Andrew Holness' team has been making a number of costly blunders. That the uncouth, ill-mannered loose canon Everald Warmington is with Andrew is a distinct disadvantage. His vulgar threat to his dissenting councillor that he would have no place on his ticket reminds us of some of the worst features of 'dutty' politics. Karl Samuda's ejection of his female councillor who had turned up on Audley Shaw's platform did not win friends and influence people. And it led to his condemnation by the two JLP women's affiliates, and egg all over his face.
The vitriolic statements made on Andrew's platform have not gone over well with many Labourites and others outside the party. Many criticise the leader himself for not disassociating himself from these remarks and actions, pointing to that as another sign of his weak and indecisive leadership. Plus, Andrew's own remarks about 'losers', his statements about plots and those who are undermining etc., have been interpreted and marketed as divisive.
And it has become clear that some of Andrew's supporting members of parliament who were previously giving assurance that they had their delegates' votes in the bag have bragged too soon. There have been some serious defections among councillors, party stalwarts and delegates from the Andrew camp. Audley Shaw is a formidable challenger for leadership of the JLP and if Andrew is to retain his position, he has to do a lot of serious work in the remaining few days. He has not yet lost the battle, but he has to keep that Philistine Warmington under control and lecture others on the team to think before they talk or act. And he himself has to weigh his words very carefully. But I daresay things are going to heat up rhetorically on both sides as we come closer to this election, for the stakes are so high. Both men desperately want to win. And those backing them know there will be repercussions if their camp loses, with all the public talk about coming back together after this contest.
Audley has a number of things working in his favour. Jamaicans are feeling the pressure of a sliding dollar, escalating price increases, declining consumer and business confidence rising unemployment, a worrying increase in crime and general social disease. They are, therefore, ripe for ray-ray politics! Audley's specialty.
When things are hard and people are panicking, they look to charismatic politicians who market themselves as Messiahs - or at least as prophets sighing and crying for the abominations in Jah kingdom. Audley is such a prophet. He is the bearer of bad news, the muckraker, the disturber of the peace. The Bangarang Man. That's the type of person who does well in times of crisis. Andrew and people uptown might fantasise that there is a 'new Jamaican' who is 'sick and tired of the old time politics', but let people feel enough pressure and see whether they are then more influenced by reason or by raw emotions. Test my theory against yours about the 'political maturity of our people'.
JLP delegates are inclined to feel that Audley as leader will put up a much tougher fight against Portia and can better draw her tongue. They feel he stands a better chance of fighting her out of power and putting them back in. Delegates are concerned about raw power and getting their spoils and scarce benefits - and who can best deliver that. After all, dutty tough. They can't afford to stay out of power for 10 years under Sweet Boy Andrew, Mama P's well-behaved son.
But Audley is more than ray-ray, and this is something you can't overlook. Audley appeals to all classes and interest groups. He is a master communicator. Watch him when he addresses Rotary, or a press conference or gives interviews. He is sober, calculating, and appeals to reason and middle-class sentiments. He can speak intelligently and engagingly on finance and the economy. In fact, Audley is campaigning not just as next JLP leader but for prime minister. Notice his prime ministerial tone and even posture. He is carefully marketed (and remember his own professional training). So he is not just a ray-ray, platform rabble-rouser. No. He appeals to uptown people and especially to the moneyed classes. And that is important, especially in Jamaican politics.
The Audley camp clearly has far more money than Andrew, and money talks in politics. The business class generally favours Audley more. Andrew is more reclusive and reserved. Audley has more connections with the business elite. Now some in Andrew's camp have used that against Audley - but that only serves to alienate moneyed people (whom Andrew needs to wage a strong campaign), and doesn't play out as strongly among JLP delegates, who after, all are not socialists! Wrong market for that kind of line against Audley.
Audley is also championing ideas and programmes, deliberately undercutting the narrative that he has no substance and is just about ray-ray. That is why he came up with his Five Es, which Andrew quickly claimed was plagiarised. And when you talk about effectiveness in use of social media, Audley's camp is light years ahead. I saw a YouTube video put out by Audley's people rebutting point by point one put out by Andrew's people. It was devastatingly effective. A masterpiece in communications effectiveness. Even the narrator's tone was masterfully cast for effect: You really felt they were bringing back the love! They were so respectful of Andrew.
Having said all of that, you might carelessly assume I am an 'Audley man' and am subtly or not so subtly campaigning for him. I am an analyst who tries to see things dispassionately and to put my personal feelings aside. In my view, both Andrew Holness and Audley Shaw are eminently good candidates for leadership of the JLP.
Audley and Andrew have no fundamental policy or programmatic differences. I don't know what Chris Tufton, whom I respect a lot, could mean when he made reference to, "people who fear bright people" around them. That is pure nonsense and mischief if it is in reference to Andrew, who has no reason to fear bright people, for he himself is one. Nor is Andrew insecure or egocentric. I don't know that side of him. I know I can write or say critical things about him or put out what others regard as pro-Audley propaganda and when I see Andrew I am a always warmly greeted and engaged.
Andrew is a good man. He is good for the JLP and Jamaica. Talk about advantages which Audley might have over him, if you may, but don't try to belittle him or paint him as a poor leader. And I think civil society has done him a disservice. I understand the thinking and why civil-society groups would be extremely cautious about making any statement about leadership style or the issues being discussed in this leadership race. But the issues raised are crucial to this country's future and we have to risk labelling in this tribalistic and intensely partisan society to make some important points.
For years, civil-society groups have talked about the importance of a more consensual, mature, reasoning, less tribal and more transformational politics. They have inveighed against ray-ray politics. They have castigated cheap 'politricks' and crude politicking; the tendency to play to the gallery and try to fool up people just to gain power. Civil-society spokespersons and media commentators have for long called for a mature Opposition; for some kind of broad social partnership for the common good.
too na´ve - too honest
Andrew put his neck on the line in the last elections and told the people the truth about bitter medicine. Old-style politicians said he was a damn fool - and he paid for that 'mistake' with electoral defeat. Cynics like Mark Wignall - who really has his nose to the ground and is my favourite grass-roots columnist - would say Andrew demonstrated his incapacity for political leadership by being too na´ve - too honest. Andrew told the people the truth. They weren't ready for that kind of truth. People prefer myths to truth any day.
He continued with that approach of generally putting honesty above crass expedience as opposition leader. What that Samuda dissenting councillor said on Audley's platform was very revealing. She said she told Andrew several times to hit road. "Me tell him me ready fi road. Andrew say him no read fi that." Andrew could have been opportunistic and reckless, to the hurt of all of us, including civil society folk. Andrew bought our line about a new type of politics and while he has not practised it perfectly (after all, he is a politician), he has tried to be responsible and measured.
I think we who are non-partisan should have something to say about this debate about style of politics. I believe in a strong, decisive even at times raucous opposition. But I believe that there are certain things we as a society should coalesce around. I believe it is criminal to fool up people about their options and to give them the impression that certain things can be given to them when we know it's not true. Andrew has stood for a type of politics which this country needs going forward. We need both a vibrant, aggressive opposition as well as a responsible, rational and transformational one.
If you say Andrew does not have the balance now, you must at least concede that he has tried on the transformational side. He has resisted the efforts of tribalists like that Samuda defecting councillor to 'tek di road'. If civil-society groups know what tribalistic, ray-ray politics has done and will continue to do to this country, then it's not improper to say so. No matter who will interpret it tribalistically. Courage is what leaders must have.
If Andrew loses for standing for a new kind of politics, then I say Andrew, history will absolve you.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.