Why Andrew Holness Will Win
The hour draws nigh. In just about twelve hours, approximately five thousand two hundred delegates of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will converge on the national arena to cast their votes for leader of that party. Theirs is no enviable task. In one corner sits the incumbent; the cool, calm, collected and self-styled transformational leader. He is a former Prime Minister, the former Minister of Education, the former Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, and current Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition; his name is Andrew Holness. In the other corner sits the challenger. He is the self-styled “Man-A-Yard”, allegedly the best hope to return the Labour Party to government. He is the former Minister of Finance and the Public Service and current Opposition Spokesman on Finance. His name is Audley Shaw. As tomorrow’s vote draws closer, the pundits are busy making predictions as to who will emerge leader when the dust clears on Sunday afternoon. In my last few posts on this leadership contest, I urged delegates to choose Andrew Holness. I listed, as best as I knew how, the reasons Mr. Holness should be retained as leader of the party. I am now prepared to go a step further; I predict that Andrew Holness will be retained as leader of the JLP tomorrow. Here’s why.
My first reason is drawn from the lessons history has taught us. Should we search the annals of our political history, we would come up short in finding an instance where the incumbent leader of a political party has been deposed by a challenge, it just doesn’t happen. The Labour party is unique in this practice as not only has a leader never been deposed, the leaders usually remain in office well into old age. We must be ever cognizant of the history of the party, it tells us that this challenge is unlikely to succeed. I suspect that supporters often blame challengers for the inevitable disunity which occurs in a political party when a challenge arises, and therefore punish the challenger by handing them a defeat. The delegates will understandably blame the challenger for subjecting the party to a bruising internal campaign, whilst allowing the governing party to ambush the Jamaican people with an onslaught of poor policies, suspect governance, and general incompetence. Further, if the delegates are paying attention, as I am confident they are, they will realize that the path to uniting the party ahead of a general election is made that much more difficult after a challenge, no matter who emerges leader. The delegates’ core will not be hoodwinked into believing that any one candidate is the “right” person to reunite the party, certainly not the challenger. After all, why should anyone trust you to reunite what you have torn asunder? The party is known to be leader centric. How will delegates perceive an “attack” on the leader? I suspect this will be seen as an attack on the party itself, and cause delegates to rally to the leader’s cause. Make no mistake, incumbency has its benefits. Dr. Paul Ashley, noted political commentator, argues that this is the institutional history of the leader party; it protects the leader at all costs. We saw it as far back as Bustamante, to as recent as the Manatt fiasco, this is the history that confronts Audley Shaw, those who ignore the lessons of history are usually doomed to repeat them.
As we assess the challenge, we must also be mindful of who Andrew Holness is. Whether we want to admit it or not, Holness is a Seaga protégé. And while Mr. Seaga has not endorsed any candidate, we must not be naïve enough to believe that the delegates who remain loyal to Mr. Seaga will abandon Andrew Holness. The Holness camp has rightly talked up the connection between the elder statesman and the young leader, and if we pay close attention we’ll see that the damage was not lost on Shaw supporter, Dr. Christopher Tufton, who quickly sought to downplay the connection. The delegates will remember that. Additionally, Holness was anointed by Bruce Golding. We must ask ourselves, would a sensible politician such as Golding turn the tide in Holness’ favour if he believed he lacked “winnability”? Of course not. Mr. Golding correctly determined that Holness was the right man to bring about the renewal that is so desperately needed in the Labour Party. That is as true today as it was in 2011. It is my considered opinion that the delegates will re-affirm that truth tomorrow when they go to the polls.
Much has been said about Audley Shaw’s national campaign, his obvious ability to outspend the incumbent and the moneyed interests who gave his campaign buoyancy, but let us not be fooled by these cleverly orchestrated PR stunts. The reality is this is an internal election, which should target the five thousand delegates of the party, only they matter. Buying air time in the national media, having grand campaign launches and various press events all over the place has never helped anyone in a campaign of this nature, just ask Dr. Peter Phillips. This is about reaching the delegates where they are. This is not about speaking at them from behind PR handlers; it is about speaking to and with them, directly and honestly. By all indications, Andrew Holness is winning the battle on that front. I cannot help but strike a comparison between this campaign and the one Dr. Peter Phillips waged against Portia Simpson Miller in 2008, there are glaring similarities between now and then. Dr. Phillips waged the high profile war while Mrs. Simpson Miller found the delegates where they were and was able to turn Phillips back, quite convincingly. Something tells me Mr. Holness will also turn back Mr. Shaw. It is to be seen by what margin this will be achieved. We watch and wait, it won’t be long now.
Finally, when Mr. Holness is declared victor tomorrow he must not miss the opportunity at reconciliation. He must impress upon Labourites that the things that binds the party are greater than those that would seek to divide it. He must make it clear that notwithstanding the individual objectives and even ambitions, the collective goal must prevail – that singular goal of rescuing Jamaica from the Simpson Miller administration. The healing must begin immediately. Holness must realize that victory will burden him with obligation, the obligation to reach out and mend fences. I have every confidence he can do that. Reader, this is a battle for the soul of the Labour party, and the right man will win. The right man is Andrew Michael Holness, M.P.
Update: Reader, I can now confirm that my prediction was indeed correct. Andrew Holness won with 2704 of the just over 4000 votes cast.