Ian Boyne, Contributor
The transformational opposition leader could not have had a more traditional start to his pushback campaign against the challenge to his leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Last Sunday night, seasoned 'tracers' and firebrands like Everald Warmington, 'Babsy' Grange and Pearnel Charles were joined by newbie lightning rod, Andrew Wheatley, in 'bunning fire' on would-be challenge to Prince Andrew's throne, Audley Shaw.It could hardly have been a worse start for Andrew Holness' campaign to retain his leadership of the party. All week, much of the discussion in media and on the street has focused on the wrong tone set by Andrew's camp on Sunday night. Round One to Audley Shaw in this JLP rumble.
What the disturbing comments on Sunday night have revealed are the deep-rooted antagonism and hostility to democracy that exist in our political culture. Don't believe it is just in the JLP. Our political parties are personality cults. But I go further. This ex-plantation society has a deep cultural aversion to democracy.
Don't mistake our pervasive individualism, love of debate, and raucous addiction to argumentation for a love of democratic ideals. We hate diversity - except our own. We all believe in freedom of expression - as long as that expression is similar to ours. We are all for a challenge - except to us.
The JLP constitution says every year its leader can be challenged and how many years has anyone dared to test that? And what happened to those who have tried? Remember what happened to Pearnel Charles himself outside the National Arena?
I don't believe Andrew Holness himself suffers from the kinds of insecurities and paranoia which afflict many politicians. I truly believe he wants to be transformational and I believe he has genuine democratic proclivities. I believe him when he says he is not hostile to a challenge. But some of his key backers make no bones that they don't share his view.
They see a challenge as treachery, treason, betrayal, anathema and despicable. How dare you challenge our leader? How dare you want to upset the apple cart? How dare you try to follow our party constitution and exercise your right to challenge our man, who was anointed?
Civil society must condemn, in the clearest terms, this manifestation of autocracy and demagoguery which was on full display on Sunday night. And Andrew would do well to publicly dissociate himself from it - even for his own expediency; though I believe he can do so sincerely.
Daryl Vaz has been taking the right line: Guys, tone it down, people are watching, you all have to work together after the November elections, and now is your chance to show the country you truly believe in democracy. The JLP has two candidates - assuming Audley does not back out - who are eminently qualified to lead the party.
We must put Shaw's challenge into context and state first of all that no one in the Labour Party has a greater legitimacy to the leadership than Shaw. And there is no one in the JLP with a greater combination of platform mastery and genius, charismatic pull, passion, technocratic skill, grasp of financial issues, acceptability to the power elite, and grass-roots appeal.
While both pro-Andrew supporters and Audley's fans equally appeal to his stridency, his ability to light fire under the Portia Simpson Miller administration and his 'ray-ray' skills, not enough is being made of his hard work as an opposition spokesman in the previous wilderness experience of the JLP. Audley was a thorn in the side of the Patterson administration, as he proved under Portia's first administration; known for uncovering scandals, whether real or imagined. Those who worked with him speak of his diligence in preparing his presentations.
Audley Shaw is a most unfortunate man - 'salt', in Jamaican parlance. In 2002, after his impressive performance as opposition spokesman on finance and his fiery, take-no-prisoners approach had solidified him as a formidable potential successor to Edward Philip George Seaga - after Seaga's falling out with his favourite son, Bruce Golding - disaster struck. The moneyed classes told Seaga if he brought back Bruce from his failed National Democratic Movement experiment, they would shower him with funds to blast Patterson out of the electoral waters. It was an offer Seaga could not refuse.
Shaw was devastated, for he knew that with Bruce back, he stood no chance of succeeding Eddie - after so much work and putting up so much fight to Patterson. Seaga was unpopular, but Audley kept the JLP in focus by continually talking about scandals, corruption, overexpenditure - things which riled up many Jamaicans.
There is no better politician to manufacture outrage, and with a face perfect to communicate alarm and disgust. But with Bruce by his side and money to oil his election machine, Seaga saw Bruce as his golden opportunity to walk back into Jamaica House.
