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Longevity in political service

70 years of Adult Suffrage: 1944-2014

Sunday, March 02, 2014    

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AS we acknowledge and celebrate the landmark occasion of 70 years since the granting of adult suffrage in the new Constitution attained by the island in 1944, which greatly modernised our political system, we are cognisant of so many aspects of the system which have held our attention and put the focus squarely on all of those people who have represented us in Parliament.

One such feature is political longevity which holds much interest due to the various areas of the political arena that it covers. And when we speak of longevity, we are dealing with people who have had both elected and appointed tenures under their belt, and not service mixed with time spent in the political system outside of membership in either the Lower or Upper House of Parliament.

If that differentiation is not made, then there are thousands of people who could lay claim to spending years of political service in the system without specific details for verification.

Critics of our political system who have a problem with political representatives they refer to as "professional politicians" can hardly feel vindicated to learn that of the total of 362 individuals elected to the House since December 1944, only a mere nine (2.5 per cent) have served for over 30 years, only 39 (10.8 per cent) have given service of 20 years or more, and a total of 129 (35.6 per cent) have served for 10 years or more.

Of the present 63 members of parliament, 33 (52.4 per cent) have served 10 years or more, 15 (23.8 per cent) have done 20 years or more, and only four (6.3 per cent) are among those with over 30 years of service. Not counting the 20 new members elected to the House in 2011, roughly a third or 126 (34.8 per cent) of all elected representatives since 1944 have been one-termers.

For many years, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Alexander Bustamante and Leopold Lynch, along with the People's National Party's (PNP's) Florizel Glasspole and Dr Ivan Lloyd dominated the longevity list as undefeated members from the first election in 1944. And as they all left the scene one by one, new and more current individuals took the baton of service to carry on the tradition. Chief among them became the JLP's Edward Seaga, whose 42 3/4 years as the elected member for West Kingston and 45 1/2 in total when you add his tenure in the Legislative Council (1959-1962), seems virtually insurmountable by anyone presently in the system.

Indeed, Mr Seaga's tenure, which covers an amazing 65 per cent of the entire 70-year period, also dominates the list of the 10 heads of government who have served Jamaica over that period (See Chart), with a political career that covered every significant facet of our political system.

Overall, JLP politicians are still dominant on the Top 10 chart of long servers, with eight members (See Chart), but the party has only four on the next 10 where the PNP takes charge. That batch includes Percival Patterson, Seymour Mullings, Edwin Allen, Winston Jones, Horace Clarke, Bruce Golding, Lynden Newland, Derrick Kellier, Robert Pickersgill and JC Hutchinson.

Of the Top 10, only Mike Henry, Karl Samuda, Dr Neville Gallimore and Hugh Shearer have tasted defeat at some point in their political careers, but Henry and Samuda remain undefeated since the JLP tornado in 1980. For more than three decades, Enid Bennett was Jamaica's (and the Caribbean's) longest-serving woman in politics, until she was eventually overtaken by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller more than a year ago.

Interestingly, Mrs Simpson Miller, now with 32 years, currently shares fourth spot with the first real longevity icon, Leopold Lynch, whose departure from politics occurred officially in December 1976, the same year Portia became the PNP's dainty debutante and officially entered Gordon House as a member of parliament.

Derrick Smith, who started downtown then moved uptown, bows in at ninth because he is the only surviving JLP MP whose genesis began in the PNP-boycotted election of 1983 and who remains undefeated. And it will take PNP stalwarts Derrick Kellier and Robert Pickersgill (now jointly at 18th) another 3 1/2 years to knock "The Brown Bomber" out of the Top 10 and replace him at Number 10.

Because of their scarcity in representational politics, not many women figure prominently in the category of longevity at the level of Mrs Simpson Miller and Enid Bennett. Ranking third in elected service among the women is now Olivia 'Babsy' Grange whose 16 years and two months, plus another six years previously in the Senate, make her the only other woman to exceed 20 years in political service.

Of the others, only five (Sharon Hay-Webster, Violet Neilson, Shahine Robinson, Dr Mavis Gilmour and Rose Leon) make it into double figures as elected members. But Maxine Henry-Wilson, who served for nine years as an elected member, also served for nine years as a senator; Princess Lawes, who notched over eight years in the Lower House, previously served four years in the Upper House; Esme Grant's five years as an elected member was also preceded by five years as a senator, and Dorothy Lightbourne, whose Senate tenure of over 14 years included service as deputy president, leader of government business and minister of justice.

