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JLP facing a crisis of relevance

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Fernandez G. Smith, Contributor

I AM appalled that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) continues to waste precious time in appointing a review commission to look at its free fall from relevance in the political arena. These men, however eminent, will not unearth anything new that the labourites don't already know. In fact, if the present leadership had a modicum of common sense they would have known that to solve a problem you must first accept that there is one. In this case, the problem is the leadership and their actions and reactions.

What is happening in the JLP in recent times, as evidenced by its colossal defeat in the recent general and local government elections, is that more than ever it is facing a crisis of relevance and is on a downward spiral of self- destruction. For the party to gain relevance in the political domain and to halt its political slide, it must resort to some stringent, slate-cleaning measures.

I will recommend that as a matter of urgency the party's constitution be amended and the annual conference now held in the month of November be forwarded to the month of July, which is the original founder's day month. At this time, all leadership positions, including that of the leader be made vacant and the delegates, who are the true owners of the party, decide who should fill those positions. The present leadership and its structures cannot and will not bring the party to a state of readiness to challenge the ruling People's National Party for state power.

The party has to halt the trajectory of public perception that the JLP is an 'elitist brown-man party' where if you are 'brown you wear the gown, and if you are black, you wear the frock.' The party will then have to put into effect the four Rs of sustainable political relevance, namely: rebuild, rebrand, restructure and reconnect. Importantly, the party must cease and desist from using the Seaga offensive and outdated 1983 political model where for an individual to run on a JLP ticket in general elections they must be taken from the cash machine (candidates awash with cash). This is why I, unequivocally, support campaign-finance legislation.

Failed model

It should be noted that this model was used by the Seaga regime to replace victorious 1980 grass roots members of parliament, example, Euphemia Williams, Audley Woodhouse, Bobby Marsh, and Marco Brown, among a host of others. You should observe that the people waited for six years and voted out all the cash-machine candidates. These candidates, having lost in 1989, abandoned the party because they did not believe in its longevity, but only to use the party as a means to empower themselves. The same thing is happening to the JLP today as they continue to select cash-machine candidates who, having lost their seats in December 2011, have already begun to abandon their constituencies. When will the JLP learn?

The central executive, which is the highest decision-making body outside of conference, is poorly configured and that is why they continue to sign off on weak and vulnerable candidates. How can you be a member of the highest decision-making body of your party and not have a clue how to formulate and execute policies and strategies to make the party more relevant? Clearly the central executive is not result driven; it includes too many friends, cliques and cheerleaders. It must be dismantled and reconfigured immediately as, in its present form, it cannot viably support the four Rs of sustainable political relevance.

Going forward, the structure of the area councils must now be looked at in a serious way. The functional responsibilities of their deputy leaders, chairmen and other officers must be rewritten to make them more accountable to the delegates and the grass roots supporters. The rebuilding and reconnection process must be centered around people like Pearnel Charles, Audley Shaw, Shahine Robinson, Babsy Grange, Horace Chang, Ed Bartlett, J.C. Hutchinson, Derrick Smith, Everald Warmington and young Andrew Wheatley. At least, these politicians have the connection with the grass roots, the history, the ideals and the traditions of Bustamante's glorious party. In these desperate times for the JLP, age should not be a factor; in fact, it should not even be the main prerequisite for holding state power. On the shoulders of these men and women, along with some councillors with the requisite technical capabilities, the party can rise and become viable for a long time to come.

Fernandez G. Smith is a former councillor at the Trelawny Parish Council. Send comments to: