STRIPPED to its bare essentials, the contest for leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is not about differences in ideological orientation, policy direction, intellectual agility, managerial competence or the future of Jamaica.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and JLP Deputy Leader Audley Shaw are campaigning on the same platform: who is better able to defeat Portia Simpson Miller and the governing People's National Party (PNP) at the next election, which could be more than three years away.
Mr Holness is basing his winnability on his claim to capacity to attract independent voters, a less confrontational style and that he represents the kind of "transformational leader" best suited to post-independence generations.
Mr Shaw claims that he is better able to mobilise and motivate Labourites by paying attention to party organisation and he will be more aggressive in criticising the Administration's failure, so far, to grow the economy and create more jobs.
Admittedly, winning is at the centre of political party activity. Indeed, a widely held view is that political parties exist to win and hold state power.
I subscribe to the view that winning state power must be a fundamental objective of a political party, because ideas about social organisation as well as the creation and distribution of abundance can only be realised when the party is in a position to control the machinery of government and exercise state power.
However, winning cannot be the only thing — and this is not only a JLP thing, it is also a PNP thing. A political party and its leader should have some core values and principles and a vision of the society they would wish to see. They should be able to articulate that vision in a way that people find attractive.
As I stated in a previous column on the issue, today's leader must be willing and able to define reality with great clarity; engender trust by demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the selected strategies to make things better and provide more opportunity. A lot of this can get lost in the fog of winnability.
Another danger of seeing political leadership only as winnability is that the party may begin to see the national interest and its own partisan interest as the same, with all the implications for bad governance.
And we know that winnability also has to do with a capacity to raise campaign money — an absolute necessity but which can also have a corrupting influence. Who pays the piper calls the tune.
One result of the exclusive winnability strategy is that the campaign, so far, has been a trading of insults and a lack of trust between the two camps. In fairness, they have not gone over the top; but then we are weeks away from the November date with destiny when the 5,041 delegates will decide.
Taking the broader view would mean a different kind of campaign more focused on substance and including a national debate so that the country gets an independent opportunity to assess the claims made by the candidates.
That's not going to happen, and while I understand why the party has made that decision, it would have been path-breaking if Mr Holness had responded positively to Mr Shaw's declared willingness to debate.
One more thing about winnability: We know that the JLP parliamentary caucus coalesced around Mr Holness in 2011 because at least two opinion polls showed him as the widely preferred choice to lead the JLP and provide a real contest for the PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller, who had an unassailable lead as Bruce Golding's premiership collapsed under the weight of his mishandling of the US request for the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the reputed leader of the deadly
Having lost the 2011 election, some Labourites now seem to be having buyer's remorse about the choice. We will have to wait for the next election to know whether they will be satisfied with the November choice.
Meanwhile, we can expect a dramatic change in street-level politics after the November poll, regardless of who wins. The sharp-tongued, in-your-face Shaw will be more forceful in taking the fight to Prime Minister Simpson Miller in these difficult economic times. Holness, if he wins, will have to show that he is no pushover.
At issue is whether the inevitable shift in the tone and grammar of the politics will destabilise the carefully crafted medium-term economic programme on which so much depends.
Walk good, George Lee
Since his recent death, George Lee has earned every bit of the bi-partisan tributes and other accolades bestowed on him for his indefatigable work to achieve municipal status for Portmore, which elected him its first mayor in a municipal-wide election 10 years ago. He also tasted defeat, but came back to win a second time in the 2012 elections.
I know he would have been pleased by the outpouring of affection, but he would be even more pleased by the fact that he died on the job, falling terminally ill in New York while returning home from a European trip on Portmore business. As a long-time acquaintance expressed to me Thursday, "He died doing what he loved most."
As mayor, George Lee did not achieve all he set his mind to, including the hospital project. Hopefully, his successors will bring it into being. 'Mister Portmore' deserves no less.
While he will most be remembered for his passion and commitment to uplifting the Portmore municipality, I also remember him as a colleague journalist who was always in search of the next big story.
When I first entered the business five decades ago as a junior editor in the radio newsroom of the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (before TV came) George was already established, having worked previously at The Gleaner covering industrial relations and politics. He would come to public attention a year later in the historic 1964 strike.
The proximate reason for the strike was the JBC board's dismissal of Lee and Adrian Rodway for airing a news story reporting the breakdown of wage negotiations between the Corporation and the National Workers' Union, which represented a majority of workers. Lee wrote the story and Rodway approved it for air.
The complaint was that the story was one-sided by not getting the views of the board. And while there were no written guidelines on treatment of stories involving the Corporation, it was argued by the JBC that such stories should first be approved by management. The workers and the union felt this was unacceptable intrusion on editorial independence.
The ensuing strike was to last 14 weeks and would forever change relations between the Corporation and successive governments, which generally saw the JBC as a prize of political victory to be used in furtherance of government objective, an issue that led ultimately to the divestment of the JBC in 1997.
Eventually, the strike was settled with a landmark ruling from a Commission of Enquiry that established the right of workers to be compensated for wrongful dismissal, though Lee and Rodway were not reinstated, and many of us were casualties of a massive redundancy.
After JBC, George — like many colleagues — went to the United States to work and study. At one time, I remember him starting a magazine directed at the Jamaican diaspora. Editorially, it was well received, but financially it was a bit of a disaster.
Of course, he was involved in community politics, working with the machinery of the Democratic party in Brooklyn and the Jamaica Progressive League, the New York affiliate of the PNP.
In the 1970s George Lee returned to Jamaica to work in the Government's Agency of Public Information (now JIS) then under the leadership of our good friend Ralston Smith.
With a lively and life-long interest in politics, media and community activism it was not surprising that George Lee went into elective politics. It was also not surprising that he blazed his own trail, making history in Portmore.
Walk good, my friend.