Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Edmund Bartlett, the politician who ushered Andrew Holness into the political arena 20 years ago, has revealed that he is backing Audley Shaw for the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Barlett told The Sunday Gleaner that there is currently "a stronger call for leadership at another level", and that has influenced his support for Shaw in the upcoming election.
"That (call) has invited us to examine others among us," declared Bartlett. "I believe that is how an Audley Shaw would get my vote."
Asked whether it was appropriate at this time to respond to the "stronger call", Bartlett said: "It is timely because we are two years shy within this administration, and such a call, if answered appropriately, would give the party enough time to reposition itself to launch a strong campaign into the next election."
Bartlett, however, stressed that he has not written off Holness as a "brilliant" leader for the future.
"Putting all the things into perspective, Andrew will be a great prime minister in the future, but the JLP and Jamaica now need leadership that is appropriate for this time," he stressed.
The former tourism minister suggested that the impending contest highlights the need to revisit the issue of separating the position of party leader from that of opposition leader or head of Cabinet/prime minister under the Westminster system of governance.
INTRODUCED TO SEAGA
Holness acknowledged in a Sunday Gleaner article last week that it was Bartlett who introduced him to then JLP leader Edward Seaga in 1992.
Bartlett was also grouped with both Holness and Shaw among the Labourites who were labelled 'traditionalists' seven years ago, when Seaga retired. Those traditionalists were viewed as supporters of Seaga, unlike the 'reformists', who pushed for Bruce Golding to take over as party leader.
Unlike Bartlett, the bulk of the other members of that group - such as Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Derrick Smith and Everald Warmington - have sided with Holness.
Bartlett said his decision to support Shaw came after prolonged consideration.
"I support Audley on the basis of his experience as a member of parliament for over 20 years."
Bartlett asserted that as finance minister during the last JLP administration, Shaw succeeded in driving a very successful financial thrust for Government during the most difficult economic period that the world had seen in 80 years.
"I think it is no mean achievement for us to have been able to weather the recession that crippled great governments of great economies," said Bartlett. "To have steered the ship of State through that period and have results where our financial institutions, by and large, remained intact, and we had (small) levels of economic growth."
Bartlett, in seeking to explain why in 2011 he opted for Holness instead of Shaw, who would have already made strides as finance minister by then, said he was on national business overseas when the decision was made to select the younger aspirant.
Parliamentarians had been required to advise the governor general who they believed should be appointed prime minister after Golding's resignation in the wake of the controversy over his Government's handling of the extradition request for Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
"I came back after my colleagues had met and, in the true spirit of collective responsibility, I shared in that decision [to select Holness as leader]," he said. "It was the best decision at the time, and I concurred with the team that the best decision was for Andrew to lead the Cabinet and [be] prime minister."
Responding to why it was now necessary for the party to decide on whether to retain Holness, Bartlett said: "There is a difference between the chairmanship of a Cabinet and leadership of a party."
According to him, the current system sometimes robs the political process of the best talent for the respective roles and forces the best available decision.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that the JLP was in search of the best fit for leadership on policies, programmes, ideas and organisational energy to enable it to shake off the feeling of loss and defeat that came out of the last general election and, particularly, out of the series of losses between 1989 and 2007.
"The party is looking for the best combination of ideas and personalities and resources that will be able to take us to victory in the next election," said Bartlett, admitting that many in the JLP are impatient with continued exile in the political wilderness.
"We feel that the mission of the 2007 to 2011 administration had been truncated without the accomplishments that were in train."