Below are excerpts of an interview of JLP leadership prospect Audley Shaw by Gleaner reporter Gary Spaulding last Thursday.
GS: Why are you considering a shot as leader of the JLP now, but did not in 2005 or 2011?
AS: This is a question that requires that I put things into context. We have to bear in mind that we had a situation where in 1995, we had this split-off when members of the party, including Mr Bruce Golding, left and formed a new political party, the National Democratic Movement. That experiment failed, and in 2002, just prior to the general election, Mr Golding came back to the Labour Party.
Then came the resignation of Mr Seaga in 2005, and at the time, it was considered that I, up to the time of the return of Mr Golding, was basically seen as a senior member and a likely successor to Edward Seaga. Once Bruce Golding returned and spent the next three years in the JLP and, in fact, campaigned in the 2002 election and given the long history and tentacles that he had in the party, it was my considered judgement at the time that Bruce had served the longer and the seven years that he spent outside of the party, in the NDM, he was able to use that position to further advance his image and his ideas.
Steep hill to Climb
With all of that combined, it was my assessment that it would have been a steep hill to climb in terms of a contest with Golding. And quite frankly, I have always been someone who respects experience. I therefore made the decision that Bruce should be allowed to go forward.
... Then came 2011, and the question was asked, why not then as a second chance? At that time, the political landscape had somewhat changed, with all the unfolding events of the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips situation, and, quite frankly, I was intending to be part of that challenge in 2011.
I will be very blunt with you: The statement by Mr Golding that he made in a national broadcast, which he said that anyone who is less than 10 years younger than him (Golding) should not be considered for leadership of the party, I found it a little bit curious, because at the time when he made that statement, I was two years younger than when he became prime minister.
When he made that statement, I was 59, and when he became prime minister, he was 61. That statement almost mortally wounded my chance to seriously consider running for leadership. Here again, the vast majority of the members of parliament were in favour of Mr Holness because there was an over-reliance on what the polls were saying because the polls can be very misleading.
I said to myself, 'We have just come out of a this thing that had already damaged us badly'. I did not feel that the party could take, at that time, another contest of that nature if we would have any chance of winning the election, so I went along.
The question is, why now? 'Why now' has been driven by my concern and a concern of many senior members of the party, delegates and workers of the party that the party is drifting. There is a sense right now that the party is drifting, that the Government is not really discharging its duties in a way that is instilling hope to the people of this country.
Business confidence is down again. This Government has had six consecutive quarters of decline, so we are now in recession. We have seen where the exchange rate has sharply declined from $J86 to US$1 where I kept it for over two years, to now J$102.31 to US$1. We have seen where unemployment is going in the wrong direction and the youth section is exploding in terms of getting work.
Interest rates are beginning to trend up again. We brag about passing the first IMF test, yet the EPOC review committee is complaining that there is no growth.
So the Government is drifting, but here is the rub: Now, there is a sense in which my party, too, has been drifting over the past two years, since the election.
Why do I say that? We have 42 losing candidates in the election. We have not had a meeting with them to say, 'Let's have a post-mortem. We subsequently had 175 candidates losing the parish council elections. We have not had a single meeting with them to determine why we lost and what we can do better.
In the context of the post-mortem, remember, the PNP had a Brian Meeks report and they went about the business of trying to restore their operations. We commissioned a study, we launched it, and we said that when the report was ready, we would make it public. Well, that report has been ready from January
Have you ever seen that report?
No. I am the senior deputy leader of the Jamaica Labour Party and the report has never been shown to me.
Is there a leadership deficit in the JLP?
The general feeling that I have gotten out of the consultation is that Labourites feel neglected and demotivated. And so there is a lot of rebuilding that has to be done. We are talking about rebuilding, but we are not doing the things that are needed to rebuild. If we commissioned this strategic review report, the findings of that report contained recommendations on the way forward. Even internally, as a senior member of the party, here is a report that is ready from January and now is September, and I have not been handed the report and said, 'What is your opinion?'
As a senior deputy leader, shouldn't you be held responsible under the principle of collective responsibility?
It's a good question and I will answer it. I have always held the view that we must accept collective responsibility for everything, including the losses in the last election. We have to accept collective responsibility and we also have to accept collective responsibility for our failure thus far to diligently start the rebuilding process. The issue is if you have important elements in the analytical or post-mortem phase, why keep them hidden? Isn't that a part of the process that would be helpful in the rebuilding process?
