Last Sunday evening the campaign for the leadership of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), rolled into my home town of, Old Harbour in the parish of St Catherine.
On show was a massive turnout of support for the incumbent JLP leader and [briefly] former Prime Minister (PM) Andrew Holness. Holness has been the leader since November 2011 after succeeding Bruce Golding as both leader and then PM. Holness’ time as PM was short lived as he had called and loss a decisive general election to current PM, Portia Simpson-Miller from the Peoples National Party (PNP) in December 2011.
Some weeks ago, one of the JLP deputy leaders, Audley Shaw decided to challenge Holness for the leadership to be held in November 2013. Shaw’s announcement has caused a rift amongst many senior Party members. Some have questioned Shaw’s loyalty and even his age (61) in his quest for the JLP’s top post.
The atmosphere at the Holness campaign rally was loud, energetic, vibrant, lively, fun and colourful. Supporters were dressed in the party colour – green. The signature bells were ringing and vuvuzelas vuvuing and supported by the sound system – gave the event a carnival vibe. Just good clean behaviour on show on the floor. A credit to the attendees.
I was struck by the number of young women in attendance- they far outnumbered the men. It was the largest crowd I had seen in Old Harbour for a public event. The music galvanised the crowd and the public speakers from all parts of the 14 Jamaican parishes knew how to stir up their loyal audience.
The speakers were many and all were there to publicly endorse Holness and to question Shaw’s suitability for the leadership. Sometimes the attacks on their fellow “Labourite” Shaw seemed to cross the line and you began to wonder if Shaw was a member of governing PNP
But what the JLP leadership battle has done is to reignite the Party faithful in ways not seen for some time. The leadership campaign has looked more like a general election race and the public division amongst the JLP senior members has been very open, cold and bitter. One wonders whether -after the leadership race is settled – the JLP can ever be united publicly again immediately.
The local MP for Old Harbour, and Holness supporter, Everald Warmington joked that Shaw should be thinking of retiring given his age. Bramble statement. Another speaker mentioned that Shaw was “out of order” to challenge for the leadership.
A few weeks earlier Christopher Tufton (Shaw ally) implied that Holness had a problem speaking to some of the “intelligent” senior party figures. [Not an intelligent statement to make public, Mr Tufton]
Holness was appointed leader following the Bruce Golding’s resignation in November 2013. So some in the party regretted that Holness did not face an open leadership challenge. Some also are still ruing Holness’ decision to call a general election [29/12/2011] so soon after he was appointed PM. Given JLP’s unenviable length of time in Opposition since the 1970s.
The JLP has had a record of appointing their leader and many accept that the Shaw/Holness face-off is the first genuine and open leadership battle in the Party’s 70 years of existence. So this battle for JLP top job is healthy politics and has given the JLP so much free publicity. At a time when the PNP’s stewardship of the country has be severely condemned in many quarters.
Given the large turnout for Sunday’s event in support of Andrew Holness, one wonders if Shaw has any chance of winning the leadership. But speaking to a few supporters not all present were backing Holness. They were just there for the event and to party. Some felt Holness was too lightweight and did not like his “calm” presentation style of leadership and that Shaw had a more combative style [known in Jamaica as “ray-ray”] to take on the PNP government.
Would Holness have called for a general election in 29 December had he faced and won a battle hard leadership race the previous month?
Who knows who will the election win but winning candidate should feel he has the mandate, and the confidence to challenge the governing PNP in 2015.
The only downer so far in the campaign was that the candidates were not allowed to hold any public debates. A missed opportunity to get the their policies and vision across to both the JLP supporters and wider public. Such a debate may have eased tensions amongst senior party officials.
Given the large turn out of female JLP supporters to the Old Harbour event – when will there be a female JLP challenger for the leadership?