Daniel Thwaites, Contributor
One of Morris Cargill's memorable bits of advice to other columnists was to actually have opinions. You would think it's obvious that to be in the opinion column writing business, one would need to have developed opinions, but not so. Anyway, in trying to abide, I have sought to develop something more than superficial opinions about the JLP leadership contestants. But I have failed.
At first, I imputed the failing to myself, as the biblical injunction to look at the beam in one's own eye has caused me to consider whether it's my (lack of) perception that is blocking me from observing what is there to be observed, and seeing what is to be seen. But when The venerable Gleaner took notice of the emptiness and aridity of the arguments in the leadership contest, I realised I wasn't alone.
Consider this: If I was asked to summarise what is the driving theme of this administration so far, it would be that Jamaica has hit the wall (or the floor!), and we have to move beyond the endless and ruinous cycle of borrowing and spending that has culminated in a debt-to-GDP ratio of 150 per cent, and the Jamaican State's inability to convince anyone else to lend it money at non-usurious rates. That is the single inescapable macroeconomic fact that conditions all else.
So what would be the overriding theme of this leadership contest in the JLP, particularly when the Government has such an easily sketchable and attackable profile? What non-trivial policy would a delegate point to as distinctively Andrew's, or Audley's? What differentiates either candidate?
Nothing, it seems, apart from personality. Which is not to say that isn't a necessary start - but it's being dished out as the whole kit and kaboodle. What ought to be an appetiser is being served up as the whole meal. Even the surrogates have developed micro-themes based purely on personality and style.
By the way, why don't people like Ken Baugh and Ed Bartlett run for leadership? If age is the issue, why can't Monty or Daryl do it? That would be exciting.
Audley is likeable
So far, here is the profile. Audley is likeable because he has a gift for the memorable phrase, and a comedian's timing and delivery. From the columnist's perspective, I imagine it would be a pleasure to listen to him for the next few years. I don't believe he is at Eddie Seaga standards when it comes to crafting the unforgettable slogan, but he's definitely the student of the master.
Andrew is likeable because of his 'youth', although it's only in places like Jamaica and China that 40-somethings are referred to as youngsters because the political directorate matures as octogenarians. Still, he represents the most significant advance of the post-Independence generation into the leadership of the country.
But at some level, these matters are superficial. The ability to deliver a one-liner and the age of the candidate are ultimately peripheral to what that candidate stands for or runs for, as the case may be. And therein lies the problem.
I can't say I've dedicated a large portion of my life to following this campaign, but I can say that after initial optimism that something worthwhile might emerge out of the challenge, I've been disappointed. Again, what significant policy difference is there between Audley and Andrew? And where or when in this campaign has there been the explication of any non-frivolous policy distinction?
All the elements, the nuts and bolts, as it were, for a righteous confrontation are in place. Audley was the minister of finance! He has of late been spinning fairy tales about the tenure, none of which explain why the country had become financially "an international pariah", to use PIOJ head Colin Bullock's own unforgettable terminology.
Of course, the country had also become an "international pariah" from a criminal-law perspective, but that's a separate matter, just going to show how many wheels of the train had lifted off the track. Meanwhile, Andrew was the minister of education, one of the primary beneficiaries of Audley's fiscal largesse (that caused the "pariah" status). Give the man credit for acknowledging, for the five minutes he assumed the PM role and saw the continental-size holes in the budgeting, that some "bitter medicine" was in the pipeline, but what about since then?
Note the contrast. One thing Edward Seaga had was directionality and policy fixedness. You may have disagreed with him, but he knew what he was about, and you knew what he was about. Now this leadership battle has slipped into the directionless miasma of impression politics.
Famous Irish meeting
So now I get why there's not going to be a debate. What in heaven's name would they talk about? How much they have in common? It reminds me of the old story of the famous Irish meeting that has been retold again and again (apologies to Bryan Patterson of the Herald Sun). Please read in your best Irish accent.
Two men are alone in a London pub when one breaks out into song. The other bloke says, "Listening to ya, it seems that you're from Ireland!?"
The other responds proudly, "Yes, that I am!"
The first says, "So am I! And whereabouts from Ireland might ya be?"
The other bloke answers, "I'm from Limerick, I am."
The first responds, "So am I!"
"Mother Mary! And what street did you live on in Limerick?"
The other says, "A fine place, mi lad. O'Connell Street."
The first one says, "By faith, it's a small world. So did I! And to what school would ya have been going?"
The other bloke answers, "Well now, St Mary's, of course." At this the first one gets really excited and says, "And so did I. Tell me, what year did ya graduate?"
The other bloke answers, "Well, now, let's see. I graduated in 1971."
The first one exclaims, "The Good Lord smiles down on us! I can't hardly believe our good luck! Here we are in the same place tonight. I graduated from St Mary's in 1971 meself!"
Right then, Debbie comes into the pub, sits down and orders a drink.
Ethan, the barman, walks over to Debbie, shaking his head and muttering, "It's going to be a loooong night tonight."
Debbie asks, "And why do ya say that, Ethan?"
"The Murphy twins are drunk again."
Audley and Andrew are the Murphy twins, virtually indistinguishable except for petty personal differences that don't matter much to the proverbial price of rice in China, or the more immediate price or availability of chicken back in Jamaica.
What a shame. A real contest on even one real issue could have been so enlightening.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites Law Firm in Jamaica, and Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in New York. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org