Andrew Holness is better than Portia Simpson-Miller: the people have spoken again

I have no doubt that Andrew Holness is a popular prime minister. I have no doubt that he has surprised many people with the way he has led the country since assuming his position as PM just over a year ago. I have no doubt that part of his popularity is not based wholly on a positive assessment of what he has been doing, but a combination of that and a negative assessment of what his predecessor did–or more, accurately, did not do. I tested my opinion in a totally unscientific poll on Twitter, the results of which are shown below. As such things go, the number who voted (145) is more than decent. But, I would not like to take on Don Anderson if he said that many reasons exist why I should not trust the results. But, this is the world of social media, so I will thank Don, but march on regardless 🙂 My poll shows clearly that PM Holness is favoured by more than 2 to 1 over his predecessor.

Some would say, with reasonable truth, that the result of the poll was already known. After all, Mr. Holness led his party to a memorable national election victory a year ago, and also to a resounding victory in local government elections a few months ago. True, other than the fact that our elections are not for a national leader, but I accept that many people vote for the ‘top of the ticket’ when voting for local representatives.

I think the reasons for Mr. Holness’ popularity are several, and I am going to touch on a few.

He communicates, openly. Whether you like it or not, the world of social media is the window through which many now see the world. So, a politician who embraces that as a means of getting across his message is going to look good. Add to that a tendency to encourage others under him to do the same and you get an impression of more and more open communication. I would be lying if I told you that I did not think that his predecessor and many of her team were a communications disaster: unable or incapable of giving clear messages, or worse still living with the deadly sound of silence from on high, when a word or two from that place would have done much to cement the idea that someone was in charge, and the mice were not running the kitchen.

One of the things that happened under the Simpson-Miller administration, and which is hard to understand, is how Portia became an enigma, and almost a betrayal of herself. I have heard her speak with passion about certain topics, namely issues of equity and equality, especially for women and children. But, in her latter days, she hardly went to that well of good words and much commendable action, but floundered in the world of bigger policy ideas, especially on matters economic and financial. If I were a management guru, I would wonder how and why the management of voices was not better, at least in putting in front of the people the clear message that ‘the leader has a team of excellent ministers, whose words and ideas the people can trust’, rather than fumbling and bumbling on topics which had not been mastered. I say ‘mastered’ because it’s rare for a leader to really know all the portfolios, but good briefing and sticking to key messages can make a puppy seem intelligent. Worse still, PSM was turned into a badly functioning mouthpiece that went badly off-message when caught unawares, and was kept out of the public eye as a spokesperson so much that one had to wonder what was really going on. The puppeteers were pulling strings well, but the puppet often looked as if the strings were mostly cut.

The tendency to be unbelievable is something that the PNP administration seemed to embrace and sadly that was led by the leader.

It came with remarks such as how PSM felt the pain of ordinary people, when it came to inflation, and claiming to suffer this in her regular shopping. One need not even go to the perks that are the regular part of being a national leader to start guffawing. Rather than touch a supermarket, PSM could have at least seemed sympathetic had she been seen uttering those words at a regular ‘bend down’ market over a hand of ripe bananas.

It came with remarks, often repeated, about how much PSM loved the poor. So much so, the cynic said quickly that she led the march to create more of them. But, the PSM-led administration did so little to protect the poor or most citizens that the claim was as hollow as the middle of a doughnut. It was bolstered by the regular appearance of scandals that had much to do with cronyism, smelled of corruption, and had the indelible mark of wasting public money that the country does not have.

But, enough of the poor side of the poor-loving.

I think that the new PM has become a master of PR. I am not surprised by that, and am not totally critical of it. Messaging is important, and if it’s not well-managed then it can lead to unnecessary problems. One piece of PR that I have seen, and it’s a bit subtle is how the PM seems willing to step in front of problematic positions. It’s early, so one has to watch carefully how that plays out, but his recent remarks about how to deal with the monumental matter of violent crime and also the lesser matter of ‘music from prison’ suggests that he’s not just going to bend to populist positions.

I am not yet convinced about how boldly he will go on matters of corruption, governance and accountability, and am not happy to see that he let imoportant initiatives like ‘job descriptions’ for his Cabinet were not issued, but can understand his giving ministers another six-months to prove that they can deliver on their portfolios. We will have to wait to see how the poor performers are dealt with.

