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EDITORIAL - Take risks, Mr Holness

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Andrew Holness' major weakness as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been his willingness to drift with the flow and a failure to offer the party fresh, compelling ideas. Even to outsiders, he is at risk of becoming, however long he serves, a comma in the transition between himself and his recent predecessor.

It is little wonder, therefore, that Mr Holness, even after his defeat of Audley Shaw's challenge 14 months ago, has been unable to stamp his authority on the party. A simmering internal campaign against his leadership bubbled over into Daryl Vaz's call a week ago for a JLP rescue mission by former leaders Edward Seaga and Bruce Golding.

Any leader can always use help, but fundamentally, it is up to Mr Holness to extricate himself from his funk and assert himself as a confident leader of the JLP in a way that clearly marks it as an opposition party and a clear and credible alternative to the current Government. It may not be his natural inclination, but the route we propose will involve Mr Holness taking risks, including, perhaps, jettisoning some old, irrelevant JLP nostrums, including, we suggest, its opposition to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

To be fair to Mr Holness, some of the criticisms of him have not been about big-vision issues or an absence thereof. They are small-bore, even though, in some cases, important matters such as electoral readiness and the party's supposed failure to exact maximum political advantage from the economic hurt Jamaicans feel from the necessary fiscal austerity the Government has imposed. Absent natural charisma, the public agitation - exciting the base bit - doesn't come easy to Mr Holness, although he has gained from the fallout from the Government's austerity programme.

Hasn't offered new vision

Nonetheless, as a man who often hoists the generational gap between himself and Jamaica's other post-Independence leaders, he is yet to decisively demonstrate his transcendence of their narrow, partisan and restrictive politics which, he suggests, is his agenda. Put another way, he has not offered a new vision for the JLP and Jamaica.

A case in point is Mr Holness' clinging to the Privy Council - a UK-based court inaccessible to the vast majority of Jamaicans - and rejection of the CCJ - not because he harbours sound intellectual opposition to the court, at least none he has shared, but because the JLP has long found it easy politics to claim an anti-Jamaican spectre to things regional.

On the economy, although Mr Holness established a task force to craft policy directions, the JLP's response to the Government's programme, primarily through its shadow finance minister, has been to snipe at the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral agencies with which Jamaica has programmes. The argument is that performance criteria, ostensibly, are rigged in favour of the current administration. We sense, too, that Mr Holness has been led into opposition to the public enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens affair for fear that the outcome may reflect negatively on his party and its historic relationship with that West Kingston community.

The point is not lost on Mr Holness that he must not only capture the imagination of a constituency larger than life to the JLP, but Jamaica. But he has to take risks and do big things, which might mean leaving behind some of the party's old guard.

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