Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Audley Shaw's formal announcement last night that he will be challenging Andrew Holness for the position of leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) at the next annual conference, is expected to set in motion a historic campaign in the 70-year-old political organisation.
The JLP has tended to circumvent leadership elections in the past.
"I have now come to the decision that I will allow my name to be entered into nomination for the post of leader of this great 70-year-old movement, the Jamaica Labour Party that was formed by the Right Excellent Sir William Alexander Bustamante," declared Shaw in a radio and television broadcast to the nation last night.
Late yesterday, former JLP Chairman Mike Henry, the only Labourite to challenge an incumbent leader when he took on Edward Seaga in 1978, warned that a challenge by Shaw could do more damage to derail the already fragile democratic structures of the JLP.
"A challenge at any time can become necessary but, unfortunately, the JLP has failed to put in place the structure necessary for constitutional changes for which I have fought and extracted an agreement from the party before the return of Bruce Golding," said Henry.
He said he supported Golding's return on the basis that the JLP implements term limits to be entrenched in the constitutional structure of the party. In this way, Henry said, ambitious politicians would not be free to challenge leaders until his or her tenure expires.
Henry said, under the proposal, if Golding had lost the 2011 general election, it would have paved the way for him to make his exit. "Otherwise, his limit would have expired about now," he said.
"What if someone chooses to challenge the leader every year?" argued Henry. "What would that do to the party structure?"
During his reign as leader of the JLP between 1943 and 1974, Bustamante never countenanced a leadership challenge. He was regarded as "leader for life".
Although Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer were prime ministers, they were not party leaders during their respective tenures.
The constitution of the JLP had to be amended in 1974 to facilitate an "election" that would usher Edward Seaga to the helm of the organisation.
Shaw is moving to change all this on the occasion of the JLP's 70th year as a major political party.
"If it is God's will and the choice of the delegates that I am to lead this great party, I will do my best to be worthy of your trust and confidence," asserted the man who spent 14 years as deputy leader of the JLP.
Shaw also disclosed that he would formally launch his campaign later this month.
"On the 29th of this month, there will be a formal launch of my campaign for leadership. Then, the details of the plans to rebuild our party will be presented, along with the policy framework and vision that will guide us into the next general elections when we form the next government," he said.
He also promised to unveil his vision to set not only the JLP but Jamaica on an alternative path, both of which he said were drifting.
"In the course of this campaign, the party and every Jamaican can be assured that this will be a contest of ideas, plans, programmes and vision, and not one that is based on negative campaigning and personal attacks."