I’m also intrigued how certain holes that were dug with enthusiasm only for the dirt to start falling on top of his head get deatl with. If I say ‘Caricel’ will you say ‘not well’? (Note today’s story that a sale may be in the works.)

Just in case you think it, don’t! I am not a JLP supporter. My political position is independent. I do, however, try to see a spade for what it is.

Waiting to exhale: PNP President does the inevitable

I’m fascinated by the cult of the individual within Jamaican politics. It’s something that is clearly there, though intelligent politicians try to dance on the head of a pin to convince us that things are otherwise. You cannot appear to go against he or she who is at the head without being accused of disloyalty. But, what that tends to do is to stop change occurring smoothly and so disrupt the natural process of decay and renewal.

How a good political machine should look

If I can extend the decay metaphor into gardening, one tends to see things putrefying because they stay there as unbalanced elements. As any gardener should know, just piling things onto a heap isn’t enough to make good compost; it needs a good mixture of carbon and oxygen–brown and green materials, for simplicity, or older and younger elements. What that does is change formerly living materials so that, as they die and decay, they transfer their energy into becoming agents of new growth. I like this metaphor because the PNP has shown what happens if you do not allow natural decay to occur and if you do not take care to mix materials properly: you end up with a rancid pile. 

Clearly, the PNP has let its leadership fester and so was doing little to generate the new growth that must be there for it to compete as a viable political party. Little green shoots that started to sprout were often quickly yanked out of the ground and thrown to the roadside. Older dying wood was left in place, riddled with termites and unlikely to be able to withstand any major storm. The house that was PNP look tired and bedraggled. It was not the house that Norman built, and it was certainly not the house that Michael rebuilt.

With the gardening theme set, it’s worth recalling this:

‘A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden.’ (Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

I’m not a cheer leader for any politician. Those who know me, know what I think of politicians and those who are in the heart of political machineries. I subscribe to the adage: ‘Politics is too important to be left to the politicians’ (variously attributed to Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I’ve watched with a little interest the pseudo fight for leadership of the PNP. It couldn’t be started, really, because (as is the Jamaican wont) observing protocols meant that those interested had to shuffle around kicking dirt and whistling, acting as if they were not doing anything. Those who were likely to have big interest in becoming leader were already known: Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting. How much support each has and can muster amongst delegates is for us to learn. Who else with try to join the fray, we will await to see, and if they are really working with a substantial base of support.

To say that PNP needs an image makeover is as big an understatement as has been made for a while. I’m not sure if it’s amenable to aggressive surgery, though.

The party seems to have done something that is counter to what it says it stands for, by clearly ignoring what people want. That ‘betrayal’ has been rewarded by election defeats made more hurtful by a clear alienation of the voter base.

It also seems to have been caught by a generational shift that is easy to see and easy to deal with, but somehow appears to have been resisted. Then again, the older wood maybe didn’t understand well enough what was growing in full sight.

Modern life, like it or not, has become wedded to fast (and, sometimes, loose) communication. Of the two major parties in Jamaica, the JLP seems to have understood how to capture the public imagination by running with the pack…onto the track of social media. Without wanting to draw parallels with the USA, it’s notable how a man who spends a lot of time and energy on Twitter surprised many by winning the elections for president. Donald Trump is many things, but he is not someone who misunderstands how people think, and how to rile emotions. He rants and raves on stage, but he also does it online: it’s part of his persona. As far as anything about the ‘real Donald Trump’ goes, that part of him seems real.

I looked on at the PNP President many times, ranting and raving on public platforms, and jabbing her finger in the air, and in the direction of whoever was annoying her, then I wondered why she would dissemble from this character, which seemed to be her real self. It was the perfect persona to take on line, instead of a series of insipid pieces of non-information that dribbled out. She was a firebrand, so why act like dying embers? She admired Fidel, and as his name means, he was always true to himself–long speeches, and all. You never doubted which Fidel you saw.

