The JLP's leadership struggle: Muscle-builder for Andrew Holness

Published: Friday | December 6, 2013 Comments 0
Andrew Holness, leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party. Holness, in November, survived a hard-fought leadership challenge from Audley Shaw. - File
Andrew Holness, leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party. Holness, in November, survived a hard-fought leadership challenge from Audley Shaw. - File

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

On the just ended struggle - apparently - for leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party, opinion journalists' response and those of the general public, that today's technology so easily allows, were plentiful.

They are revealing in more ways than one.

Actually, it's child's play to discern the difference among partisan protagonists, factional supporters and those who tried to join the debate in a more detached way, exploring what's best for Jamaican governance in this time of chronic economic and social crisis. The latter, unfortunately and regrettably, are but few.

Your columnist avoided comment - self-censorship - in part because there was a plethora, a kind of mass gathering of opinion being arrayed on the matter. But it was obvious that some opinions were those of hired pens.

Regardless of the spin both sides may have wished to impart to the facts, those facts are pretty well an open book to Jamaicans who care to know. This is a big mistake Jamaican politicians, particularly of the JLP, continue to make.

A claim of unity within a cohesive team is never built on communiqués from party headquarters, a declaration, or by a speech. The people know that.

political capital squandered

Bruce Golding inexplicably squandered his political capital - indeed, his political career - on the Manatt-Dudus affair. He tangled with members of the party's top echelon either hoping they would, or instructing them to fall on their swords. They didn't.

Perhaps some felt it was not in his remit to require that. He just didn't have the status, it appears, to demand or command self-effacing behaviour from his top lieutenants.

Both he and Shaw squandered their credibility on economic policy and management by dithering in their handling of economic policy and relations with the IMF.

It takes no deep thought to figure that JLP strategists were acutely aware of these wounds and realised theirs was the next election to lose. They unearthed what to them appeared a brilliant strategy, no doubt gleaned in part from opinion surveys, which I conjecture were awfully designed.

Their analysis told them Jamaicans were ready for new and different - truly new and different, not the P.J. Patterson newness but rather a newness of bright, young, really new to politics.

A purely power-political grab by the party thereafter convinced them that Andrew Holness was their best chance for victory. What then occurred was nothing short of a revolutionary development for the JLP. The party achieved leadership transition by what the public was fed as consensus, or rather, unanimous agreement.

Audley Shaw buried his ambitions; Christopher Tufton didn't allow his deeper thoughts to emerge, even as conjecture. And of course, there must have been others who all put their ambitions on hold in the drive to achieve JLP victory nationally.

It was rather disingenuous to indict Holness for calling the election when he did. Surely, party elders were involved then. We know how that adventure went. Their 2011 campaign was well funded but skewed to new technologies - in an absurd way that made the nature of the message-delivery system more important than the message itself - to wit, the computer, email blasts, Facebook, etc.

fed on their own campaign

They fed on their own campaign propaganda to the degree that their satisfied burp signalled: certain to win. They did no reverse engineering of past successful campaigns to predict responses like Baby Bruce or Prenta-driving-the-bus attacks. They suffered twin reversals: outmanoeuvred by the opposition and disbelieved by the electorate.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Mr Shaw had a choice to make. His gambit: the party's gambit failed. Could he rescue and fulfil his long-held political leadership ambition? Time was short.

He had help in coming to that decision, both among political colleagues from within and among funders of his political campaigns. Granted, they did a very respectable job: timing, the issues of leadership - stressing Shaw's mass or crowd appeal defined as ability to win against Portia Simpson Miller - that separates him from Holness, the publicity campaign, targeted communications.

This campaign was well funded and executed. Yet, it was just not good enough. Their failed attempt, however, comes back to bite them. Mr Holness now has an undeniable leadership mandate.

Additionally, Holness doesn't take kindly to Tufton's declaration that he is an insecure leader, uncomfortable having bright people around him. I imagine Holness must be angry, very angry.

Did Tufton ever consider that Holness might not think him particularly bright? And that he might strongly hold to that view? He should really have considered that possibility. Brightness is not conferred by degrees. This we've seen from results of the actual real-world political machinations now uncovered.

This is nothing new really and, again, it puts the JLP in an awful light among non-committed voters. It adds to the general feeling and cynicism that holds all politics to be corrupted, self-serving, first and foremost looking after number one once the votes have been counted.

For a political party, resort to the courts to settle internal struggles has always been a bad thing. The wise have always and forever known that once the contract has to be invoked for legal interpretation, trust has been lost. Perhaps it never did exist.

For Mr Holness, who needs no advice from me, the best bet is to make sure your team is qualified, do your best to have an evidence-based set of policies in waiting. The latter should pay particular attention to demographic patterns and education, policy towards environmental issues and possibilities for local technological development, while being always mindful of fiscal constraints that shall always be with us.

You should argue for qualified technical support staff for both Government and opposition MPs.

Needless to say, you have learnt, as Barack Obama always acknowledges, someone has to have your back.

Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on impacts of technology change on business and society, including capital solutions for innovative Caribbean SMEs. Email:

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