Ian Boyne, Contributor
Andrew Holness might have renounced and is standing against old-style politics, but it is certainly serving him well in bracing off this challenge from Audley Shaw. For 'Babsy' Grange, Rosie Hamilton, Everald Warmington and other roughnecks have to be resorting to traditional, not transformational, political tactics to battle (some say intimidate) would-be Shaw supporters.
Andrew Holness has been saying the right words and is still Mr Nice Guy, but there are others willing - and quite able - to do the rough combat necessary to ensure his victory in November. They are taking no chances. Their hostility and rancour towards Audley Shaw and his camp are not hidden. Indeed, it is important in old-style politics that your opponents know that you are dread, 'wicked' and 'mad head'. Dem fi fraid a yu. So Andrew will say the right words which polite society loves, but there are others who are by no means reluctant to be associated with 'chuckie' politics.
Our political culture has been built on a firm foundation of intimidation, scare tactics, 'badmanism', thuggery and raw expedience. There are old but very deep wounds in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). There is an institutional memory of hurt, bitterness, betrayal, subterfuge, dishonour, capriciousness and hypocrisy. It only takes intimation of a challenge such as this one to bring it all to the fore. The people who seemed to have buried the hatchet have all marked the spot and know where to retrieve it when needed. It's needed now - and it has been resurrected and on display for all to see.
The challenge by Audley Shaw has reopened the wounds in the party. This was precisely the fear of most Holness backers, though, ironically, some of the most prominent ones have engaged in self-fulfilling prophecy by being so strident, aggressive and vituperative in their utterances. Shaw's supporters - and Shaw himself - while more restrained - have not been models either, saying things in public which concern for party unity should forbid. The JLP has been behaving in ways that its critics have always lambasted the party for, and which does nothing to win friends among the vast majority of independent voters.
The People's National Party (PNP) has been given a welcome reprieve from the spotlight over the disappointing economic news and general hardship and has been given some needed respite to prepare for its special 75th anniversary celebrations this month. Warring among Labourites serves the PNP narrative well, and even when Labourites recognise this, it's as though it's in their nature, and it's the one thing they can't fight!
There are some things that polite society does not understand about politics in our culture. One is that nice guys usually finish last - unless they happen to have some dog-heart, tough, war-boat leaders and street fighters with them, experienced in the art of guerrilla warfare (metaphorically, in this case). If you don't have enough of those, you are dead. No matter your ideas and platform - except in extraordinary times and under extraordinary circumstances where certain externalities intrude.
Andrew is Mr Nice Guy, but he has the 'right people' lining up behind him. He is not going to be easy to beat, and I would not be
shocked if Audley concocts some reason to pull out after his 'consultations'. Things seem stacked against him. Except there are clear, perceptible weaknesses, the incumbent leader always has the advantage. And especially in an authoritarian, personality-driven party political culture hostile to democracy, an incumbent leader is not easily removed.
The JLP is generally hostile to internal democratic challenge. Just listen to the sentiments and passions of the 'no-challenge' posse. Their resentment of democracy is as palpable as it is revolting. But that's a middle-class response, I guess. Let's be real. We are talking about real, flesh-and-blood human beings with feelings.
It's one thing to say the party constitution allows for a yearly challenge to leadership, but the fact is the status quo does not like to be disturbed. People prefer managed democracy. People feel the decent, loyal and sensible thing to do is to come talk to the leader and work out some arrangement, rather than challenge him. That's why there is such deep resentment towards Audley and his backers - especially his less party-useful backers like Joan Gordon-Webley and Warren Newby.
They have broken party tradition, though not constitution, and that must be punished severely. A party that truly honours democratic ideals would go through this leadership challenge and then come back together unified around whichever leader emerges, with little or no blood-letting. Not so after this November election. If Audley loses, some will either be pushed aside or just leave in frustration or embarrassment. Same if Andrew loses - though his loss is not likely.