If one thing seemed to mark that leadership was doomed, it was the lack of sincerity and realism in the persona that was being put out to the public. Take a look at the Twitter account @PSimpsonMiller. Note that it says that her own remarks are ‘signed ~PSM’. Now, just do a check to see how many such tweets there were. There are precious few! So, what was/is the point of the account? To post bromides in the forms of pictures of flowers and teddy bears? You cannot be serious! Even, images of the leader doing political activities were not signed by her. Not, so odd, in a way, but it goes to the point that this was a front. I struggled to find any substantive remark about any major issue. Why?

Look, it’s nice to get the homilies each day, but many people can get that from many other non-political sources. This is a sign of the ‘unspiring’ of Mrs. Simpson-Miller, if I can coin a term. She was made duller by a group of people managing her. I say that without fear of contradiction: the Twitter account proves it. Once that duller politician was rolled out, the die was cast: she was no longer the leader she was. She was not allowed to be herself. By betraying what was the real Portia, it fed the lack of interest in her and her party. People didn’t know what they were getting any more.

I mention the lack of inspiration in the online presence for several other reasons. First, as a gauge of public interest. Andrew Holness, now PM, has about 29,000 followers on Twitter; Portia Simpson-Miller has about 7,000. Yet, people rattle on about how she is the most popular politician, in Jamaica. Something isnt adding up. Second, it treats the population with a degree of disrespect in not having substance at its core. If the leader is about disseminating trivia, then trivia becomes the MO. How can you go to the electorate on issues having laid this basis of prettiness? If you want to argue that social media is just one sphere, I heard you, but show me the written tracts or speeches that laid out the positions.

Personally, when the leader went off and screamed at the crowd in St. Ann, I would have loved to have seen a tweet or a post on Facebook embracing that rant: ‘Dis gyal jus tell dem de peeple a St Ann dat she nuh freyd a nubaddy’ Signed ~PSM. My respect would have shot up ten-fold. Instead, what we got was rumblings about how this ‘moment’ had been captured by a news media cameraman and disseminated. What’s the problem with being who and what you are?

As people crawl over the legacy of Portia Simpson-Miller, they must try to chart the point as which she crossed over from being her real self, to being a creature operated by others. 

I remember seeing her in person and hearing her speak passionately about issues related to women and child abuse, especially. I had no doubt that I was hearing what this lady truly felt. But, such feelings about utterances have been long gone. For that reason alone, the announced departure was too long in coming, but then again, when you’re on the strings of puppeteers, they call the tune.

“I am not a liar”: An iconic phrase for how long?

I’m a keen sports fan, and what better way to use the weekend time for relaxation than to take in a good slug of live sporting action. Now, many may not agree, but I see politics as another sporting contest. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think so.

In Jamaica, the sport of politics is played on many different pitches. This weekend, we had the annual conference of the official parliamentary opposition, Jamaica Labour Party. This time last year, the conference was all a dither over its leadership contest. Then-leader, Andrew Holness, has thrown out the challenge and aspirant, Audley Shaw, had picked it up and was running strongly, he thought, according to the polls. Well, they say that only one poll counts, and when the votes were counted, Audley (affectionately termed ‘Man a yard’) was licking his wounds. All was not sweetness and light on the day, and has hardly become so in the twelve months since. But, the battle between winner and loser has been out on the back burner. AndrewShaw
From my house, I could not hear the sounds of political revelry. However, I needed to go to New Kingston twice during the afternoon, and the nonstandard sound of a happy crowd–blaring vuvuzelas–could be heard loud and clear.

I was not really tempted to turn off real sport, like football and tennis, to tune into the political version, but was interested when the leader came to the podium. He’s been PM once, and seems to want to be PM again. He’s in a great position, because the current PM is presiding over a period littered with political banana skins falling all over the place, and she and her ministers are skidding on them with the greatest of ease. In most countries, if the government handed the opposition such easy targets most people would say that the government must fall. But, this is Jamaica. Partisanship, which is as tribal as can be, means that obvious sins and transgressions are either not seen by those of the guilty party or passed off as contrived by [fill in the gap to blame any other agent].

