Escalation clause

If you ever walk around Jamaica, you will probably have seen a scene similar to this.

“Why you don’ do your work?”

“I do my work. You can manage your own work, you fool!”

“Who’re you calling a fool? You, fool!”

“Me, fool? I’ll show you who’s a fool!”

Pushing follows and maybe some cursing, and then the next thing is that the two people are wrestling with each other, perhaps clawing to find some object with which the hit each other.

Huffing and puffing, they are separated by some onlookers.

“Mr. Rodney, you’re so old, time forgot you. Why are you fighting with Mr. Everton?” says a bystander.

Mr. Rodney, takes a breath. “Because, Everton is a fool!” A silence descends. Everton looks up and sees Rodney’s heaving chest and sweated brow. “Who’re you calling fool, you fool!” You get to watch round two.

The language is usually a lot coarser and the actions quite animated. But, it often reminds me of stags fighting, with each locking horns, literally and proverbially. Things can easily ramp up and weapons get used. Someone gets stabbed, or hit, or chopped. Another violent incident statistic.

Jamaicans sometimes find it hard to resolve differences without getting into a spat. Yelling or very loud voices are par for the course.

I’ve watched the JLP the past two weeks, since the leadership race was officially ended. Why am I not surprised that after the mud-slinging of the campaign, it would end and then there would be many more barbs traded? Some groups just need a pretext to be cantankerous. When the word ‘unity’ was uttered after the results were declared, we should have focused immediately on the possible negative part of the word–un…–rather than the seeming bind that was implied by ‘unit’.

At each stage, the growling and snarling looks like it will subside, only for more head butting to begin. Maybe, it the Jamaican in Labour Party that makes them be that way. It started with a diss. The latest episode has the Supreme Court dismissing call to impose an injuction on Mr. Holness filling now vacant Senate positions, after he used resignation letters, allegedly signed and undated, and allegedly for another purpose. What other result could there be? Who would sign an undated resignation letter and think that it was not a smoking ember waiting to erupt into an uncontrolled fire? Surely, not intelligent politicians.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (November 17)

Good:

The JLP leadership election was held, peacefully, after a brief and acrimonious contest. Mr. Holness won a sizeable victory over Mr. Shaw, but that is not the end of leadership contention, I contend. Mr. Holness shows he’s has no hole that Mr. Shaw need fill.

Bad:

Mr. Holness tries to take control of his party by using the desire of his Shadow Cabinet to give him a ‘free hand’ in chosing his new team by all resigning to really show that he is in charge. He calls for all Senators to also resign, thus sparking a backlash from Mr. Shaw–who said he’d not be reappointed as finance spokesman unless Senators resigning was off the table and the matter of whether Mr. Tufton had been properly nominated to be a deputy leader. Mr. Holness shows that he is as tough as anyone.

Ugly:

Mr. Holness allegedly unearths an old letter of resignation by all Senators, supposedly to deal with any party split on the question of the Caribbean Court of Justice, to wheddle out JLP Senators. If any one had said “You dirty, stinking, rat!” it would have been no surprise. Mr. Holness begins to show that he is not pushover. Mr. Holness shows that he is not a simple smiling sweet boy. Not at all!Image

Avast, ye varlet! Shaw is not backing down, yet

The JLP has suddenly turned into Jamaica’s answer to an award-winning soap opera. I really did not think that the dust would settle fast, after Sunday’s show of love and unity once the leadership election results were announced. I did not see, however, that the unloveliness and disunity would spiral so fast.

Mr. Shaw gives the acclaimed leader “a free hand” by resigning his finance spokesperson post. All shadow ministers resign, so that the ‘free hand’ has turned into a ‘free bunch’. All magnanimity? Mr. Holness, as befits a man who believes that the result gave him a clear mandate, puts his mark on his new Parliamentary tag team and names Mr. Shaw again as ‘Mr. Finance’. But, wait! Mr. Shaw is audacious: he pens a letter to the leader saying “I cannot accept assignment as Shadow Minister”. Why? Because one of his supporters, Mr. Tufton–who had been a vociferous critic of Mr. Holness in the campaign, and could be called ‘Mr. Tuffness’, is staring at the chopping block. Mr. Shaw has issues that need to be dealt with first:

The main issues are your expressed desire for ALL Senators to resign and the outstanding issue of the challenged legitimacy of the nomination of two Deputy Leaders.

It is clear to me that the reason for your desire to have the resignations of the Senators, is to allow for the exclusion of Dr Christopher Tufton and others who did not support you in the recent election.”

That is, course, pure rhetoric. If Mr. Holness really wanted to exclude those who had not supported him, why in Heaven’s name would he spend time nominating persons like Mr. Shaw?  Hello!

But, of course, it puts the leader on notice that the leadership race might have been run officially, but it is still going on in the shadows–excuse my pun. This is a test. The first of many, I think. Can the leader lead? Can he withstand challenges direct and indirect?

Many believe that Mr. Holness does not have the stature of great JLP leaders, like Edward Seaga or Sir Alexander Bustamante. He is still ‘the boy’ in the eyes of many. He may be a boy, but he now gets the chance to show if he can be like David, and topple the Goliath who is still stalking him.

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.