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Editorial: The JLP in baggy trousers and lipstick

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) emerged from the ring under a Barnum and Bailey tent, insisting that despite the baggy trousers, red, bulbous nose, and crumpled hat, no one could mistake them for Bozo. A lot of people would beg to differ.

Hopefully, though, the opposition party is serious about shedding the costume and circus image and making itself as a credible alternative to the Government, which, ostensibly, what the big-tent act of recent days was all about. But vocal declarations of unity and photo-op lining up behind the leader, Andrew Holness, will not, of themselves be sufficient. So, we will now observe the behaviour of the JLP brass.

Having gained the job primarily on the basis of his untainted youth after the implosion of Bruce Golding's administration, Mr Holness has in four years failed to solidify his leadership of the JLP, despite his defeat, two years ago, of the challenge from his shadow finance minister, Audley Shaw. This is, in part, because of Mr Holness' own failings.

He possesses neither Mr Shaw's natural charisma nor his loud, rousing, and entertaining platform evangelism that does well with the political base. But neither has Mr Holness positioned himself in the vanguard of robust policy development and articulation, nor has he been a bold risk-taker in reforming and modernising the JLP. Factions are fluid and peck regularly at each other.

We are, nonetheless, still surprised that members of the party's parliamentary group appeared willing last week to test Mr Holness' strength of leader of that group and his constitutional position of Leader of the Opposition, and the political risks that his would imply just over a year before a general election, which could come earlier. The subsequent spin about the reasons for their caucus notwithstanding, hard political calculations won the day. Mr Holness' critics were prevailed upon to relent without a vote being cast.

For now, at least, this should be halt to the JLP's Bozo-like tumblings and somersaults and for the silencing of the whips of the ring masters, in or outside of the party. In other words, it is important for the pull itself into a united front to credibly contest the next general election against the governing People's National Party (PNP). The critical players have to coalesce around the party's leader.

But Mr Holness, too, has significant work to do, including clearly demonstrating that he is above the thin-skinned pettiness of which he is often accused by too many of his colleagues. More importantly, he has to quickly shift the JLP into a machine that can fashion economic and social policies, rather than an organisation that merely snipes at those being pursued by the government and at the multilateral financial institutions that backs current economic reform programme. Indeed, it is on economic policy articulation that the JLP is at its weakest.

Further, should begin to indicate how he perceives a new, vibrant and vigorous JLP, where vigour is defined as intellectually engaged for the 21st century and beyond being noisy at rallies and being against anything that the other side does. It is urgent that Mr Holness begin to redefine himself and his party.