During the past week, the PM had one of those parliamentary performances in defence of the seemingly indefensible, regarding the use of National Housing Trust (NHT) funds to buy land that house a tourist attraction. She did not clarify the situation, and set off more questions about what actually had taken place, and (more disturbing to my febrile mind) sown huge seeds of doubt about her own oversight of a portfolio that is in her hands. The most stunning revelation was that she apparently did not know about the transaction, which took place early in 2013, until a few days ago, when it was reported in one of the local newspapers. If that’s the truth, it’s worse than farcical, given that the director of her office is on the NHT board. Is it really believable that such an official would be privy to actions taken within the portfolio of the responsible minister/PM and not utter a peep? It beggars belief. But, the PM had stridently told Parliament that she was as straight as an arrow.

That seeming contradiction–of a straight arrow, flying with a bent fashion–surfaced, not surprisingly, during Mr. Holness’ conference speech. He talked at length about the brewing ‘NHT saga’ and took the chance to put in front of his supporters, at least, and the nation, if interested, an interesting picture.

Politicians need contrast between each other. The obvious ones in this case, of one leader being male and another female, is not a contrast that can work positively in all cases. It could easily alienate a good segment of the voting public.

But, to be handed the contrast that is about truthfulness is almost a gift hoped for but never received. Mr. Holness boldly stated to his audience, that the PM had failed to meet a slew of promises made to the electorate. But, he went on: “I never butter it up. I never pretty it up. I tell you what was going to happen. I am not a liar.” (my stress).

A liar? Well, first, a politician would hardly say the opposite, now. Rather, the assertion of being truthful is  often stated–and taken with large doses of salt, by many. Or, the idea is left clearly in view that all that is being uttered is the truth. But, to state the negative leaves an interesting void to fill: who is a liar? In the mind of the partisan, at least, there’s only one answer. Second, no one said Mr. Holness was a liar, so what would prompt him to deny something of which he had not been accused? Answer. The assertion is meant to be a contrast. And to whom is he wishing to be contrasted? One guess.

Given the reactive nature of politics, I wait with bated breath to hear how the straight arrow deals with this.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 16, 2014)

Good

Lizzie Yarnold (Great Britain), won gold in the women’s skeleton in the Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia. I would love to see this event up close and am glad that someone feels able to hurtle headlong down an icy run in search of glory. I’ve seen a luge/skeleton run from the top and have no intention, now in life, to have that ‘thrill’ 🙂

Lizzie Yarnold, heading, literally, for gold.
Lizzie Yarnold, heading, literally, for gold.

Bad

Word has it that the Tivoli Gardens Police Post, in west Kingston, formerly the seat of power for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, may be haunted by evil spirits. Think about that for a few moments.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller told a contentious sitting of the House of Representatives that her administration spent a total of ~J$118 million on travels for Cabinet members between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013. The PM said all the trips, with the exception of those associated with funerals she attended, had engendered economic or other benefits to the country, but would not elaborate. Her staff and junior ministers incurred additional costs of about J$40 million. The PM does not acknowledge publicly that she sees a need for transparency and accountability in matters such as these and that it’s really good governance to both account for the costs and inform Parliament and the population of the expected outcome and benefits of such use of public funds. Tell me again, who pays for the running of the Administration?

The viral game, ‘Flappy birds’ had its wings clipped.Flappy-Bird-Game-Wallpapers The mobile phone and tablet game was taken off apps. I have never heard of this game, but my 10 year-old tells me it’s great fun. Already downloaded versions of the game still work.

Ugly

Despite a sharp drop in deaths from road accidents so far this year, compared to the same period in 2013, Canadian visitor died after his vehicle plunges into the river in St Catherine, by Natural Bridge.

Natural bridge accident: car being hauled from river
Natural bridge accident: car being hauled from river

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 2, 2014)

Good

We got to hear Jamaican PM, Portia Simpson-Miller talk to the local media, and thus ‘to the people’, in a series of short video clips circulated by The Observer. But, I missed the context of her seemingly poised answers. I thought the PM was being ingenious in her positioning of the local media as being rude and that she was prepared to talk, with her comment: “They say I don’t talk to the media. If you approach me properly, I’ll talk to you. But if you are going to be pushing up the microphone in my face, or if everybody is shouting at me at the same time, no.” I don’t see the evidence that the media act this way usually, but it’s the most recent image. Good political ploy? I await some media reaction.

