I read with interest Daryl Vaz's piece in Sunday's edition of your newspaper, entitled: "Shaw vs Holness — the criterion is winnability".
With the leadership contest in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) intensifying, I am all for a clinical assessment of the issues surrounding Audley Shaw's bid to unseat the incumbent Andrew Holness as party leader. So I readily agree with Daryl Vaz that our analysis should be centred on substantial issues rather than emotions.
Mr Vaz is quite correct in outlining that the principal purpose of a political party is to contest and be successful at national elections; be they at the local or central government level.
My point of departure, however, is that notwithstanding his impassioned plea, Vaz did very little to substantiate his main point. At the very core of his article was an attempt to make the case that Shaw scores higher than Holness on the "winnability count". But did he make that case?
There's no denying that both men have accrued considerable acclaim as tactical and endearing politicians. While Shaw has been a fixture for the JLP over several years in central Jamaica, and has withstood many tests, I am certain that most would agree that it takes an extra special 25-year-old to go into a very tough inner-city constituency as Holness did back in 1997 — a People's National Party (PNP) stronghold which they had previously won by over 4,000 votes.
Holness not only defeated the PNP candidate in those elections, but went on to successfully defend the seat in subsequent elections, securing a majority of over 1,000 votes in the last general election. Clearly, he is no political lightweight.
While he is a political heavyweight in his own right, Shaw appears, however, to have had better days. For one, he barely managed to hang on to his North East Manchester seat in the last general election; coming out ahead of the PNP's candidate by just a few hundred votes. And secondly, he lost considerable ground as deputy leader in the JLP's Area Council 3, which comprises Manchester, Clarendon and St Ann. Instead of increasing the number of seats held, Shaw's Area Council retained only 5 of the 9 seats the JLP held going into the last general election.
Other aspects of political stewardship are critical to any winnability assessment. For an experienced politician to have had the kind of run-in with the party's constitution as Shaw did last November, and return just a few months later to miss the initial March, then the extended May cut-off point for registration of his own constituency, it doesn't say a lot about political organisation and respect for the institutions of the very entity you desire to lead. Being "Man-a-yaad" is one thing; being a man in charge is quite another.
This takes me to what may be considered the most reputed criticism against Holness — his style. For me, this preoccupation with style and overall approach to Holness's constitutional duties as Opposition leader betrays all that is wrong with much of our political discourse in this country.
That is to say, we often fail to see the bigger picture and wrap our heads around that which really matters. For want of a better illustration, it is as though we have gathered to discuss the interior decor of a house in Gordon Town, while the very room in which we are huddled is precariously perched over a gully — a gully running alongside the treacherous Hope River.
And so, I am of the view that this whole argument about who is better able to "tek it to Portia", as a measure of winnability, is the clearest and most unfortunate indication, yet, that our political fortunes in this country are being predicated on a whimsical assessment of who is more adept at confrontational politics (the old style), rather than strategically setting out and pursuing a vision for the nation and its development, while conducting oneself in a manner that will inspire the majority (the new and transformational style).
But with the former often being the case, the ostensibly "sexy, tantalising and riveting" prospect of a Man-a-Yaad/Sista P brawl seems to have some among us salivating.
I am not politically naïve, so don't get me wrong for a minute. Allow me to expand the argument.
I am one of those who is ever mindful of the role political jabs and fierce punches play in energising one's political base and mobilising grass-roots support. Indeed, there is and will always be a place for crafty political rhetoric and witty platform jabs, especially when you are out on the hustings. It is the lifeblood of any political machinery. As a matter of fact, it fuels the very political organisation and worker motivation upon which so much rests.
My question to all concerned, however, is simply this: In an ailing economy, with a fleet-footed dollar, rampant unemployment, recurring fiscal deficits and a debt to GDP ratio in the order of 140 per cent, what do you think actually counts for more — a pre-occupation with the rile-up and "ray ray" politics, or the splendour and efficacy of visionary, level-headed and sober leadership?
