The JLP’s Fall From Grace
I can still remember the ads from the 2007 campaign, “Jamaica needs a change now!”. They were catchy, pointed and relevant; Jamaica was flirting with the Labour Party and it’s promise of change. Many boldly declared that “me and mi neighbour, voting for Labour.” Bruce Golding had been an incredible Opposition Leader, he brought us Trafigura, a motion of no confidence, slammed corruption, poverty, the state of the economy and shredded the record of the PNP administration of the preceding 18 years. All seemed set for a better Jamaica, and then it went horribly wrong.
Less than five years later, the Labour Party has found itself in the political wilderness; battered, bruised, and rejected. A powerful Prime Minister left office disgraced, having lost the confidence of Jamaicans, several MPs and Cabinet Ministers were swept from power, a sitting Prime Minister won his seat by less than 200 votes, the President of the party’s youth movement, villified and blamed, was forced to resign. When the dust settled, the party barely held on to 21 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. The obvious question now is, what next?
The first thing we must watch for is a leadership challenge. I anticipate that many, in what is left of the Labour party, must harbour feelings of resentment for Andrew Holness; the messiah who failed to bring them to the promised land. When we think about it, Holness’ ascent was premised on one thing and that was winning the general elections. Having failed to deliver that, a retaliation is almost certain. We can reference what occurred in the PNP as an example. Dr. Phillips challenged Portia Simpson on the grounds that she failed to secure a PNP victory at the polls in 2007. In other caribbean democracies such as Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, party leaders usually resign or are forced from office when they lead their parties to crushing defeats. Michael Manley, for example, offered his resignation after the 1980 general election, this was rejected. Holness has to find a way of proving that he deserves to keep his current job as party leader, while ensuring he pacifies the likes of Audley Shaw, who will be the most likely to mount the challenge.
While the challenge is almost certain, it will have disastrous consequences. If the Labour party goes through a leadership battle it will further damage the already weak organisation. It may cause rifts that would take too long to heal and consequently bind the JLP to Opposition. What is needed is a consolidation around Holness. He must now be given the chance to establish an active and credible record as Opposition Leader because the uncomfortable truth is that Holness is the best man to lead the party at this time, especially since the likes of Dr. Chris Tufton has been sent packing from parliament. The JLP must be the best Opposition it possible can be, and it will have a prime chance to do this.
Governments with 2/3 majorities tend to become arrogant and carefree, Holness must lead his 20 members against any hint of this from the Simpson Miller administration, they must ensure that they propose sound and practical counter policies; being mindful of the people they were accused of neglecting. Of particular importance will be a change in image. Members will need to temper the perceived arrogance that exists in the party. Despite it’s overwhelming majority, the PNP is not unbeatable. In fact, it’s that much easier to beat them. With such a majority, the people will expect quick results, if the PNP fails to deliver then the backlash will be immense and sustained. President Obama in the U.S. is the best example of this. A dream of hope deferred. It will be fairly easy for the people to become disillusioned, the JLP must learn how to capitalise on that.
In order to do this, the party will need a strategist. Despite what many think, the right man for this job is none other than Bruce Golding. It isn’t by chance that Golding led the JLP from 18 years of political wilderness, Golding is strategist. Much like PJ Patterson, he understands what it takes to win elections. Admittedly, his plan to resign and allow Andrew to succeed him didn’t work, but I still believe he has a lot he can contribute to turn the JLP’s fortunes around. He understands the naked politics. Finally, the JLP must seek out sincere bright young minds; a massive recruitment drive is needed. With so much of the old guard gone, the party has a real chance to renew and strengthen itself. In order to do this, the party has to change it’s script, it can no longer be business as usual. The party must also use the five years to do serious work on the ground in the 63 constituencies across Jamaica. That will count significantly.
The road ahead will be long and hard, but the mission is not impossible. The JLP has 5 years to get it right, if they ever hope to form Her Majesty’s Government again.