Bad

An American tourist was killed by a jet ski, while swimming in Negril. Needless tragedy. Whatever, ‘clamp down’ was in place was not working. A temporary ban on ski jets use has been imposed. Some, particularly hoteliers and others in tourism, have called for a total ban. Others are concerned that another area of economic livelihood is in danger, albeit because operators have been lax, but also because government action has been trailing words…again.

Ugly

Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation went on another sweep of the streets to clear them of illegal vendors, smashing up the stalls of the offending persons. Yes, measures to get vendors to sell only in designated areas have failed for years. Something cannot be right about the whole process. Brute force is the answer?

Becoming unaccustomed to public speaking

Many comments have been made recently about the Prime Minister’s relative disengagement from speaking to the public. prayer breakfastSo, I was pleased to read yesterday that Mrs. Simpson-Miller will resume holding community meetings. As reported, the meetings will be organized by the Social Development Commission, and are ‘aimed at bringing members of  the executive to the public to hear their concerns and respond’. I think much damage, though incalculable, has been done by the PM’s deafening silence on some major concerns in the country. A clear vacuum has been created in terms of popular expectation and public policy guidance. People–whether they voted or not–who are citizens of a country, have an expectation that leaders will lead–by action and words. Many people cannot see the ‘work’ (action) that politicians do, so need to hear from them to get a better understanding. Silence, therefore, is not golden when it comes in response to ‘cries’ of severe need.

When it is broken by remarks such as “I know that our economic programme, …has in some instances been hard on you. I feel your pain. I go to the supermarket, I know what is happening to prices”, in a New Year message, I think people just shake their heads.

For many people, I think that the long silence has been interpreted by a lack of concern.

I think many people would not have been surprised if the PM had one day said something like:

“You know, I am a total loss to understand what is going on in Jamaica. I cannot understand why so many people are being killed by guns or in road accidents.”

That would make many people feel that at least she was aware of two things that trouble many, if not most Jamaicans. There is no pretence of having some magic wand to deal with them. It implies also a need for ideas, and an openness to receive them.

Had she said something like:

“All of the money that the government has borrowed over the years has not been used to produce economic gains that are clear in terms of better roads, schools, health, more jobs, or a cleaner environment. Our inability to use that money wisely means that we owe more than the income we have every year and it’s crippling us at every turn.”

That would have suggested that she saw the seemingly intractable problem that many Jamaicans have to witness and live with on a daily basis. Wasted or inefficient spending, at every turn. Inadequate decisions at every turn. Despair, at every turn. The PM would have shown a consciousness of what is Jamaica’s economic albatross.

The comments demonstrate a recognition of problems, for which solutions have to be found, but are taxing all of our minds. They do not seek to apportion blame. However, by not saying things like that, many people have felt lost and abandoned.

Those two comments, or similar, would have meant a lot more than many of the vacuous and cliché-riddled offerings that have been flying around by other politicians.

I cannot believe that her reluctance comes from what I see often with children who wont speak when they are faced with certain problems: they are terrified and almost take the view that if they do not address the fears they will disappear.

But, maybe, I’m wrong.

Prime minister’s question time.

I like reading the Jamaican newspapers; they often do what I expect from journalists. Many of their reports are about real problems facing the country. They tend to latch onto stories that should concern a good number of us, and often hang onto them until a good amount of clarity and resolution occurs. I’m glad to say that I usually try to follow the local news first, rather than revert to foreign news, eg by reading the Washington Post, New York Times, or The London Times. Jamaican newspapers do not usually curry favour with politicians and hold them to account quite well, even riduculing them, if that seems appropriate. Some Ministers are the butt of much fun-making, for instance, Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke. But, in recent times, the main focus for attention and criticism has been Jamaica’s prime minister.

Clovis cartoon in Jamaica Observer lampoons the PM's frequent travel
Clovis cartoon in Jamaica Observer lampoons the PM’s frequent travel

Putting it briefly, she’s not giving the nation much in prime time. She’s taken a stance with public engagement of less is more and hardly speaks to her people on any matter. That’s rankled many, naturally: those who voted for her did not want her to be mute–she’s normally very voluble on a political stage; those who voted against her want to hear her trip herself up, so don’t want to be denied more opportunities for that.

