Ring my bell: The JLP leadership contest

A friend asked me the other day whether I would write about Jamaican politics. I answered honestly that I did not feel comfortable doing that, just yet, because I did not believe that I had a good understanding of what was driving the political processes here. Lots of seemingly interesting things  happen with politicians in Jamaica, and I may venture some opinions soon. I mean, my views are my views.

This Sunday sees the culmination of a recent decision by one politician to challenge the leader of his party for that position. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), currently in opposition, will have delegates voting for either Andrew Holness (leader) or Audley Shaw (deputy leader). The ‘race’ has been fought in mainly bitter terms, often with ‘surrogates’ doing much of the deep biting on behalf of their man. From what I have read and heard, little separates the two candidates in terms of policy ideas. Indeed, one of the funnier developments was when Mr. Holness accused Mr. Shaw of ‘stealing his ideas’.

The political cartoonists, especially Clovis, have had a field day depicting the candidates. Mr. Holness is often portrayed as child-like–a friendly interpretation of that would be that it focuses on his relative youth; a less friendly view would be that many of his reactions are somewhat childish–seeming petulance, being one of them. But seeing his as a baby in diapers, or with a bottle in his mouth, or with a pacifier, all tend to put him into the bag as not up to ‘man-like’ performances. Mr. Shaw is often referred to as “man a yaad” (translated as “the man of the house”), meaning he is the one to turn to who can get things done, be tough, rough and mean as befits an attack dog. Being abrasive seems to be more second nature to “Audley”, as he’s affectionately termed.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 6.35.25 AMThe race has been marked by many accusations of wrong-doing, the most recent of which related to the all-important list of delegates. I really did not understand the selection process but it seemed clear that more than a little jiggery pokery had come into play in preparing the list, and head of the JLP Secretariat, Dr Horace Chang, has not come up smelling of roses.

The election will be historic, being the first leadership contest the party has every held. From what I have heard and read, the JLP has done little to endear itself to the general public. Partisans within the party have shown little sign of being swayed by the other side’s arguments. I don’t know if there are really any neutrals when it comes to the contest, and what would make them sway one way or another could be any of many pieces seeming trivia. Holness’ seeming laid-back attitude? Shaw’s in-your-face toughness? Either’s ability or lack of it to engage PM Portia Simpson-Miller.

As a bystander, I have nothing to lose by putting my hat into the ring in trying to pick a winner. My feeling is that Mr. Holness will hold onto his leadership position by a decent margin. He is not as laid back as he’s painted. He’s not as gentle as his opponents want to portray him; he’s quite capable of slyness (and innuendo has been one of the traits I’ve detected when hearing him discuss his opponent, often with a double-edged “I didn’t say that” when his comments are being interpreted.

I think the party will be much damaged by this race and will then be vulnerable in the near-term as the party in power can exploit the obvious internal JLP divisions that the race has unearthed. Enough of my speculation, though. The voters will be casting their ballots and should know the result around 4pm on Sunday. By early evening, we’ll see who has it right.