Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Two prominent members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have distanced themselves from the Audley Shaw camp as the party's George Soutar-led Election Committee convenes its first meeting today to flesh out its plan of action to ward off hostilities that threaten to disrupt the already fractious organisation.
The two members, James Robertson and Dr Christopher Tufton, who were reported to be aligned to Shaw, the likely challenger to Andrew Holness for the position of leader of the JLP, protested that they did not ask anyone to speak for them.
Tufton would not divulge his loyalty, while Robertson, through his lawyer, Patrick Bailey, stressed that he was undecided at this time.
Up to late yesterday, members of the Shaw team sought to put on a brave face, saying that the leadership hopeful was pressing ahead with his consultation programme.
With the tempo of the 'consultations' and interactions among delegates expected to increase in coming days, a three-member body was appointed to monitor all electoral activities at Monday's Standing Committee of the JLP. In addition to a rare leadership contest, an election for a new deputy leader appears to be a certainty as Shaw has served notice that he will not be seeking re-election to this post.
FASHIONING MONITORING PLAN
Soutar, a long-standing member of the JLP, has served in the capacity of chairman of the Legal and Constitutional Committee of the party and remains the chairman of its Disciplinary Committee. He told The Gleaner that today's initial meeting is intended to fashion a plan of action to monitor the expected campaign in the lead-up to an anticipated electoral showdown between party leader Holness and the likely challenger, Shaw.
"The appointment was made (Monday) night, so there was no time to flesh out the issues. (We) will be meeting tomorrow (today) to do just that," explained Soutar.
The two other members of the committee are Tom Tavares-Finson, a senator, and Derrick Smith, the member of parliament for North Western St Andrew, who has earned the reputation for being a calming influence in the party.
JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang said yesterday that Holness, in his capacity as leader, instructed the Standing Committee of the party to appoint an Election Commission.
Chang said the commission would be charged with responsibility for elections that may arise at the party's annual conference for the positions of leader and deputy leaders as well as those conducted at the subsequent Central Executive meeting.
"This commission has been mandated by the Standing Committee to manage all aspects of elections, especially a code of conduct for consultations and campaigning," he said.
Late yesterday, noted attorney Patrick Bailey asserted that Robertson, who was his client, had not taken a side.
"I am not alleging libel, but my client is taking no sides at the moment," Bailey told The Gleaner yesterday.
In earlier correspondence, Bailey stressed that Robertson had no leanings in the expected challenge.
"Our client, who has just returned to Jamaica after a four-week absence from the island, instructs that he spoke to no one regarding his alleged leaning in favour of Audley Shaw," stated Bailey. "Further, he authorised no one to speak on his behalf, and your front-page allegation is totally false in relation to him."
Bailey's sentiments echoed those of Tufton, who also protested that he made no public announcement of a preference.
Tufton, an opposition senator, is the deputy leader in charge of Area Council Four, in which a resolution in full support of Holness as the duly elected leader was passed.