After Seaga lost the election, a disenchanted group of JLP leaders began plotting his overthrow. Bruce was to be the new messiah of the JLP: He was bright, articulate, sophisticated, highly admired by civil society, including the media, and favoured by the business class. Audley was seen as a man who could rev up people and fire them up about corruption, thieving and bandooloo, but he was never seen as bright and as technocratic as Bruce.
But when Bruce lost all his political capital over the Dudus affair and resigned suddenly, another grand opportunity opened up for Audley. But now the JLP faced a Herculean task: how to sell itself to a country repulsed and revolted by the Dudus affair and the Manatt debacle, and with a recessionary economy without IMF funds.
Everybody was writing off the JLP. The eulogies were being read when they were interrupted by what seemed like a brilliant flash of insight: 'Play the youth card by anointing Andrew Holness.' The euphoria that swept across this country when Andrew was tipped was palpable.
Andrew was marketed as this young, bright, promising post-Independence generation leader battling an ageing and tired PNP leadership, led by a 65-year-old matriarch. The youth card was the one possible magic elixir that could be found. Audley again was dumped. His supporters huddled and went to Andrew to beg him to back off and give way to experience. The youth was stubborn. His time had come, he said. Audley was again devastated, as history and circumstances had cynically and almost conspiratorially worked against him. 'Salt fi true.' Audley was depressed, according to reports that were reaching me.
Age was not on his side. But the youth card was a blank. A bad card. The young man was beaten badly by the experienced politician. Mama gave her son a sound spanking. You need to understand the context of this present challenge and, indeed, Andrew's rise. Andrew was created for an occasion, a moment in time, to serve a special set of emergency circumstances. He did not serve his purpose; therefore, in the eyes of some, he is now expendable. His time has passed, they feel.
Andrew does not, in the eyes of many, tower over Audley intellectually or otherwise. It was not like a Bruce Golding or Audley Shaw comparison or an Eddie Seaga versus Pearnel Charles or Mike Henry, for example. There is no great distance that is perceived between Audley and Andrew in terms of stature.
So Andrew's hold is tenuous. And when faced with high prices, a devalued dollar, a 10-year-high unemployment rate and a punishing austerity programme, what is on most delegates' minds is which leader can light fire under this administration and get us back into power.
Which leader can 'tek it to Portia' most stridently; which leader can defend the people's rights more vociferously and vehemently. This is the issue on the streets. Right now, I suspect most delegates are with the status quo and Andrew. They are saying 'don't rock the boat. Don't disturb the peace'. But delegates will be listening to people. And if they sense that people feel Audley can better fight Portia, that will count for something. Comrade Damion Crawford smells the rat.
Pearnel was at his humorous best on Sunday night. (Only Audley can come near to him in terms of platform mastery.) But his biggest joke was when he said that anybody who wanted to challenge Andrew now must be working for the PNP. The fact is, it is in the PNP's interest to keep Andrew in and keep Audley out, though I am sure Comrades believe Portia is strong enough to beat either. (But every Comrade in his heart of hearts knows that Audley would put up a bigger fight.) Audley's ability to 'chuck badness', as it were, is a major asset on the ground.
Holness too soft
Many feel Andrew is too soft, too pastoral, too conciliatory and too palsy-walsy with Portia, who calls him her son. They think there is too much love in that family and they want to stir up things a bit. There are nearly 6,000 delegates.
Don't watch the big-name MPs supporting Andrew. First, they can't determine whom their delegates will vote for. Their delegates will come in their buses and vote against their man. MPs know that. Delegates are thinking about who best can fight out this Government and put them in power so they can be on the gravy train soon again.
Second, there are far more caretakers than JLP parliamentarians, many of them disillusioned and alienated from party central. Andrew is no big spender and is genuinely trying to change things. Many of these caretakers and delegates are resisting change. They want the old-style politics - the eat-a-food, oppose, oppose, oppose politics.
Andrew is having a hard time changing the culture, and before he gets time, Audley has jumped in. But Audley has nothing to lose. Time is running out for him, anyway. It's now or never. It's better he take his chance now and lose than not try at all.
He would have retired anyway. Better to retire after defeat knowing you tried, than sit depressed in retirement wondering, "What if?" Andrew is front-runner now, but two months is a very long time in politics.
Ian Boyne is a veteran
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