How farther towards achieving the outcomes outlined in Vision 2030 will the "whip dem Portia" or the "whip dem Man-a-Yaad" politics take us? As a matter of fact, isn't it precisely this kind of antiquated practice of political one-upmanship that has stymied Jamaica's growth over the past 40 years?
Let's be frank. Political leadership and this whole business of being "prime minister-in-waiting", which is what you ultimately are as leader of the Opposition, has to be seen as an obligation that is way more dynamic and sophisticated than simply "tekking it" to the political opponent. Again, I emphasise that I am not discounting the need for probing and energising engagement in a bid to mobilise grass-roots support, in particular.
Taking it to the opponent is good, but there is so much more to be considered and executed. After all, it is becoming increasingly evident that today's electorate is much more sophisticated and hard to please than that. No wonder in successive national elections we are seeing a paltry voter turnout.
And since the JLP doesn't have the vast number of garrison enclaves the PNP enjoys, electoral success for any JLP leader will always be a matter of holding and rallying the party's base support, while attracting and inspiring much more of that quantum of independent and undecided voters than the PNP. Audley is a fantastic guy, but Andrew has the edge over him as far as this measure is concerned.
To drive home the point, permit me to reference what I would like to consider the "Seaga dilemma". No one can deny that Edward Seaga had a most enviable command of the key national issues of the day, and oft presented credible and compelling arguments, whether during his contributions in Parliament or during his presentations from the political platform.
That notwithstanding, Mr Seaga's apparent Achilles heel was the enormous tide of political propaganda against him. It served as political "baggage" which considerably compromised his "electability". Needless to say, there are 18 and a half years to show for it. So, it is one thing to be able to drum up grass-roots support and "mek a bag a noise in Opposition", but it is quite another to be "winnable" and attract a cross section of voters; especially in the more mature political environment that is evolving.
The delegates of the JLP always have to be mindful of their leader's electability and his national, not just internal, appeal. With that in mind, they must go a step further and weigh electability and national appeal against the PNP's perceived strengths and, more importantly, its penchant for mud-slinging and its tested and proven "tear down the JLP leader strategy".
In other words, the PNP seems to operate within a paradigm buttressed by a truism and narrative that states: "Once you tear down the JLP leader, you are well on your way to paralysing and annihilating the party altogether."
We have seen the PNP do this to great effect in the past. They did it with Edward Seaga and again with his one-time protégé Bruce Golding.
Come to think of it, they not only attempted, but are still trying feverishly to do the same thing with Andrew Holness, with all this Baby Bruce talk, which by the way is not getting any traction on the ground because the people are more discerning than that and recognise that it is simply hogwash.
From my vantage point, it is apparent that so impervious is Holness's integrity, political stock, and dignified mannerism, that he has become virtually immune to this age-old tear-down strategy of the PNP. After all, he told the truth and was forthright with the people. The PNP did not, and they are becoming increasingly unpopular for it.
Holness's style is his style, and even if he's the only politician who is going to speak the truth, cost it what it will, like Chronixx, him "naah falla nobady".
What makes us think that Shaw wouldn't be fair game to the PNP and more likely to be sullied by its prolific and prodigious propaganda machinery than Holness? What makes us think that he isn't highly likely to capitulate in the face of such propaganda bonanza and, in so doing, secure the PNP's second term?
We are at a critical juncture in the history of this country. Jamaica needs to be rescued by the JLP, but the JLP has to first and foremost win.
In parting, let me disabuse the minds of those who pander to the kind of politics for which Mr Shaw has a natural knack, of an apparent oversight, by reminding them that as Opposition spokesman on finance, and especially as chairman of parliament's chief scrutinising outfit, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Shaw has as good a platform as any, perhaps even equal to that enjoyed by the Opposition leader himself, to "tek it to di PNP" and "bun a fire pan dem". Therefore, his not being leader of the party does not stymie or negate in any way, shape or form his ability to be his usual strident self.
Marlon Morgan is a communications consultant and former vice-president of Generation 2000 (G2K).