The JLP’s Great Irony
It’s perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Jamaican politics; the better party is rarely the governing party. In fact, it’s almost criminally amusing that the party that has a proven and unquestionable record on the economy, crime, policy, institution building and reform finds it hard to inspire the majority of Jamaican voters who go to the polls. To be sure, that party is the Jamaica Labour Party. The party finds itself confronted with yet another public debacle, this time concerning the use of undated letters of resignation to oust Senators. As I watch the spectacle unfold in clear view of the scandal hungry media and weary electorate, I admit myself baffled, genuinely puzzled, as to why Bustamante’s party seems utterly incapable of getting it right. On the face of it, the Jamaica Labour Party is failing at its most basic mandate, being a credible political force; a reality that causes me great anguish.
It’s perhaps without question that all members of the JLP want the best for the party. The sticking point, however, appears to me to be a differing on how to achieve that. There are those who apparently have formed pacts with media houses which facilitate and encourage what the youth arm of the party calls a “leak culture”. These individuals take great pleasure in commenting on every, and any, thing concerning the party’s internal machinations and struggles. One can assume they believe themselves to be whistle blowers, calling attention to all that is wrong and unjust. In theory, that is fine. However, when seen through the lens of the quest for electoral victory, it becomes downright political suicide. The irony, of course, is that in furtherance of some vague and imprecise standard of a higher ideal, the members push the party further away from Jamaica House.
Curiously, the party opposite suffers from an irony of an entirely different nature. Despite a generally dismal track record of governance, the political savvy of the People’s National Party is above reproach. The comrades handle internal struggles with stealth-like precision, cleaning up messes and stopping leaks dead in their tracks. One has to ask how? What is the JLP missing? Take the recent call for a meeting to deliberate on the fate of Opposition Leader Holness, for instance. It was with terrifying swiftness, not two hours after the Constitutional Court ruled, that the party’s Spokesman on Justice was issuing a public call for a review of the leader’s tenure. To my mind, that is evidence of a pathological disposition to doing damage to the party. A cautious, perhaps even prudent, Spokesman would have engaged the internal channels, voiced his concerns and make his call for deliberation. It would only be necessary for the media, indeed the country, to be made aware of the meeting after a conclusion had been reached. Instead, we have invited a circus of condemnation, complete with misguided and politically motivated calls for Mr. Holness’ resignation. It defies logic and good political sense. It’s difficult to see how Mr. Chuck could have concluded that this was in the interest of the JLP as a political unit. Isn’t ironic that such a seasoned politician could underestimate the political damage of his actions?
Then there are those who believe the party’s problem is a leader-centric one. In their minds, getting rid of Andrew Holness is priority number one. Of course, there is little chance getting rid of Holness will fix the problems. To be sure, that’s a fallacy. Entertaining that notion would mean ignoring the fact that a self-serving culture has long permeated the JLP. In fact, more politically adept leaders such as Bruce Golding and Edward Seaga found it difficult to navigate the varied agendas, both ending in ruin, albeit of different kinds. There is no evidence that any single existing member, besides Andrew Holness, can unify the party. Messers Shaw, Tufton, or Baugh would find it equally difficult to mend fences and build bridges that could pave a path to Jamaica House. The irony, in this instance, is that any of the gentlemen named would make a better Prime Minister than the incumbent.
The members of the Jamaica Labour Party must step back and reflect on the cruelty of these ironies. Those who pursue independent ambitions must ask themselves whether the greater good will be served when they have gotten their way. In the end, would it have been worth it that the party is alienated from government, and banished to the indignity of being a “loyal opposition”? I submit that it won’t be. There is no value in this. Despite the immediate victories to be derived from petty battles, the party would have lost the war for the hearts and minds of the Jamaican people. That is the only victory that matters. No Court victory, no Court declared injunction, no media hype or fame can make up for repeated, marginally wide and crushing defeats at the polls. Every Labourite must understand and accept that.
It’s time to end the all too often comment “I would support the JLP, but….”, it’s high time the Labour Party erases that “but” from the minds of the Jamaican people. There are countless Jamaicans who want to stop saying “but”. Only a unified party can cause them to do that. The tragedy, of course, is that this unity may prove elusive. It’s perhaps, then, the greatest irony of Jamaican politics; the better party may not, at least for the foreseeable future, be the governing party.