I can't accept collective responsibility for covering up a report. I am sorry I can't accept that. I think that is an outstanding issue and I would suggest to the leader of the party that he should. I am reliably informed that he made a public announcement saying that he would release the report. My advice to him is to release the report sooner than later that it does not become the most significant issue in the leadership going forward.
Let the election be a contest of programmes and plans and let it be a vision that we have for our country and how we move forward.
Is there a difference in your leadership vision of the country and that of Mr Holness?
Bear in mind that there was a manifesto from the last election that was published. Unfortunately, we always publish these manifestos (chuckle) such a short time before elections, that people don't really get to read and absorb what is in these manifestos. The manifesto of 2011 is one of the most comprehensive manifestos that I have ever seen. So in a very real sense, this was a manifesto for which I must accept collective responsibility.
In terms of the party manifesto, there has been some ground between the leader and myself. But I think, fundamentally, that if we do not hurry to get the party back into fighting form, the issue of our vision as Government will become a secondary issue because we can have all the wonderful vision that we want, if you can't return to winning ways, you will never have the opportunity to implement your vision.
Given the JLP's stated success in Government and your failure, in Opposition, to inspire the nation, what is wrong? Is it a policy or personality issue?
Sometimes when we fail and sometimes when we you lose in an election, the challenge is that you can't stay down, you have to get up, you have to brush off your clothes. You go and get the troops and political fighting machinery ready to get back to the business of politics, and that, I believe, has been a failure since we lost the election.
In the course of my consultation, that is the refrain - the need to reconnect with our base. Our branch system has broken down; the group system in the PNP has not. The support system has broken down. The enumeration programmes are not taking place in the constituencies on a regular and sustained basis.
Importantly, our leaders, our councillors, our councillor caretakers, our losing MP candidates need attention, need nurturing, retraining, support, and constituencies where we have had vacancies we need to hurriedly get the selection committees going to fill those vacancies, because a void in leadership makes a problem even worse.
If you were to challenge Mr Holness for the position of leader of the JLP, would you be worried about losing?
I never worry about losing. I have been in politics long enough to be able to cope with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and to do so with dignity and decorum.
If you were to be unsuccessful in your bid, would you continue in politics?
Absolutely. It would be the judgement of the leader in that capacity to ask me to work. But here again, we have to learn a lot from the People's National Party. In the 25 years, the PNP had been in power for 21 years. They have had three contests for leader of the PNP. We have had none, and yet the PNP can be seen as a more vibrant party than the JLP.
Why is it that although we profess democracy and our constitution calls for elections every year, there are some in our party that believe an election for leader will mash up the party? It is time for us to lift ourselves to a new level of political maturity.
It's time for us to challenge the internal democracy of the party to find out if we are really going to be a truly democratic party or not. If we are not a viable alternative government, we will continue to lose, and that's the real ultimate test.
If there is a government that keeps on winning, they will disrespect the principle of democracy more and more, and become more dictatorial in their ways, so it is urgent and important for our party to be a strong, vibrant alternative.
Do you think you have the ability to unite what has been seen for long periods as a fractious party?
Absolutely! That is why they call me 'Man-a-Yaad'. Because, ironically, the person who told me this many years ago was Edward Seaga, he says malice is a negative thing and it takes away from your energy. He said, don't malice, don't carry malice, and it's something that I have practised.
When I hear even my colleagues have derogatory things to say about me ... I have malice towards no one. ... We need to bring back the love in our party and we need to bring back the unity, but there is a sense in which we have to do this first, just like democracy.
Do you have a place for Andrew Holness if you win the election?
Absolutely! Mr Holness is a bright young man and he has come far in the party in a relatively short time. Of course, there has to be room for everyone. I have to dispel this rumour that I hear in the campaign and in the course of my consultations. Too many NDM people in the party. I can't understand that. What is NDM? The NDM, except for a name, doesn't exist as a real political party. Some members that are with us now used to be with the NDM. How does that affect the price of milk?
And when we are saying, you have NDM in the party, that is nonsense. The founder of the NDM is a former leader of the JLP and prime minister of Jamaica. So my answer to all of those who say we don't want NDM: We don't want anybody who was PNP.
I heard them say because I, as a young person, 17 or 18 years old, flirted with the PNP before I went abroad to study ... we don't want you because you are PNP, don't want Mr (Karl) Samuda, who had switched and come back, it's really almost juvenile to talk in such terms, it is inappropriate. If we are going to unify the party, then our antecedents can't matter. The issue is whether we agree and we have a convergence of philosophy.
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