Audley Shaw's announcement of his intention to consult with Labourites before making a decision on challenging Andrew Holness for the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) raises one important question. That question surrounds how much influence a deputy leader of a political party has on how said party conducts its business, especially when in Opposition.
Although Shaw has yet to declare his hand, only a madman would take the position he has and not go all the way to face Holness in a battle for delegate support at the JLP's annual conference in November.
As one of the JLP's four deputy leaders, Shaw, on paper, forms one-fifth of the party's hierarchy, with the influence to dictate the direction the party charts on national issues. There are four deputy leaders of the JLP. Shaw is the opposition spokesman on finance; Desmond McKenzie speaks on matters concerning urban renewal, rural development and local government; Senator Chris Tufton speaks on foreign affairs, foreign trade and investment; while James Robertson keeps quiet.
Shaw is in charge of a far more high-profile shadow portfolio than his other colleague deputies, and in the JLP's recent stint in government was in charge of arguably the most important Cabinet ministry.
So when you take his position as a deputy leader, his role as spokesman on finance, and his stature within the party, it begs the question as to why he needs to be leader to usher in the kind of change he would like to see in the JLP.
It must be a lie, then, when party leaders, during the peace season, talk about the importance of their deputies and how crucial they are in shaping the party's image, defining its policies and determining the volume of its rhetoric.
For why, then, would Dr Peter Phillips, a vice-president of the People's National Party (PNP), have challenged party President Portia Simpson Miller in September 2008? Back then, Dr Phillips used the campaign period to speak at length about the direction the party would take under his leadership. He was, however, hard-pressed to articulate why he could not sell any of his solid ideas from his position as a chief lieutenant of his party leader.
And so, here we go again, with a deputy leader identifying weaknesses in how a political party operates and prescribing a change of leader as the best remedy.
POOR PARTY PROFILE
Shaw says he's dissatisfied with how the JLP is profiled as Opposition. He believes the JLP is on the outside of the political ring looking in, rather than being in the oblong, duking it out with the PNP administration.
But why does Shaw believe he has to be the ultimate man in charge to reinvigorate the JLP? What prevents him, as an influential deputy to Andrew Holness, from articulating an approach to opposition politics that brings together his best ideas with those of the other leaders within the JLP? What has convinced him that the best thing for a historically fractious JLP to do is engage in another leadership challenge?
Audley Shaw has taken on the role of challenger in this sitcom and is, therefore, burdened to show why he should be the one anointed and embraced as JLP leader. Mr Shaw needs to tell the country why both he and Andrew Holness cannot abide as a one-two punch for the Labour Party.
He needs to tell the country about those ideas of his for making the Labour Party a more effective force, ideas which have been rejected by Holness and the other leaders. He needs to shed light on why he believes he cannot leverage his undoubted strengths from his current position as arguably the second most influential member of the JLP.
Shaw needs to state definitively whether Holness is a good or bad leader as it's simply not enough for him to say he'll be a better leader. Shaw's challenge has already communicated a powerful message, even before the JLP starts preparing its voters' list for November's conference.
That message is that deputies have no real clout inside Jamaican political parties, where the leader reigns supreme as an all-seeing, all-knowing beast.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.