JLP leadership battle officially gets under way today
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Additional challenges could be on the horizon at the uppermost levels of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as the 70-year-old political organisation today commands the spotlight in the local political arena.
Audley Shaw is hoping to increase momentum in the JLP leadership race with a public launch of his campaign at the Manchester High School in his Area Council Three, while Area Council One of the party is expected to formally nominate incumbent Andrew Holness.
Holness' West Central St Andrew is located in Area Council One.
Area Council Four, comprising the constituencies in the western end of the island, should not be left out, as Holness' supporters are expected to nominate member of parliament for North West St Elizabeth, J.C. Hutchinson, to challenge incumbent Deputy Leader Dr Christopher Tufton.
Warren Newby, campaign coordinator of the Audley Shaw for Leader team, told The Sunday Gleaner that all was in place for today's event.
"We have extended invitations to over 5,000 delegates and we have been inundated with requests for transportation that we have sought to meet as best as we possibly can," he said.
Newby told The Sunday Gleaner that the grounds of the Manchester High School, on which the launch is being held, have been properly organised.
"Large tents have been erected in the event of poor weather conditions," disclosed Newby. "Coordinators are in all constituencies. Logistically, we are prepared for all eventualities."
With Shaw indicating that he has no further interest in the position of deputy leader for Area Council Three, which he has held for 14 years, several names have also emerged.
They include Michael Stern, Pearnel Charles, Shahine Robinson, and Ruddy Spencer.
However, Holness' supporters appear determined that their leader will not be outdone. The delegates of the 15 Corporate Area constituencies in Area Council One will meet at the Scout Association of Jamaica Headquarters in St Andrew, moving to reaffirm their support for the incumbent leader.
"The area council will formally nominate the leader and deputy leader and will kick-start its support for Andrew Holness," said Area Council Three Deputy Leader Desmond McKenzie.
McKenzie had strong words for the Shaw camp.
"We are not perturbed or disturbed by the hype that is being created," said McKenzie. "That is not what is important. What is important is where the strength of the delegates lies."
McKenzie said the Holness team was not worried about a show of strength in the Shaw camp.
"If you can't do that, something is wrong … . We know what we are going to do, and we are confident of the outcome," he said.
Hutchinson confirmed that he was being pushed to challenge Tufton by a bulk of delegates, but stressed that he was not interested at this time.
"It is not that I am not up to it, I have not told anyone that I will be challenging anyone," he said.
Hutchinson suggested that a challenge in Area Council Four would serve to muddy the water.
"I am concentrating on the leader's (Holness') race and I am in charge of several aspects of that campaign, so that is my focus at this time."
It could not be ascertained whether the delegates were searching for another candidate to take on Tufton who, last Thursday, confirmed what many knew all along: that he was in Shaw's corner.
Tufton lost the neighbouring South West St Elizabeth seat to political newcomer Hugh Buchanan of the People's National Party (PNP) in 2011, and was appointed to the Senate by Holness.
Dennis Meadows, a former senator who has declared his support for Shaw, said today's launch signifies the genesis of a new culture of democracy within the JLP.
Meadows said this new culture promises to empower delegates in choosing their leaders.
"It signals a sense of hope, vigour, and renewed energy in the JLP and the general body politic of the country," he said. "Whoever emerges the leader at the next conference, their legitimacy as leader will be concretised."
Delano Seiveright, one of the point men in the Shaw camp, said: "Mr Shaw will have an opportunity to tell the people why he is best to lead the JLP and Jamaica at this time."
Seiveright, a former aide to Holness, charged that both the party and the country are rudderless.
"The leadership across the board is failing, and we urgently need strong, decisive leadership anchored by vision and the right experience," he said.