And so it begins. An eight-week race to be crowned king of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Fifty-four days to court delegates. More than 1,300 hours to wine and dine them. An opportunity for Andrew Holness and Audley Shaw to convince them with words.
Both men will talk about their character and integrity, painting themselves as the better mule to pull the dray that is the JLP. This leadership race provides the chance for both men, acting through proxies, to sweeten the encouragement for delegates by passing on groups of Shearers, Joshuas or, in worst-case scenarios, Nannies.
On Sunday, Shaw officially declared the season open for constituency caretakers and members of parliament to engage in the bulk buying of seasoning, white rice, green bananas, noodles, curry, and ram goat meat. The seasoned political camp follower will tell you that ram goat meat is vastly different from sheep meat, despite both of them being referenced as mutton. Woe betide the candidate 'cheap' enough to pass off curried mutton as curried goat. That could very well be the difference between a spoilt ballot and an affirmative vote on election day.
Unlike the delegates in the People's National Party who, since 2006, have voted in two leadership elections, the JLP delegate has been relatively dormant. Now is the time for Labourite delegates to get some change out of representatives who've only previously been offering a free bus ride and a 'cook food money' in return for their support at the annual conference.
Now is the time for delegates to revel in their seasonal power and get candidates to not only listen, but promise sincerely to lobby intensely for improved conditions in the area where the delegate lives.
Having seen the process close up in my adolescent years, the game play from here is still fresh in my mind, projecting a fair idea of how delegates will be won over between now and conference day on November 10.
First, the caretaker or MP will link with the finance manager for preferred candidate and get funding to buy foodstuff. That foodstuff will be parceled out into bags. An exercise book is filled with the names of the elderly delegates in a community or polling division. The parcels containing two pounds of flour, cornmeal, rice, sugar, salt fish and a can of condensed milk are then dispatched to the delegates with the message that Mr or Miss So-and-So sent it. That simple gesture has sealed many a vote in the past.
A mass meeting is held at the constituency office for the younger delegates and loyal soldiers with copious amounts of Heineken, curried goat and music provided from about midday until 8 p.m. If this activity is held close to conference, the small brown envelopes are prepared and delegates sign a sheet to document receipt. The few who can't read will make an X.
It's not that the MP or caretaker is buying the votes of delegates. No. They are simply securing those votes by showing their appreciation in the form of cash and kind.
Those who are outraged by the characterisation should know that not all delegates fall into these categories. Many are thinking people, concerned only about the character of the candidate and their capacity to lead the party with distinction. They are the ones who will feel insulted if they are offered an inducement to vote.
But for many others, a leadership election is a kind of bonanza where they can finally get something tangible for their loyalty and dogged support. They are the ones pumping the tyres of the bandwagon but who never get enough to buy a pair of gloves for when the pump gets hot. These are the ones who will feel insulted if no sweetener is put on the table to encourage their vote.
The presence of this colony within the political parties is the reason that candidates of modest means have a strong fear of a challenger with deep pockets. In these races, the man with cash is dangerous. The man with cash and ideas is doubly dangerous. While the man without ideas and no cash to splash is a dead man rotting.
Let the games begin.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.