Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Holness = wholesomeness?

In the middle of October, when the Jamaica Labour Party leadership race was raging, news reports focused on claims that opponent, Audley Shaw, had copied the ideas of incumbent, Andrew Holness: Mr. Shaw apparently was trying to claim ownership of a five-point development plan Holness had been promoting for the past two years. Mr. Holness’ team, dubbed “Team JLP”, issued a statement: “Team JLP maintains that the 5 Es of Development — Education, Energy, Economy, Environment and Efficiency — remain the cornerstone of the Holness’ platform, and has been developed through consultations within and outside of the JLP, maturing into a comprehensive development framework for Jamaica.” What interested me about that little spat was that both sides were fighting essentially for the same mental space in the heads of those who would vote for them. In other words, the two candidates were not separated by any substantial difference in ideas and policy outlook. In which case, it’s interesting to speculate about what made delegates opt for one man over the other.

I was not present at the voting area, but judging by what I saw, the differences were more ‘about the man’. Mr. Holness has relJLPwinnerB20131110JBative youth (aged 41, compared to Mr. Shaw’s 61 years). That youthfulness may suggest to some more of a true future leader for the long haul. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that this factor might have translated into better support for policies that focus on the future of the country’s younger people. The ‘5E’s’ may sit better as a mantra that says “Holness” in that it looks like the things he could really push through. As a former Minister of Education, he may seem more credible on the first and very important element of that platform.

Mr. Holness was accused on many occasions of not being aggressive enough in his tackling of the ruling PNP. That may also represent something in his favour, given that the tendency for ‘ray-ray’ politics of Mr. Shaw did not seem to be attractive to many. Put another way, the time may be coming when voters want someone who stands in stark contrast to the old-style rambunctious politician who has strutted on the Jamaican political stage. In my mind, ram goat politics–butting heads and kicking dirt–may be dying, albeit slowly. Of course, there is always room for good, old, down and dirty politics: when all else fails, go for the jugular.

Mr. Shaw and his team are reportedly doing a post-mortem of their defeat at the hands of delegates last Sunday. One thing that is not political, but might have been significant, was the ‘hospitality’ showered on delegates. From what I read, food, drink, tee-shirts, chairs, buses, overnight accommodation, and more, might have been helpful in ‘swaying’ voters, particularly any so-called ‘undecided’ persons. Judging by reports of how fast Mr. Shaw’s voters fled his ‘tent’ after the results were known, it seems that his support went the way of many a meal forgotten once bellies began to feel empty.

One other aspect that might have played in favour of Mr. Holness was his apparent willingness to state beforehand that he has no intention of still being in politics at Mr. Shaw’s age. Whether he pushes the idea of term limits–as some like Mike Henry have–is not so much the issue. He’s made a clear statement that politics is not for life and not his only life. He sees doing public service as a phase. That may put him on a very different plane than many of his political colleagues and we will need to see how, and if, that idea recurs as general elections approach.

Finally, was Mr. Holness perceived as just more wholesome? If so, he may represent something of a new Jamaican political image in keeping with some of the more positive elements of ‘brand Jamaica’. He’s not portraying himself as much of a bad or rude man (or boy). He’s not shied away from ‘accusations’ of being cerebral, though he’s treading a fine line when it comes to whether he’s too smart.

His soft-spokenness might have been associated with weakness in the minds of many voters, but he can point out that his brand of softness has left him as a victor. Could ‘the nerd’ really beat off ‘man a yaad’?

I don’t know if Mr. Holness is a student of Chinese strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu and ‘The art of war, but some may find it useful to pay attention to some of his views on ‘warfare’. For instance:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.