EDITORIAL - Mr Holness playing it safe
Andrew Holness' restructuring of his shadow Cabinet last week was greeted in many quarters with wide open mouths and gurgling sounds. Yawns! Understandably.
That reaction was driven, largely, by two observations.
First, not even Mr Holness would question that his front bench seems decidedly worn and jaded. For instance, he has reached back for the politically blemished octogenarian, Mike Henry, who is reinstalled to the transport and works portfolio from which Mr Holness, when he served briefly as prime minister in 2011, felt compelled to fire him over the scandal surrounding a Chinese-financed infrastructure project. The septuagenarian, Pearnel Charles, is seemingly granted a sinecure as the spokesman on social security, while Delroy Chuck, for justice, and Ruddy Spencer, for labour and the public service, neither of whom will make claim to creativity or excessive energy, are expected to add much for policy formulation and/or delivery.
In other words, a claim against Mr Holness is that he has failed to be bold and expansive in shaping the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for the rigours of government in the 21st Century, and especially in the context of a difficult and unforgiving global environment. And in that failure, he has missed an opportunity not only to modernise the JLP, but to stamp his authority on the party. In the process, he has likely kept unresolved the issue of leadership, which has dogged him since the JLP lost the general election three years ago, despite his defeat of Audley Shaw's challenge 14 months ago.
It is a contention with which this newspaper is not entirely unsympathetic. Although Mr Holness will insist that he is forced to play the hand he has, in terms of the available talent and the need for political horse-trading. Some of the personalities who might be deemed to be beyond their effective due date for policy effectiveness were, for myriad reasons - all not having do with belief in him - in Mr Holness' inner circle during the challenge. Then he had to attempt to rebuild alliances with some of Mr Shaw's supporters.
Inasmuch as there is disappointment that Mr Holness did not go for the large, sweeping gesture that clearly signalled a change from the limiting politics of the past, this newspaper is encouraged by his statement that we should expect more from the shadow ministers, although it was not backed by the infrastructure we feel is necessary for credible delivery.
He said: "It is not sufficient to jump on every scandal; it is not sufficient to raise every issue of concern. The voters expect from us a direction; they want to see what distinguishes us from the government." In that regard, he promised voters "a slew of policies".
Mr Holness echoed arguments we have long suggested to him, and for which delivery would be better guaranteed by a reorganised central secretariat buttressed by policy groups and the work of independent researchers and think tanks - the kind of effort at which he took a stab with the appointment several months ago of a task force on the economy.
The work of that task force has not yet been shared with the public. Now that Mr Holness has outlined this new policy approach, and assuming that Mr Shaw, the shadow finance minister, is on-board with the prescriptions of the task force, it is urgent that its findings be unveiled. The economy is the most critical area in which the public wishes to know 'what labour will do when we win?'