Her relatively aloof attitude stands badly at a time when many people feel the need for guidance on where their leader feels the country is headed. The annoyance is raised because when she travels–and it’s frequently–she seems ready to speak to foreign audiences quite freely, albeit often bashing her opponents at home. The press have now taken the PM to task about her travel, its costs, and maybe some attempt to assess its benefits. The new year has been greeted by The Gleaner reporting on information it obtained from government ministers under freedom of information legislation. Not all ministries have reported so far–and I expect that to change quickly before the naming and shaming starts. Amongst those reporting has been the Office of the Prime Minister. We learned that the PM’s travels in 2013 cost the nation about J$50 million (US$500,000); her recent 5-day trip to China alone cost J$20million. This compares with earlier disclosures that seven government ministers had J$25 million (on 43 overseas visits) in overseas travel expenses in the first six months of last year. The Finance Minister’s trips cost J$8 million, and many will see this as good value for money after his negotiations with the IMF (for a 48-month, US$932 million Extended Arrangement) and other creditors is set to bring in a few billion US dollars to help finance Jamaica over the next few years. But, let the audience decide if it’s value for money: the travellers chanting that sounds tinny. When the PM talks about “knowing” the pain of her people, they will just see the $$ signs of the travel expense accounts and say “I want to know about that”.

The newspaper’s pit bull approach to the topic of the PM’s travel brought forward some lame defences from civil servants and some MPs and Senators talking about the need for official travel, as if most people could not understand that their leader has justifiable reasons for going abroad. They seemed to misunderstand the desire for accountability and openness, especially from a leader who’s saying precious little to her electorate. That set of responses tended to suggest that something was amiss. The more recent ‘defence’ by some ministers arguing that travel is arduous and not just a jolly struck me as silly, missing the point that ordinary people think that those who live off the public purse are all freeloaders.

But, now that the gross figure is out, what next? The analysis of the travel should follow: the details of where, when, who, why for the visits, and the “what should we expect as benefits?” While that is being prepared–and, I understand the information will go to Parliament in response to questions from the Leader of the Opposition–the public have their say.

Jamaicans (as far as many newspaper readers go) love to voice their opinions, and the letters pages and comments are very informative about public concerns. Online articles and comments are now a standard feature in Jamaican papers, and the reactions are good reading. I took a look this morning at some that surfaced on the travel topic. Constructive comments included:

  • Choose cheaper hotels and suites
  • Fly the PM and her delegation commercially (the fact) not by private jet (the myth) unless the host-country sends one for her
  • Capping how many persons travel with the PM overseas

Many ‘unconstructive’ comments rained down, mostly of the “What do you expect from the PNP?” variety.

All views are valid and nteresting, not least because of what they suggest about concern for possible abuse of position or waste of public money. Remember the context of Jamaica’s high public debt and an economy that shows the many signs of insufficient public spending on things to better the lives of the majority who do not travel abroad. What is practical, though?

I wont try to be an apologist, but just try to think about what people are wishing.

The PM could stay at the equivalent of Howard Johnson instead of Hilton, if the choice really existed. But, would the electorate then be concerned that the HoJo may be in ‘unsafe’ areas and require extra security for the PM, and at whose cost? Doing things on the cheap may save money in one sense but be costly in others. Yes, suites are very expensive, but they are roomy enough to double as meeting rooms. Would people want the PM or other officials to have their meetings in the hotel lobby or at the nearby coffee bar? I suspect not. Sure, in some countries, meetings could be held at a country’s diplomatic residence or office.

It’s public knowledge that the PM flies commercially, but the image of official travel is glamour, so it must be on a private jet, right. If not a private jet, then business class at least and possibly first class–clinking champagne bottles trump images of meetings and rewriting of documents and little sleep once on the ground. Foreign travel is seen as–and may sometimes be, for some–a boondoggle, so limit the freeloading is the cry of many people.

I’m glad that the fire is being put to the feet of politicians in this way. In between elections only a few means exist to get them to take notice of what concerns the electorate. Do I expect quick change? No. But, I hope that approaches will be different.

Hoo-ray for Andrew: no more Ray-Ray?