Portia Simpson Miller, who attained iconic proportions as the first woman to be PNP president and prime minister of Jamaica, entered the political system as a KSAC councillor in 1974, was elected MP for South-West St Andrew in 1976 and was re-elected in 1980 when only nine PNP members made it into the winners' enclosure. But when the PNP boycotted the 1983 general election, she forcibly lost five years of elected representation and the seat was officially represented in Parliament by the JLP's

Christopher Rose.

Her triumphant return to the seat in 1989 led to her being massively re-elected in every election since then, and a steady increase in political responsibilities and influence which have culminated in her 32 years as an elected member of the House and her elevation to the top job.

One of her major achievements which has stood out with surprisingly little fanfare and has been apparently missed by the media is the milestone status of being the longest-serving elected member of the PNP since August 2010. At that time, she finally surpassed the late great Sir Florizel Glasspole who, for so many years, was the party's leading torch-bearer of longevity in the House from 1944 until he resigned to become governor general in 1973.

Longevity as it presently relates to House membership is perhaps taken more seriously now, since it must be noted that in recent times, there has been official recognition of longevity, as members serving for over 20 years in Parliament are conferred with the National Honour Award of Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD).

For the most part, longevity of service in the two major parties has become relatively even, but that is mostly because the PNP's unprecedented four terms in office (1989-2007) did much to shore up the ranking of their members in a category which was previously dominated by JLP members.

The JLP has eight on the Top 10, but only 18 (46.2 per cent) among the 39 longest servers with over 20 years; while the PNP, with just two on the Top 10, has the majority of 21 (53.8 per cent) of that group of 39.

That trend has also extended to longevity in the parishes, which is presently a 50-50 ranking among the parties, each with seven members that could be designated 'Politicians of the Parishes'.

JLP members Eddie Seaga, Karl Samuda, Leopold Lynch, Dr Neville Gallimore, JC Hutchinson, Mike Henry and Enid Bennett are the leaders in the respective parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, Portland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, Clarendon and St Catherine. And the PNP's Dr Fenton Ferguson, Horace Clarke, Desmond Leakey, Derrick Kellier, Ben Clare, PJ Patterson and Winston Jones are on top in St Thomas, St Mary, Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and Manchester, respectively.

Among the counties, it is the JLP's Seaga and Henry who are champions in Surrey and Middlesex, respectively, while the PNP's Patterson stands firm above all else in Cornwall.

While not in the limelight like their elected colleagues, appointments to the Legislative Council and the Senate over the years have produced some very outstanding and long-serving members. By far the longest-serving senator would be the JLP's Ossie Harding, who spent over 20-odd years from 1977 as opposition and government Senator, including roles as Senate president, leader of government business and Cabinet minister.

Then there is Hugh Shearer, with eight years as Legislative Council and Senate member (1959-1967); AJ Nicholson, with 16 years, is perhaps the PNP's longest-serving senator; Pearnel Charles, who did over 8 1/2 years as senator (1972-1980); and Bruce Golding whose seven years as a senator (1976-1983) stood between periods of his elected service to the Lower House.

Other notable Legislative Council and Senate services of length include: Douglas Fletcher, Douglas Judah, Hopeton Caven, Dudley Thompson, Errol Anderson, Ryan Peralto, Arthur Williams, Jr, KD Knight, Jeanette Grant-Woodham (first woman to be president of the Senate), Syringa Marshall-Burnett (the next woman to become Senate president) and a senator for 15 years, and Michael Manley.

I can recall, ironically, Bruce Golding chairing a function to honour Mr Seaga's 30th Anniversary in the early 1990s and declaring that he did not see himself serving for such an extended length of time in politics, but ended up doing just that, serving for 32 1/2 years accumulatively in both Houses of Parliament. He also surpassed his dad, Tacius Golding, whose elected service (like Bustamante's) lasted 22 years and two months.

Indeed, most sons who succeeded their famous political fathers also surpassed their dads' longevity records. They include Dr Neville Gallimore, Dean and Michael Peart, Alva Ross, Michael Manley, Dr Percy Broderick, Dr Wykeham McNeill and Dr Donald Rhodd. The exceptions are Neville Lewis, William Isaacs, Dr Douglas Manley, Tarn Peralto, Laurie Broderick and Andrew Gallimore.

There is the very unique case of Arthur Williams, Jr, and his dad, Arthur Williams, Sr, the latter with accumulated elected service of 10 years and 11 months that was just slightly overtaken by his son's 11 years and one month as senator alone, in spite of his many futile efforts to get elected.

While the debates continue about the age, longevity and succession plans of long-serving members, what is quite certain is that most of the major long-servers in Jamaica's political system have been some of the best representatives the country has produced. Perhaps it would be logical to assume that with term limits at the outset, longevity would have been a lot shorter, but quality service would have attained its masterpiece.

Troy Caine is a political historian, analyst & commentator

trodencorp@gmail.com

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