless transition" from Bruce to Andrew was a little too perfect. Jamaica-people want to see the "seams".
This April, again I wrote that there would be a clash because of the pent-up tensions. I pointed out that de fence cyan't hold ... too much bull inna de JLP pen. And, oh boy! Was I ever ticked off properly for raising the issue!
Well, now The Gleaner has pronounced (editorial Friday August 16, 2013), so the matter is settled:
"In retrospect, the absence of a vote when Mr Holness assumed the JLP leadership two years ago ... was, perhaps, a mistake. His elevation by consensus ... robbed Holness of the kind of legitimacy that is derived only from the ballot box."
So Chairman Bobby Montague and General Secretary Horace Chang certainly have their work cut out for them. They will have to maintain the centre while the other leadership goes in search of 'legitimacy'.
A true assessment
The first thing to be said is that conflicting reports make it difficult to assess Holness' true attitude to this challenge. First, there was a story that a Standing Committee meeting ended with threats that Holness would "buss de file" (my words) on any challenger because he had "dirt" (his word) on them all. But then Thursday's Gleaner carried these words:
"I consider Audley my friend ... The Jamaica Labour Party is precious to me and bigger than I am, and whoever leads the Jamaica Labour Party will have my full support."
Now, that's a completely different tone. I can't say which is the real Holness, but in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I choose to believe the best. Holness had been travelling the country inviting challenge, so he can't be surprised it came.
Now to the basis of the challenge, which is the failure of Holness to galvanise the party. Again, The Gleaner noted that "while the JLP has reacted to perceived policy failures by the Government, it has offered little by way of policy formulation or strategic ideas".
Holness didn't exactly distinguish himself as education minister. In those golden pre-IMF days, Audley allowed him to hand parents a retraction of tuition fees, and teachers a seven per cent pay increase. But he left it as he found it, failing profoundly.
His chief accomplishment politically was to be suitably unobjectionable to everyone. As has been pointed out over and over again, he hadn't even held an officer position in the party, the attainment of which means he would have had to vanquish at least one rival.
Golding, a storm-tossed Odysseus of many travails, was replaced by the prince who had not ventured beyond the palace confines. It was further testament to the cataclysm of Bruce that the party reached for the shiniest available thing on the shelf and positioned him in the leadership role. The overwhelming selling point to all who were told to straighten up, shut up, and line up, was that he would win. Holness emerged with a title, but without a mandate.
For better or worse, Holness has not yet been able to put his stamp on the party. He represents one of the first significant breakthroughs against the stranglehold that the ex-Cold Warriors have had on the country's politics. But by now he should have taken the opportunity to send different signals. As of today, his record is at best ambiguous. In two recent cases he could have distinguished himself without much or any political cost, but he declined. Had Holness supported the Tivoli Enquiry, he would have telegraphed a message of new leadership. It would have confounded his critics and disoriented any potential challenger. He chose otherwise.
More recently, Holness confused everyone with his message on the 'Social Partnership Agreement'. He determined that the JLP would not sign on to it, but would give lip service about supporting it. Again, there was another route available to him. Nothing in the Social Partnership Agreement would have hindered watchful and focused opposition.
From a purely dramatic point of view (in my role as casting director for the movie 'Election Sweet: Jamaica 2016'), it would be more entertaining to have Audley Shaw lead the JLP. The Man-ah-Yaad from North East Manchester would generate lots of theatrical bombast, of which, let us agree, we are always in need.
In Shaw's previous portfolio responsibility, there's no question that there were moments of brilliance, followed thereafter by epic fails. The JDX and creating the Junior Stock Exchange were serious positives. The divestments of the Sugar Company and Air Jamaica I don't think are directly attributable to him, but couldn't have taken place without his input as finance minister. As we know, the JDX was squandered, like a footballer beating defenders and dribbling his way from behind half-line all the way towards the goal, only to reach inside the box then kick the ball off to the side. What do we make of that? I'm not sure. It shows that Audley can carry the ball though.
The Gleaner reports that the money-interests and youth groups are backing Shaw. I would have assumed a consensus among the youth that it's better to retain a younger leader. If the report is to be believed, there's a real contest afoot.
All said, the Labour Party will have to make a hard choice, but neither is obviously a bad choice. Recent contests within the party have shown that the concern about it splintering is overblown. They've run satisfactory contests for vice-president, chairman, and general secretary, all in the recent past, and without a glitch.
Audit Tivoli spending
What to make of Desmond McKenzie doing the media rounds, complaining that West Kingston is being "victermised" after the 2010 incursion? Now he wants more government dollars and has mentioned the figure of $100 million.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that upwards of $1 billion was already poured into West Kingston after Dudus-gate. We're not talking here about the cost of the operation, or about the cost to the rest of Jamaica, which was billions. These are direct payments and spending after the conflagration. Will the media investigate? Much as I enjoy hearing Desmond talk, this hobby-horse of demanding more money for West Kingston could throw him.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites Law Firm in Jamaica, and Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in New York. Email feedback to email@example.com.