I think Andrew is good for the JLP. But I also think it is right and proper for Audley to challenge. I speak as a democrat, not as a partisan. The pro-Andrew young Labourites attacked me on their Facebook page last week, contrasting my favourable comments about Andrew in a recent column and my column last week where I spoke of Audley's strengths as perceived by others.
I repeat that both are eminently qualified to lead the JLP. And the party needs both and would be weakened without either after November. Those hot-headed, bloodhound Labourites need to get that into their heads - if there is space for anything other than fire.
I have some larger concerns. I am concerned that at a time when the country needs to unite around some common goals and chall-enges, this leadership race is largely about who can fight the PNP best and oppose more. Both Andrew and Audley know that some of the tough decisions this Government is making - and is yet to make - have to be made. They are intelligent, highly aware men who know our economic challenges and our inhospitable global environment.
Audley is more likely to play to the gallery and to pander to people's emotions than Andrew. This has been Andrew's big weakness in the eyes of Audley's followers. They feel he is too soft, too laid-back, too passive. I am concerned that if Audley wins, his more confrontational and adver-sarial style might jeopardise our chance as a nation to put certain issues beyond the political football.
But even if he does not win - which is far more likely - the fact is that a groundswell has developed for a more adversarial, vociferous Opposition politics and Andrew will be forced - even before November - to adopt more of Audley's style to appease Labourites and appear tough. The International Monetary Fund-dictated government policies are, indeed, biting hard. But the only problem is that these policies are essentially the same the JLP would have to follow if it gained power and remained on an IMF programme.
To Audley's credit, he has been bold enough to question certain IMF targets and policies. He was very impressive in his critique of certain IMF demands and has been unusual among Jamaican politicians who have too passively gone along with IMF policies wholesale. At least they have been muted in public comments, but not so Audley - to his eternal credit. Andrew seems more sold on purist neoliberal policies than the more experienced Audley, whose tenure as finance minister would have taught him a lot about real-world economics.
Audley would fight harder against IMF stipulations, which is good, but there are some things which are plainly inevitable given the structural weaknesses of our economy. There are some tough, painful decisions which cannot be avoided and which even Audley would have to implement.
But the fact is that Andrew is more open and forthright about the painful medicine than Audley. Audley will make a lot of noise and create bangarang over issues which he knows are unavoidable, but which are politically expedient. Audley is more Machiavellian.
I fear that Andrew, because his softness and 'weakness' have been made the big issue of the campaign, will be tempted to overcompensate - at the expense of the national unity needed on certain issues.
I told you why Andrew could not sign any social partnership agree-ment with the Government, for that would be seen as blatant sell-out. Yet we do need a national partnership on some critical issues. I keep emphasising that there are some issues which we, as a country, have to face, whether PNP or JLP is in power, under Portia or Peter, Andrew or Audley - either of the Ps and either of the As.RAY-RAY POLITICS
This call for 'ray-ray', 'oppose, oppose, oppose' politics at this time in our history, is most unfortunate. People who don't read me carefully think I am contra-dictory. I say I am nuanced. I can see the strengths of both Andrew and Audley.
I repeat what I wrote about him a few weeks ago, which the young Labourites said was contradictory to what I wrote last week in 'Only Audley can tek it to Portia' (a headline which was not mine, but was good for the point/counterpoint format chosen by my editor). I said of Andrew: "I think Holness is good for the JLP. He is sober, rational, placid, amiable and highly intelligent. He has composure and possesses a pleasant personality. He is certainly not irascible and taken up with his own ego. He is a very fine human being." I stand by every word.
But Audley has legitimacy to the JLP throne. He has every right to challenge and Andrew must get his tribalists to respect democracy and diversity. Andrew needs Audley and should do everything to persuade him not to retire if he (Audley) is beaten.
But Andrew, if he successfully survives the challenge, must use it as an opportunity to carry forward his transformation programme and know that he does have to engage in ray-ray politics to get ahead. He must use that victory to deepen his natural consensual, inclusive, democratic style - for the good of the nation. Old-style, adversarial politics has run its course.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to