So, it’s official. Andrew Holness was confirmed in his position as Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) by a special delegates council yesterday, with 2704 delegates voting for him, against 2012 voting for contender, Audley Shaw.Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 7.20.44 PM The contest for leadership is settled. Now, can the party settle itself?

The main contenders were all smiles and handshakes immediately after the results were announced. Mr. Shaw was quick to indicate “I am willing and ready to join with you, to build back the Jamaica Labour Party, to bring back love to the Jamaica Labour Party,”. He also promptly tendered his resignation as Opposition spokesman on finance, so that the leader could have a “free hand” and pick the team he wanted to go forward.

Although talk has moved quickly to the need for unity and healing within the JLP, after what was a bitter, if not bruising contest, it wont be that simple. Senior JLP MP Derrick Smith touched on what the JLP body had suffered: “wounds have been very, very deep” The campaign was full of accusations and counter claims–not really that unusual in politicis, and very normal in Jamaica. However, immediately after the election results, some of Mr. Holness’ supporters (e.g. Everald Warmington) had reportedly been quick yesterday to say the equivalent of “good riddance”, shooing them off the stage at the National Arena, once the results were known. Bringing the love back will not be as easy as sending Valentine’s cards.Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 8.06.45 PM

Mr. Shaw put a brave face on defeat and took to the high road, saying that this was a “great day for democracy in the Jamaica Labour Party.” Mr. Holness also wanted to signal that he thought civics were the winners, saying this was a “victory for democracy within the JLP and the grassroots people of the party.” The party’s democratic processes had been put to the test and appeared to have come through with some degree of success. But, that is only part of the whole battle.

The ultimate challenge is to beat PM Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller and the People’s National Party (PNP)in the next general election. The PM has just been in Japan on an official visit and was reported to be regaling her hosts about the beating she’d put on Mr. Holness at the last election. That was an odd thing for a nation’s leader to do, but Mrs. PSM knows what sells at home and while the JLP were about to say “Hooray” to their new leader, she was reminding them that the Queen of Ray-Ray was alive, kicking and ready to mash whoever wanted to take her on.

It’s hard to believe that JLP’s unity can be willed by a few words and smiles, and like with real wounds a good amount of time will be needed to heal the rifts that were opened in the past few weeks. But, will they be given that time? Whatever the first order of business today to rebuild a team to take on the PNP in Parliament, the JLP should know that it has to be ready to take on PNP at the polls.Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 8.09.31 PM

The good, the bad and the ugly (August 11)

Good:

Bad:

  • The Jamaican public authorities who performed incomplete road repairs in Enfield, St. Mary, leaving a hole large enough to hold two men. It’s worth watching the TVJ coverage.
  • PM Simpson-Miller seemed to forget that Jamaica is a real democracy when saying that it would “make no sense” if voters in Cassia Park, St. Andrew, elected a parliamentary opposition party JLP councillor while having a PNP MP: the JLP candidate won the by-election.ed-cart-thurs-8-august_w452

Ugly:

This is how we do it

Independence Day came and went yesterday. The positive messages that were sent out by politicians and others prominent in the business of leading the country should prevail for more than a few days. I started writing this several days ago, and feel better about what follows, after seeing a news bulletin last night reporting that PM Portia Simpson-Miller stopped her motorcade on its way to the National Stadium to console a woman driver whose car had overturned not far from Jamaica House. It made for good viewing to see the PM put her arm around the woman, apparently slip a little something into the woman’s hand, and talk to her and hear her story for several minutes before going on to the Gala. Yes, I could be a cynic and say that a good politician would not pass up a prime moment to show a compassionate face, especially when cameras are around, but I wont go there.

For a country that has so many social problems and suffers so much violent crime, Jamaica is a very interesting blend of nice behaviour, rather than constant anger. I travelled roundtrip between Kingston and Mandeville on Monday and a few things caught my eyes and ears.

