Is The JLP Doomed To Repeat The Past?
After two crushing defeats at the polls, the 69 year old Jamaica Labour Party has found itself at a crossroads. The party’s newly minted leader, Andrew Holness, has found himself caught between the agenda of the past and a desire to move boldly into the future. The party finds itself divided and fractured, with various segments peddling their personal ambitions – there is even talk of a coup to over throw the top echelons of the party. As all this unfolds, one can’t help but wonder if the party of Sir Alexander Bustamante has once again lost its way and whether it is doomed to repeat the sins of its troubled past. The most heinous of all these sins was the constant attempts to oust Edward Seaga.
It is often said that Edward Seaga was an autocratic leader who stifled progress within the party, and alienated the electorate with his “one don” attitude. Despite various attempts to unseat him, Seaga held the reins of the party firmly, vain enough to believe he was still a viable option to P.J. Patterson; his vanity cost the JLP dearly. I believe the fact that Seaga presided over a divided party also factors into his string of electoral defeats. Still, for all his pride and exaggerated sense of self importance, Seaga seemed to understand the Labour Party. It would appear that Seaga recognised that the labourites needed firm direction, otherwise the crab-like mentality would have taken hold and potentially destroyed the party. Former party Bruce Golding realised this too, but he also recognised that in order to maintain his hold on power, he had to appease the various elements in the party. He had to offer everyone a piece of the pie. Golding therefore attempted to please everyone, this eventually led to his undoing and disgraced exit from the party’s top job. Fast forward four years later and the cracks are beginning to show again. It causes me to wonder if the JLP is a party incapable of managing itself. Is Seaga’s one don approach what the party needs in order to keep it from imploding? Andrew Holness might want to pay attention.
I’ve always said that in politics, perception is very important. It matters how things seem. Despite attempts by party insiders to down play current tensions, the damage is being done. You see, the electorate is taking note of the JLP’s squabbles and the question being asked, as was the case in the 1990’s, is how can I trust you to govern the country, when you cannot govern yourselves? The PNP heeded that lesson and banded together in a mock show of unity in the lead up to the 2011 general election, the perception that the party was unified helped them at the polls. They seemed ready to govern. It would appear that members within the Labour party do not trust the internal mechanisms designed to address disputes, and therefore must air the dirty laundry in open, public court. That kind of behaviour does not inspire confidence with the electorate, nor does it fit into the idea that the old, indecisive and splintered party is gone. If the party isn’t careful, new voters will experience the Seaga era apathy towards the party which will doom the JLP back to the political wilderness.
A change of the old guard has become necessary. Andrew Holness must rid the party of those who would seek to completely wipe out the credibility that was so delicately patched together in the lead up to the 2007 general elections. The JLP MPs are, of course, not immune to the problem of not knowing when to bow out, which is a general staple in Jamaican politics. These members continue to stubbornly cling to power, failing to realise that they have long out lived their usefulness and capacity to generate sound policies for nation building. One would hope Seaga’s stubborn insistence would have served as a cautionary tale. No such luck. If the old guard continues to retard Holness’ efforts at modernisation and renewal in the JLP, the party will miss a prime chance to wrestle control of parliament from the PNP. Make no mistake, if the PNP wins the next general elections, the JLP’s window for an electoral victory any time soon would have been sealed shut.
The tide has already started to turn against the PNP. The dollar is on the slide, crime is on the rise – and a bad situation seems set to worsen with the pending departure of the Prime Minister. The JLP must begin to position itself to benefit from the internal division which will inevitably occur when Portia Simpson Miller steps aside. In short, the PNP will be weakened by a leadership election – this is almost certain, since historically our political parties have not been able to deal with these matters in a civil manner- the JLP must ready it self to be a credible alternative to form the government. Holness must realise that if he’s to get ahead, he has to play the game.
The JLP must band together and do so quickly. The electorate will not trust a fractured party, they will not trust a leader who presides over a divided house. Holness must now properly assert himself as leader and silence the voices of dissent, mischief and discord. He must find a way to channel Seaga, without becoming a dictator. Otherwise, the JLP seems doomed to repeat the past.. the troubled, divided past.