  • At the Highway 2000 toll booths, the collectors are always cheerful and smiling, with a greeting and a wish for safe travel. There’s not much real need to associate with every driver, so if this is training at work, wonderful; if it is just good manners, even more wonderful. (A friend confirmed my impression by telling a story yesterday of how she’d been helped by the highway staff once when she was lost and headed the wrong way, then needed to turn back and find her way. She got enough help and guidance to maneuver her way even though she still had to pay the tolls in each direction–“Tek di tikit, maybi yu cyan get a refun’,” was the advice she got 🙂
  • In a country known for its high rates of violent crime, an astonishing number of people still stand on the roadside hoping to get a ride from a passing vehicle, and often show displeasure if a lone driver passes without stopping.
  • A Rasta, selling from the back of his van in a Mandeville car park, said to me that “people have money for medicine, and I sell medicine”. He actually sold fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying from street vendors is still big business. Customers expect value for money and good quality and would be very surprised if the vendors were not engaging–which they are, usually. Vendors of food are as popular as vendors of raw produce. Everyone has a licence? I doubt it. Anyone concerned about that? I doubt it.
  • Giving and getting something for nothing is still a big part of social interaction between buyers and sellers. Jamaicans know and love ‘brawta’ – an extra for free (in Jamaica they sometimes offer an extra 1 of something for free if you have already bought something). It can sometimes come with some ‘up selling’ (being urged to buy a little more). Win-win?Choices_BRAWTA_Plan_5x35
  • It’s turning into a little funny tidbit to point out to visitors that the National Anthem is played before public events start, including at plays and films. I went to the Independence Gala at the National Stadium last night and did not bat an eyelid as the National Anthem was played to start the proceedings. (For all its woes, the USA still has this tradition at many sporting venues. I’ve never heard it at the movies.)
  • At the theatre, there is (always) an intermission: during plays, this will be at some halfway point; during films, the breaks do not follow any strict rule. Intermission is time to go to the bathroom, refill drinks, get popcorn and other snacks, or have a chat about whatever. During a play, you may even meet some of the cast also taking a break. Very civilised, I’d say.
  • Hardly surprising in a country that is not really that well-off, money matters. People are very particular about getting the prices correct, and with it the right amount of change. Jamaicans are not really into tipping (tourist areas apart), and you should not be surprised if someone chases you down if you walk off before getting your change so that they can give you your money.
  • I love it that patty shops now have drive-through windows as an option. Even better, the food is often ready to pick-up when you get to the pick-up window, no matter how busy the main shop is.
  • Jamaicans have some funny lack of sensibilities. How else do you describe the selling of bras and panties out of the back of a van or from a black plastic bag on the sidewalk? No time for shyness or modesty.

I may not have travelled around enough yet, and I don’t make a habit of hitting tourist areas, but I also don’t get the impression that people are trying to rip me off, or not too badly. That betrays a certain mindset, which is not being crabs in a barrel. Yes, the man selling me bananas at 5 for J$150 may give me a story that I dont believe, given that I’ve been buying them at 5 for J$100, but after I bought two bags from him, the price for the third changed to J$100. Understood, if he has a little extra in his pocket.

You can still bargain in a number of places, not usually in stores, food outlets, or the supermarket, but in lots of other places: “That is your best price?” is usually a good opener. I know that the tendency to do so was ingrained at an early age, and I gladly admit that I tried it in some unlikely places in the UK and USA and was never surprised when it worked: “Do you do discount for bulk?” is something that often gets a bargain going.

Caring and sharing takes on a new meaning. I meet some ladies selling newspapers at one of the busy road junctions. I never buy and always tell them that I have the paper at home–true. But, one lady always tries to get me to buy the paper, or some of the sweets she’s selling–“Buy the paper for your wife,” was one suggestion that made me chuckle. Come to think of it, maybe harmony can be secured this way.

Being small has many advantages. Caribbean countries, for the most part, are small places and that has allowed much of the community that exists in small places to persist. It is very much the norm to greet people, and woe betide you if you fail to do so. Even hailing someone with the blowing of a car horn as you pass their gate will do. Better still, though, pull up and have a few words: that will save you from a mauling when you mention that you passed but didn’t stop, not to mention losing out on the fruit or vegetables that may come your way for extending a simple courtesy :-).

Yesterday, The Gleaner had a front page that stressed the positives about Jamaica, and inside it was a real ‘feel good’ edition. Yes, Independence Day was a perfect opportunity to do that, and it was noted by some radio commentators, who asked for more of it. I sense that people are yearning for a change for the better and it may start with taking a better view-point of what we do. Change wont come overnight, but let’s try one step at a time.